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Loving restoration

Following the turmoil of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, this US expat wanted to play her part in reenergising the Tohoku region. Her role at a community furniture business now embodies a way forward for Ishinomaki.

REBEKAH CHENG
  • Location: Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture
  • Hometown: Seattle
  • Job: Project manager, Ishinomaki Laboratory

Ishinomaki Laboratory started out as a community space, providing tools, materials and support to the people of Ishinomaki in the wake of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. As the workshop evolved into a furniture brand with an international presence, it retained its original DIY spirit and has written its own story of post-disaster revitalisation.

Having fallen in love with Tohoku while majoring in international development, Rebekah Cheng wanted to live in the region and create change. In 2018 she moved to the northern city of Ishinomaki to realise these ambitions. “At Ishinomaki Laboratory we aim to change the narrative of this city – and others – that have experienced disaster and are trying to recover,” she says.

As one of the brand’s five full-time staff, Cheng has her hands full. Though a project manager, she also handles international communications and sales, while overseeing PR and marketing. She’s also involved in collaborations such as the Made in Local project, in which the brand shares its knowledge with makers in Asia and Europe, who use locally available materials to produce the brand’s designs.

The Laboratory has remained firmly rooted in Ishinomaki and workshops bring the community together. The furniture is still manufactured locally and several of the early designs, developed to address specific needs, have become longstanding products. Many of the initial constraints that resulted from the earthquake, such as a lack of resources, now define the brand and its wares.

Cheng has taken on an unofficial ambassadorial role, promoting the warm atmosphere and natural scenery of her new home. “I’m glad I’ve been able to use the life I lead as a gateway for people to know more about my work and this city.”

The landscape of Ishinomaki today, after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, where Rebekah Cheng has been instrumental in bringing together the community to revive.

The Ishinomaki Laboratory workshop started out as a community space, and has since evolved to become a furniture brand with an international presence.