Aoki Kayoko, 48, Eatery operator, Osaka-shi

@Where I work, the Shinmidousuji line is above us and the new Osaka Mori building in front of us. My husband and I are opening the tables and parasols along the roadside, preparing for todayfs business. We have been running this lunchbox and curry rice business for nearly five months.

The Great Hanshin-Awaji earthquake has destroyed all the outlets that sold and delivered take-out lunchboxes. On the day of earthquake, the evacuation centers were full of people. So, we went to new Osaka, where my sister-in-law and her husband lived, and started our new lives there. We applied for a temporary house from the very first round but did not get it because the priority for the last round of the lots drawing was given to the more needy applicants. At Nishinomiya-shi, was it not supposed to give priority to the more needy ones from the first round? They should all be entered into the draw before ordinary folks be given a chance. This would ensure fairness.

Many things, from the teardown of our house to the lots drawing for temporary housing, served only to raise our sense of mistrust against the municipal government. In January, we retrieved and transported our belonging from our house to Osaka every day. Although the traffic was congested, we sometimes made three tips. There were times when a one-way journey took us a good four hours. Before the teardown, we were told to remove our belongings early. In the end, the demolition did not occur until the end of May. I have lost count of the number of trips we made to the town hall. Initially, we would rush out of the house after retrieving our things because it was tilted and dangerous. By and by, we got bold and took our time. Most big items, such as the chests, were transported to Osaka by the volunteers. I could not thank them enough.

The stores were in a dangerous state as seven of them were supported by two signal semaphores, so the road maintenance section of the town hall came to dismantle them a few days later. We could not retrieve our belonging from the second floor, but managed to retrieve most of the things from the first floor after a tremendous effort. The belonging retrieved was covered with vinyl sheets and kept at the approach to the Hirota Shrine until late June.

We had considered many ways to resume our business early, such as running it from a temporary shop. But as we were unable to secure a business site, we grew increasingly anxious day by day. Previously, our shop was located on a land the size of 500 tsubo (1 tusbo = 3.31 m2). The landlord seemed to have the intention of building something big on it, but his plan was not conveyed to the tenants. We, the tenants, became uneasy and frustrated, and were generally not in the mood to do anything as a result. There had been talks about reconstructing the building even before the earthquake.

The issue was brought for mediation, but a verdict was reached without any discussion. With this, whether our business could be resumed at the original venues will become clear.

As there was no prospect of other incomes, some vendors started selling lunchboxes at the outskirts of New Osaka. We thought it a good idea to prepare lunchboxes at our condominium for sale until our business at Nishinomiya resumed, and plunged right into it. We started peddling in a van carrying 30 lunchboxes, stove burners, curry and soup in it.

Initially, we did not know where to sell our lunchboxes. It was embarrassing and the weather was cold. We felt like crying. We had chosen a place where many people would pass by, but business was poor. We then moved to another location where we were able to sell most of what we prepared. But the police soon came at the tip-off by the shops nearby, and wanted us to leave at once. It was miserable, and I started quarrelling with my husband. I chided him for not taking up a part-time job, which would have been much easier on us. My husband has not been the type that works as an employee. He had taken 14 years to build his business, but it took just an earthquake to destroy everything in an instant.

In order to find a suitable place to run business, he walked the outskirts of Osaka from morning to evening and found the place where we do business now. Business was poor when we first started. By and by, our customers started buying both lunchboxes and curry from us.

Our customers are company employees and office ladies, who are friendly to us. The drivers who transport goods to this building stop their vehicles just to make way for our van. The middle-aged cleaner and the car park attendant are kind enough to exchange greetings with us too. These kind souls really make my day. I feel blessed being surrounded by so many warm-hearted Osaka people. On rainy days, we are totally drenched. On days with strong wind, our packing materials and parasol sometimes get blown away. When the police come to book vehicles for illegal parking, they warn us against illegal peddling along this road. All the same, we peddle here every day. Last summer, we got sunburned very frequently under the hot sun.

Looking up at the Shinmidousuji line above me, I whispered to myself, gSelling lunchboxes along the New Osaka Road? Never in my dream.h Yet we are still peddling here today.

We have found a temporary shop at Nishimiya, and will start operation there in mid August. The store is located in a destructed building and is to be demolished in two yearsf time. But we have to move forward, even if only a small step at a time. We are not sure whether it will work out because we will be traveling from Osaka, but we are going to work with the fighting spirit that we had when we started out 14 years ago.

My child, a third-year junior high schooler, spends 3 hours to and fro on the road. He returns after eight p.m. when he has extra-curricular activities. Child though he is, he is trying his best in his own way. I want to return to Nishinomiya as soon as I can. Our dismantled house is likely to start rebuilding around late August. Probably, it will not be ready this year, but I hope we can move back next February.

Although we have lost many precious things at an instant, we have come to understand human pains better, value the bond with my sisters, and gained valuable things in other ways.

I will treasure all these and put in my best effort until the temporary store at Nishimiya is ready. I will look up at the Shinmidousuji line now and then.