Association for Aid and Relief, Japan (AAR Japan)

Association for Aid and Relief, Japan(AAR Japan) is a Non-Governmental Organization ( NGO ) aiming to provide emergency assistance, assistance to people with disabilities, and mine action, among other operations. It was established in 1979 as an organization with no political, ideological, or religious affiliation. AAR currently has offices in 10 countries.
Aug 7, 2015

Activities in a temporary housing complex in Otsuchi Town, Iwate Prefecture

Massage session
Massage session

It has been over four years since the Great East Japan Earthquake. Over 200,000 people live in temporary shelter all around Japan, but mainly in temporary housing complexes in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima Prefectures (Reconstruction Agency, June 2015). Although the construction of public restoration housing and group relocation for disaster risk reduction have started, the process is expected to take several years. This means that a great number of people are forced to remain in temporary housing complexes for several more years.

This report features AAR Japan’s activities in one of those temporary housing complexes, located in Otsuchi Town, Iwate Prefecture. The 9.0 magnitude earthquake shook Otsuchi Town, and soon after, a major tsunami triggered by the massive tremor engulfed the town. This led to major destruction in the east coast of Otsuchi Town. The dead and missing combined counted up to 1,285 people, equivalent to eight percent of the town’s population. Furthermore, 3,878 houses, approximately 60 percent of all houses in the town, were damaged by the earthquake and tsunami. This forced many disaster survivors to live in inconvenient temporary housing complexes until today.

AAR Japan has visited the Otsuchi temporary housing complex regularly to care for the residents’ physical and psychological health. This complex accommodates 40 families. In some areas with faster reconstruction pace, the proportion of people who remain in temporary housing complexes have dropped to 30 to 40 percent after relocation to public permanent housing and individual houses. However, the reconstruction has been extremely slow in Otsuchi Town, and in, none of the residents in the Otsuchi temporary housing complex has been able to settle in permanent housing. Unfortunately, they have no choice but to stay in the complex for several more years.

Our activity for these residents suffering from prolonged evacuation includes massage therapy and active listening. On June 13th, 2015, AAR Japan carried out team consisting of a physiotherapist, an occupational therapist, a counselor and AAR Japan staff, visited the complex to provide massages and recreational event called Ochakko. Ochakko is a tradition in Tohoku Region, where a group of friends get together and enjoy conversation over tea. On this occasion, ten residents participated. Everyone had been waiting for the event with much anticipation.

The prolonged life in the temporary housing complex has taken a toll on physical and psychological health of many residents. Living in the cramped temporary houses with nowhere to go has significantly decreased the amount of daily exercise. The lack of exercise has caused deterioration in back pains, knee pains and obesity. Lifestyle diseases have also been a problem. For them, massage alleviates much of physical pain. AAR Japan’s massages are carried out by physiotherapists and occupational therapists to ensure that the participants can receive proper treatment. Positive feedback has come from the participants including, “My body feels much lighter after the massage”, “I would like to follow the advice on daily exercise that I received from the therapist.” and “I can’t wait for the next event.”

Whilst the participants wait for their turn for massage, they enjoy conversation over tea and refreshments, which is another component of the activity called Ochakko. Some people in temporary housing complexes have lost their family to the disaster or are forced to live far away from friends. Under such circumstances, the residents become isolated, and have few opportunities to socialize with others and to relieve their stress through turning to someone for advice. Ochakko gives such people an opportunity to share their problems and concerns for the future with others. Some of the residents confide their worries to AAR Japan’s counselor. This activity has promoted alleviation of stress and anxiety, as well as enhancement of self-esteem among the temporary housing residents.

During the Ochakko, one of the participants talked about his road leading to his present state. “I lost my house to the tsunami. For a short while, I lived with my son and his family in Morioka City, Iwate Prefecture. I lived with them for about eight months, but it didn’t take me too long to realize that younger generations have different values and way of thinking from me. I’m grateful for all that they did for me, but I decided to relocate to the Otsuchi temporary housing complex.” He continued sorrowfully, “Every morning I wake up weary and heavy headed. Such feelings fade away a little after exercising. Every day I walk for about 30 minutes for my own good. AAR Japan’s therapists help me stretch out my stiff body. I even get advice about light exercises I can do on my own. I really appreciate it. Come again any time.” AAR Japan will continue to visit them regularly and provide them with much-needed physical and psychological care.

The therapists give advice on exercise
The therapists give advice on exercise
Ochakko session
Ochakko session
Jul 7, 2015

Tomioka Kindergarten looks forward to new play equipment

Children between 1 and 2 at Tomioka Kindergarten
Children between 1 and 2 at Tomioka Kindergarten

The radiation leaks from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant followed by the Great East Japan Earthquake had a devastating impact on Tomioka Town, Futaba County, Fukushima Prefecture. Tomioka Town where Tomioka Kindergarten used to be located at is approximately 12km away from the power plant. All of the Tomioka residents were forced to evacuate after the nuclear accident. As Aizu-Wakamatsu City in the western part of Fukushima Prefecture decided to accommodate evacuees from the coastal area, Tomioka Kindergarten relocated itself to the city. Tomioka Kindergarten resumed its operation in September 2011 using an old kindergarten building in Aizu-Wakamatsu City. After reopening, the kindergarten began accepting children who evacuated to the city, and 15 children attend the kindergarten as of June 2015.

After it resumed operation, Tomioka Kindergarten was hardly equipped for a while. The old building that the kindergarten relocated to did not have any play equipment as it was not in use for long. They also could not bring play equipment and toys from Tomioka Town due to radiation contamination. Ms. Horiuchi, the principal of the kindergarten, advocated the needs for support through calling and visiting national, prefectural and local administrations, and relief organizations in order to provide child evacuees with appropriate environment for childcare. In the midst of chaos after the disaster, however, no one had capacity to extend their helping to Tomioka Kindergarten. When Ms. Horiuchi thought all the options had been exhausted, she came across a news article about AAR Japan’s project of play equipment provision on our website. Subsequently, she contacted us in June 2012. It had been more than one year since she started looking for an organization that could offer assistance to her kindergarten.

Soon after Ms. Horiuchi reached out to us, we decided to support her initiative, and provided a sandbox and a tent for shading. In April 2015, Tomioka Kindergarten started to accommodate children under two years old in addition to children between ages of three and six. Taking the expansion of the services into consideration, AAR Japan decided to provide indoor play equipment that is suitable for children over one and a half years old utilizing GlobalGiving’s grant. Ms. Horiuchi, in consultation with AAR Japan, chose specific wooden equipment, which allows children to think of a variety of ways to play, and thus enhancing their creativity. The said equipment also provides children with opportunities to touch and play with wood, rather than iron or plastic. In addition, the equipment is transferable. Tomioka Kindergarten hopes to move back to its home town in the future, and therefore transferable equipment would ensure children to enjoy the equipment for a long time. Both the kindergarten staff including the principal and the children are very much looking forward to the equipment that is due to arrive in August.

In our interview, Ms. Horiuchi recalled, “After the disaster, the children evacuated to different areas. We were all scattered around Japan.” She continued, “I would be delighted if children who evacuated to Aizu-Wakamatsu City and endured hardships as evacuees made great memories in this kindergarten.”

Among families with young children, there are those who cannot fit in with their new communities, and decide to return home despite high levels of radiation. Tomioka Kindergarten accommodates children and their families who have endured similar hardships, and therefore they developed a sense of unity. Such sense of unity contributes to bringing much needed comfort to children and their families evacuated from Tomioka Town. 

May 11, 2015

The 4th Children's Festival in Takami Park, Fukushima Prefecture

Carp streamers for the Children
Carp streamers for the Children's Day

May 5th is Children’s Day, a national holiday in Japan. This year, AAR Japan, in collaboration with an NPO called Peace Project, held Children’s Festival at Takami Park in Minamisoma City, Fukushima Prefecture. The event aimed at supporting leisure for families with children in Soma and Minamisoma Cities, and attracted more than 500 people.

We put up colorful carp streamers in the park, which is a tradition for Children’s Day to pray for children’s success and health. We also brought mini-bowling, mini-golf, ring toss, bouncy-ball scooping, and balloon playground to the park, which were extremely popular among the participating children. Under beautiful spring weather, children’s joyous laughter echoed throughout the day. 

Mr. and Mrs. Yoshida brought her grandson to the event. They kindly accepted to be interviewed about their family and experience at the event. The couple used to work as farmers, growing cucumbers and garland chrysanthemum,in Odaka District, Minamisoma City, which is 17 kilometers away from Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. After the earthquake and nuclear accident, however, they were forced to abandon their home and agricultural land. They now live in a temporary housing complex in Kashima District, Minamisoma City, away from their daughter and grandson. “Our daughter is a single mother, and lives with this boy in Soma City. Even on national holidays, she has to work”, Mrs. Yoshida said. “She brought the event flyer to us, and we decided to come with our grandson. Our age makes it difficult to take our grandson to beach or mountain, but this kind of event is very accessible. We appreciate such an opportunity.”

As for the future prospects, the couple wants to leave the temporary housing complex in April, 2016. However, uncertainty and anxiety linger. Farming is extremely difficult to resume once interrupted. In addition, agricultural and fishery products are hit hard by rumors about radiation, and the rumors do not seem to fade away. They occasionally go back to their home in Odaka District to clean and repair.

After the interview, Mr. and Mrs. Yoshida and their grandson enjoyed the event throughout the day, eating fried-noodles and ball konjac, which AAR Japan offered at the event for free. The grandson also had fun playing in the balloon playground, and with mini-bowling and bingo. At the end of the day, Mr. Yoshida told us, “If there are more of these kinds of events, children can make a lot of good memories in Fukushima. Even when they go out of the prefecture in the future, they can reminisce about their home with full of wonderful memories. Thank you!”

Many families in Minamisoma City are forced to live apart due to the nuclear accident, as seen in the case of the Yoshida family, and as a result they face immense challenges. A number of participants told us events for families with children are much appreciated and they hope for such events in the future. 

AAR staff preparing fried noodles for 300 people
AAR staff preparing fried noodles for 300 people
1,000 ball konjac sticks
1,000 ball konjac sticks
The Yoshida family enjoying mini-bowling
The Yoshida family enjoying mini-bowling
Balloon playground was particularly popular
Balloon playground was particularly popular
Many participants enjoyed the event
Many participants enjoyed the event

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