They sleep side by side on the tile floor, with only blankets to cushion them. It's like camping, but indoors, although sometimes it's almost as cold as the outdoors.
But there is one luxury that sets them apart from others at the crowded shelter: a couch.
It's not much to look at, a cheap stick of furniture salvaged from a motel. But for Suzuki, a 52-year-old carpenter, it's a reminder of a better life.
His wife, Kuniko, 50, and her mother, 78-year-old Kimiko Takahashi, often lounge on it and pretend they're back in the living room of their modest home.
But even this simple pleasure has its drawbacks. "The couch is so narrow my wife often rolls off in the middle of the night and comes crashing down on top of me," Suzuki said.
Within an hour of the March 11 earthquake, Kuniko and her mother had found refuge at the modern two-story center in this provincial city in Miyagi prefecture, 220 miles north of Tokyo. The next day, Suzuki brought their daughter, Ikue, 18, and his wife's sister, Chikako, to the shelter.
Life on the floor is not the hardest part, they say; it's not knowing how long their purgatory will last.
The center houses 550 of the 160,000 people still in shelters as a result of the earthquake and tsunami. On a recent night, Tsutomu, in a green T-shirt and black cap, surveyed his surroundings, teeming with fellow refugees. Blankets were spread everywhere, in hallways, meeting rooms and exhibit spaces. Some had draped blankets over chairs to create a roof or had fashioned cardboard walls for a sense of separation.
With people packed so closely, privacy is at a premium. Kuniko holds up a blanket so Ikue can dress in the morning without being seen.
The grandmother insists conditions are better than those she faced after World War II. Still, life is hard. The elderly woman sometimes soils herself before she can reach one of the few toilets.
None of the five has showered in weeks. Baths consist of a bucket of cold water. "You don't know how much you miss a hot shower until you can't have one," Tsutomu said.
The night brings little respite. The overhead lights never dim. With only two electric space heaters, many refugees wear jackets under the covers and still shiver as indoor temperatures plunge to the mid-30s. Residents twitch and fidget. Many call out in their sleep; others snore and cough incessantly.
Restless, up by 5 a.m., some scan the many notes on a message board. One reads: "Yuriko, I came to get you but couldn't find you. Don't worry, I'll be back. I hope you're safe."
Time drags. The monotony is prison-like. Meals are Spartan.
"There's no way to get these people the calories they need," said Satou Tadamichi, vice chief of the center, a compact man with black hair and a graying beard.
On a recent day, the menu consisted of two slices of bread for breakfast and half an apple and one slice of bread for lunch. Dinner was rice, bread, a small salad and a boiled egg.
Bickering over food often erupts. Residents complain of being shortchanged and accuse others of receiving more than their share.
"Many people are holding so much grief, I fear one day they're just going to explode over something as simple as a bowl of rice," Tadamichi said.