SPECIAL vol.13 People’s “Real Voices” expressed during disaster support activities and workshops
by Voices from the Field Admin - Monday, 20 April 2015, 11:20 AM

Emergency Temporary Housing

・It’s poorly ventilated.

There are differences in floor heights in various places. It is inconvenient especially for the older or disabled people to live.

There’s not enough space for storage.

The bathtub is so tall. It’s difficult to step into because of the height difference.

It’s dangerous for the elderly people to walk along the path in front of the temporary housing because it’s a gravel path. They cannot use canes on it, either. 

The window eaves are too short to keep the laundry from getting wet in the rain. They don’t keep the sun out, either. 

The house is drafty.

We see pests and harmful insects such as mice and cockroaches. We also have a problem with condensation and mold.

I suffered from sick-house syndrome.

It was quite impossible for four of us from three households to live together in a place with only two rooms. 

Each of us had a different timetable for routines such as meals and bed time. When mother wants to sleep, son wants to have dinner. There wasn’t even enough space for the futons. Such troubles were repeated every day. I spent sleepless nights thinking about what to do with this.

Each family member could barely cope with his own problems. Gradually we became inconsiderate toward one another and our relationship worsened. 

I can’t sleep. I feel stifled. Once I wake up at night, I can’t go back to sleep.

I lost 6 kg in just a couple of months. I couldn’t sleep nor eat during that time.

The City should have built a common room exclusively for the temporary housing residents. We were hesitant to use one of the rooms in a public facility. Later we started to use a room in the temporary housing building as our common room, but we didn’t see many people to come. Maybe we had missed the right timing.

As I had few friends and was feeling tired, I was sleeping almost all the time. I didn’t do anything for a period of time.

As I knew I was fortunate to get a place to live, I refrained from complaining about any troubles I had.

I thought I would be able to go back to the district where I had lived, but I couldn’t. That made me very sad. Especially when I write down my address, I feel anguished.

We all get along well with each other in the temporary housing because we felt we were all victims.

What is Emergency Temporary Housing?

The structures provided as the emergency temporary housing are the same type as the temporary office buildings set up at construction sites. In anticipation of disasters to come, each prefecture has an agreement with the Prefabricated Construction Suppliers and Manufacturers Association, in order to be able to set up a lot of emergency temporary housing units at once. After the Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake in 1995, this agreement was made between every prefecture in Japan and the Association.

Once a disaster occurs, the Association will refer its registered constructors to the local government. The government will then choose the constructors, and place an order for the emergency temporary housing. Consequently, the housing units come in different shapes and with different materials and layouts depending on the constructor. As there was a great demand for emergency temporary housing after the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, the local governments had to also order from suppliers which did not belong to the Association. As a result, even more different types of temporary housing were built.

General layouts of the emergency temporary housing:

l Single person unit (1 room + kitchen) about 19.8 m2

l Small family unit (2-3 people, 2 rooms + kitchen) about 29.7 m2

l Large family unit (4 or more people, 3 rooms + kitchen) about 39.6 m2


Problems with Emergency Temporary Housing

After the Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake of 1995, many problems were found with the emergency temporary housing. Residents complained that it was small and hot. It was not easy, especially for the older or disabled people, to live in them. Some improvements have been made since, but most of the problems remain unsolved. Basically, every temporary housing unit is built according to a standard specification, and additional construction work is done after it is built. In the case of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, national government subsidies covered most of the cost for the additional work needed to prepare for the cold winter weather including insulations, double-glazed windows, and windbreaks around the entryway, leaving the local governments with a small cost burden. However, Miyagi Prefecture placed the responsibility on each affected city or town government. As a result, no more than 70% of the need for temporary housing and only 10% of the need for heating appliances installations had been fulfilled, even as late as December 9, 2011. This was significantly less than the progress made in Iwate and Fukushima Prefecture, respectively.

Reference:  Documents from the 4th meeting of the project team on the living environment in the emergency temporary housing (December 13, 2011)


The Prolonged “Temporary” Living Arrangement

According to the disaster Relief Law, the limit for occupying an emergency temporary housing is two years, but in the past, there have been major disasters in which this limit was extended beyond two years. This was also the case of the Great East Japan Earthquake. The Reconstruction Agency announced the extension of a year on April 17, 2012 and a further extension on April, 2013. However, given that these were merely “emergency” constructions, it becomes necessary to improve the housing environment again.


Name of DisasterDate of EventNumber of temporary housing unitsLimit for occupancy
Mount Unzen-Fugen Eruption Disaster1990.11.171505June 22, 1991~December 25, 199(4.5 years)
Southwest Hokkaido Earthquake1993.12.7408September 3, 1993~1996(3.5 years)
Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake1995.1.1749681February 2, 1995~January 14, 2000(5 years)
Niigata Prefecture Chuetsu Earthquake2004.10.233460October 23, 2004~December 31, 2007(3 years)