Kenji Kusunoki still does not know how to go about rebuilding his life after his "izakaya" Japanese pub was completely destroyed in the powerful earthquake that hit central Japan one month ago, taking the lives of his wife, Yukari, 48, and eldest daughter, Jura, 19.

His house containing a pub called Wajimanma was crushed when the 7-story building next door toppled over. "I cried until my tears dried up. I feel empty," Kusunoki, 55, lamented as he searched for belongings in the debris of his home in Ishikawa Prefecture.

"I will always remember my place existed here. I want to do business here again sometime in the future," he said, hanging up a T-shirt, designed by his wife, at the site of his former home.

Kenji Kusunoki retrieves belongings from his destroyed home on Jan. 29, 2024, in Wajima, Ishikawa Prefecture. (Kyodo)

Kusunoki's pub was among many small businesses supporting the local economy that drew tourists with its traditional crafts and sake breweries.

The damage inflicted by the magnitude-7.6 earthquake on small and medium-sized companies in Ishikawa, Fukui, Niigata and Toyama prefectures is estimated at several hundred billion yen, according to local government officials.

The city of Wajima in which Kusunoki ran his pub had a morning market dating back over 1,000 years that was gutted by a blaze following the quake. An area of around 48,000 square meters with about 200 buildings was destroyed.

Kenji Kusunoki retrieves belongings from his destroyed home on Jan. 29, 2024, in Wajima, Ishikawa Prefecture. (Kyodo)

"Lots of shops around the market were operated by individuals. Now that their workplaces are lost, they cannot make a living," said Zensuke Shibagaki, whose Wajima lacquerware shop, which had been operated by six generations, burned down with all of his tools inside.

"I survived so I want to start again, especially for the sake of my customers," said Shibagaki. But like other aging local residents he expressed concern about the time it will take to recover.

In the neighboring city of Suzu at the northern tip of the Noto Peninsula, little progress has been made in cleaning up the damage.

Many residents are considering relocating permanently as there is no telling how long it will take to repair the infrastructure and roads.

"We can't make a living here. We will not rebuild our house here," said Toshiyuki Nakajima, who carried an elderly woman in his neighborhood to higher ground as a tsunami approached after the quake.

Tadao Hashimoto, 62, said he has decided to demolish his home, which has tilted due to soil liquefaction following the quake. "I want to build a new home but I'm not young enough to get a housing loan. I don't know what to do," he said.

Traditional craft artisan Shuntaro Dama, meanwhile, said he has decided to stay because of his affection for his town, even though he does not know when he will be able to reopen his pottery workshop.

"Many of my works were destroyed but I'm relieved that the warehouse is intact," Dama said.

As for younger people, around 400 junior high school students in Ishikawa are living away from their families so they can continue their studies because their schools are damaged or being used as evacuation centers.

While some students are happy to be back with their classmates, parents are worried that the separation could be extended beyond the end of the current academic year in March if infrastructure restoration takes longer than expected.

"It's way better than staying in an evacuation center," said Asaki Izumi, 15, who relocated to the prefectural capital Kanazawa more than 100 kilometers from Suzu.

She said she can concentrate better on her studies while avoiding the inconveniences of living in a shelter, where she often had to eat instant noodles.

Takaho Shoji, a lacquerware artisan staying in an evacuation center in Wajima, is awaiting the return of his son, who is in his third year at junior high school, but says his home is tilted and moving to temporary housing remains uncertain.

"I want him to return but the living environment is not yet restored," Shoji said.

The central government is drawing on reserve funds to finance a relief package of 155.3 billion yen ($1.1 billion), including subsidies for small and medium-sized businesses, each of which can receive a maximum of 1.5 billion yen to repair damaged facilities. There will also be funding to support traditional craftwork industries.

Kenji Kusunoki retrieves belongings from his destroyed home on Jan. 29, 2024, in Wajima, Ishikawa Prefecture. (Kyodo)

To support the recovery of tourism, the government will offer subsidies covering half of expenses, or up to 20,000 yen per night, to people visiting Ishikawa, Fukui, Niigata and Toyama prefectures.

The massive earthquake that registered maximum 7 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale killed 240 and left 15 unaccounted for. Over 14,400 are still living in shelters in Ishikawa.

The quake triggered tsunami waves that swept across 190 hectares of land in three municipalities and started a series of fire, mudslides and soil liquefaction over a wide area, damaging nearly 48,000 houses in Ishikawa.

VIDEO: Kenji Kusunoki sifts through rubble after a tall neighboring building collapsed onto the structure housing his "izakaya" Japanese pub and home in the powerful earthquake that hit central Japan one month earlier, taking the lives of his 48-year-old wife, Yukari, and eldest daughter, Jura, 19.

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