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.
Jul 18, 2012

Cherry Blossoms, Songs and "Koinobori" in Fukushima Prefecture

Koinobori time (Soma, Fukushima - 29 Apr 2012)
Koinobori time (Soma, Fukushima - 29 Apr 2012)

In the disaster affected areas, there are many people who are struggling physically or are feeling much stress from having to live in temporary housing for so long. When AAR JAPAN’s staff visited temporary housing complexes in Sukagawa City in the Fukushima Prefecture, the president of the residents’ association came to us and asked, “Do you think we can organize something that will be enjoyable for everyone, something that will just lift everyone’s spirits?” After some planning, we decided to hold Japanese traditional and seasonal festivals such as “Hanami" (cherry blossom viewing) and “Koinobori" (carp streamers).


Singing on the Bus while Viewing Cherry Blossoms

On April 15th and 22nd, we organized an event that we called “Singing Bus Tour.” The plan was to go around the city of Sukagawa with its residents on a bus rented out from the social welfare committee. The bus went around to all the cherry blossom viewing sites in Sukugawa, while the passengers continued to sing in a chorus. Many people living in temporary housing participated in the tour: 35 people on the 15th, and 30 on the 22nd. An electric keyboard was set up inside the bus, and pianist Tomoko YAMAZAKI was there to play popular songs and nursery rhymes for us to sing along to.

Because the cherry blossoms blossomed late this year, we unfortunately could not visit many sites. However, the participants enjoyed going to famous sites such as Iwase Farm, and eating lunch boxes out in the Fukushima Airport Park. Both the participants and the members of the social welfare committee were very happy at the end of the day, and asked us, “Please make this an annual event!”


 170 Carps Swimming in the Sky

In April 29th, as a part of its “Building Healthy Communities Project,” AAR JAPAN held an event at the Elderly Support Center of Yunuki Town in Soma City, Fukushima Prefecture. We have been implementing this same project in Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures since July, 2011. Specifically, we have been holding regional community events such as massage sessions, health exercise sessions, and counseling with the goal that those affected by the disaster can regain their health, both physically and psychologically, as soon as possible. This was the first time an event was held in the Fukushima Prefecture. Since Children’s Day (May 5th) was very near, we decided to hold an event where the participants can make their own carps to fly as carp streamers on this national holiday. 

The carp streamers, or “Koinobori” in Japanese, are made by drawing an image of a fish, with its characteristically prominent scales, on a piece of white cloth. The participants also wrote messages on the carp to make them very original works of art. Many participants came; from elementary school students, to users of welfare facilities serving persons with disabilities, to Afghan staff members from AAR JAPAN’s Afghanistan office. At the end of the day we had 170 carps swimming in the spring sky.

The children actually came at 10 in the morning to start drawing pictures of carps on white cloth. They all seemed absorbed in the task, and some didn’t seem to want to let go of their magic markers even after having finished one carp. There were children that drew up to five “Koinobori.” The colorfully drawn “Koinobori” were attached to a rope by the children themselves, although with some help from AAR Japan’s staff members.

An elderly woman that came with her grandchild shared with us, “We couldn’t put up “Koinobori” last year because of the disaster, but I’m so glad we were able to this year. Our children are very happy.”

 

Pleasure from Singing Together

AAR Japan also distributed handmade tote bags collected from all over the country to the people living in Yunuki Temporary Housing Complex. The recipients were moved by the messages inside the tote bags, saying “How thoughtful to include a personal message inside each bag. We are very thankful for these messages from the heart.” There is a large public bath at the community center of the temporary housing complex, so some people said, “These bags are just the right size for me to take to the bath!” All the bags are made with much care, and the pockets are attached in very useful places, so the bags should be very sturdy and practical.

In the evening, we held a small concert with performances by opera singers Yumiko SAKANO and Takao ASAHARA, and pianist Tomoko YAMAZAKI who performed earlier with the bus tour. After the concert we also had an interactive session where the audience was invited to participate in the singing. The 60 or so people in the audience seemed a little nervous at first, but soon they were up and singing along to Japanese traditional children’s songs such as “Chatsumi” (meaning picking tea leaves) and “Furusato” (meaning hometown), lead by the two professional singers. After the concert, the participants joyfully shared with us “We usually don’t get to sing so loudly, so it was a really fun experience.”

Since many people asked us to hold both events again, we believe we were able to bring some happiness back into their lives. As requested, AAR JAPAN will continue these activities in the Fukushima Prefecture.

Lets sing! (Sukagawa, Fukushima - 22 Apr 2012)
Lets sing! (Sukagawa, Fukushima - 22 Apr 2012)
Cherry blossom (Sukagawa, Fukushima - 22 Apr 2012)
Cherry blossom (Sukagawa, Fukushima - 22 Apr 2012)
Up in the sky (Soma City, Fukushima - 29 Apr 2012)
Up in the sky (Soma City, Fukushima - 29 Apr 2012)
Getting ready! (Soma, Fukushima - 29 Apr 2012)
Getting ready! (Soma, Fukushima - 29 Apr 2012)
So colorful! (Soma, Fukushima - 29 Apr 2012)
So colorful! (Soma, Fukushima - 29 Apr 2012)
Handmade tote bags (Soma, Fukushima - 29 Apr 2012)
Handmade tote bags (Soma, Fukushima - 29 Apr 2012)
Singing along (Soma City, Fukushima - 29 Apr 2012)
Singing along (Soma City, Fukushima - 29 Apr 2012)
Relaxing massages (Soma, Fukushima - 29 Apr 2012)
Relaxing massages (Soma, Fukushima - 29 Apr 2012)
Carp decorations (Soma, Fukushima - 29 Apr 2012)
Carp decorations (Soma, Fukushima - 29 Apr 2012)
May 16, 2012

Reading Picture Books to Kindergarteners in Fukushima

All ears (Koriyama City, Fukushima - 23 Feb 2012)
All ears (Koriyama City, Fukushima - 23 Feb 2012)

"Due to radiation concerns, the children have only been allowed to play outside 5 times since the day of the disaster.”

On February 23rd, 2012, Association for Aid and Relief, Japan (AAR JAPAN) visited Tachibana Kindergarten in Koriyama City, Fukushima Prefecture. In addition to reading the picture book “Not Mines, but Flowers”, AAR JAPAN delivered 90 hand-made tote bags that were collected from supporters all over Japan, as well as delivering 90 boxes of chocolate with messages collected through AAR JAPAN’s Heart-Warming Chocolate Delivery Campaign.

There were once 100 children at Tachibana Kindergarten, but after the March 11th earthquake, 30 children evacuated outside of Fukushima Prefecture. At the same time, 15 new children entered the school from Kawauchi Village, Tomioka Town, Namie Town, and Minami-Soma City, all of which are located within the 20-km evacuation zone around Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station.

Koriyama City is located far from the nuclear plant, but some areas of the city continue to record high levels of radiation. Ms. Yuko TANIZU, director of the kindergarten, told us of the three dosimeters that have been set up in the kindergarten. “We allow the children to play outside only when the dosimeters record less than 0.5 micro Sieverts per hour. Unfortunately, the children have only been able to play outside five times since the earthquake. We tried to decontaminate the yard, replaced the sand in the sandbox, and cut down our hiba trees (a kind of cypress), which are believed to absorb radiation. We are trying our best to create a safe environment for the children.” Ms. TANIZU asked for our support in holding a social event where the children could enjoy playing indoors in order to relieve the stress of being contained inside for so long. 

“Their eyes were shining. It was different from usual.”

When we arrived at the kindergarten, all the children sat in the hall in anticipation. Published by AAR JAPAN, the picture book “Not Mines, but Flowers” features Sunny-chan, AAR JAPAN’s rabbit mascot, in a story about the victims of landmines in recovering war-torn nations. The content would have seemed difficult for kindergarteners, but they all listened intently. While listening they made enthusiastic comments such as, “I went to foreign countries, too,” or “I’ve heard of Sunny-chan!

When the book was done, the children were very excited to have Sunny-chan appear right in front of them! They lined up to receive chocolate from Sunny-chan, saying “Thank you” and shaking hands, exchanging high fives, and hugging her. The children also received hand-made tote bags with Sunny-chan key chains, which they took back home with care. “They look really happy,” Ms. TANIZU told us. “Their eyes are shining. It’s different from usual. We also really appreciate the messages that accompanied the chocolate and bags.”

Radiation, Unemployment, Health: Worries Continue

When the children’s parents came to pick them up after the event, we spoke to two mothers living in subsidized apartments in Koriyama City. They had both relocated from towns within the evacuation zone, having drifted for months from one temporary shelter to another. The first, from Namie Town, had two boys aged 6 and 4. There seems to be no end to her worries. “We used to live in a big family of 10, three generations of us together,” she said. “But now we all live separately. My husband quit his job at the Fukushima nuclear power station, but he couldn’t find any other job. We’re worried about our parents’ health, but we’re seldom able to see them. We want them to see our boys.”

The other mother had two girls, one 5 and the other 18 months. Her husband is currently working at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station, handling the aftermath of the accident at the 3rd reactor. “I can only see my husband once every two weeks. My children cry more often since we evacuated. My grandparents survived the tsunami, but they died at the nursing home where they were evacuated. We moved to a subsidized apartment, and sometimes I don’t talk to anyone at all because we don’t know the neighbors. We don’t get information from anyone. I want to find someone to take care of my second girl so I can go work, but there is nowhere to go. I want the children to play outside, but they can’t because of the radiation. Since the disaster, my first child hasn’t been able to practice riding the bicycle, so I worry that she’ll never learn how.” She had so many worries and concerns. However, when she received the hand-made tote bag and chocolate, she smiled and looked happy. “I really appreciate everyone’s warm support. It’s really nice of them to send us these bags and hand-written messages.”

More than one year has passed since the earthquake. AAR JAPAN will continue providing support to the disaster-affected people of Fukushima Prefecture, as well as linking our supporters to people in the disaster zone.

See the following link for more on Sunny-chan and the picture book
“Not Mines, but Flowers”, published by AAR JAPAN:
http://www.aarjapan.gr.jp/english/sunny/index.html

Join the circle of support for earthquake survivors: Give Now

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Nice to meet you! (at Tachibana Kindergarten)
Nice to meet you! (at Tachibana Kindergarten)
Chocolates from Sunny-chan (Tachibana Kindergrtn.)
Chocolates from Sunny-chan (Tachibana Kindergrtn.)
Monitoring radiation exposure (Tachibana Kinderg.)
Monitoring radiation exposure (Tachibana Kinderg.)
May 14, 2012

Rebuilding Workplaces for Persons with Disabilities

New bakery building (Iwate Pref., 20 Jan 2012)
New bakery building (Iwate Pref., 20 Jan 2012)


Social Welfare Facility’s Bread Factory Expanded

In the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake, AAR JAPAN has been providing equipment and supporting the repair and maintenance of approximately 50 social welfare facilities in the disaster-affected areas. One of the facilities we support is Huck’s House, a vocational center for persons with disabilities in Tanohata Village, Iwate Prefecture.

Before the earthquake, the facility’s users made calamari in a seafood processing plant, bread in a bread factory, and Japanese pickles in an agricultural processing plant, all of which were run by Huck’s House. The seafood processing plant brought in a significant income, but the seaside plant was totally destroyed by the March 11th tsunami. To compensate, the facility decided to expand the bread factory and agricultural processing plant, which fortunately escaped damage from the tsunami. The new buildings of the bread factory and agricultural processing plant were completed at the end of December 2011.

Baking Class at the New Factory

The users of Huck’s House were very happy with the new bread factory. While full production will commence once all of the new equipment is installed in May 2012, partial production has already begun using the existing baking equipment.

On January 31st, 10 elementary and 5 junior high school students from the neighboring special needs school attended baking classes led by the baking supervisors at Huck’s House. This was the students’ first time to bake bread. All of them were excited to put on white caps, aprons and face masks, and they listened carefully to the instructions of Mr. Hideki TAKESHITA, the factory manager. “Bread dough breathes,” he told them—and for a moment everyone was afraid to touch the dough with their hands. When facility manager Atsuko TAKESHITA told them that they could make their favorite shapes with the dough, the students smiled and quickly started to make their own original designs.

When the students were done, the tray was lined with shapes of bread that were unique in the world. One boy made his bread in the image of his favorite teacher’s face, planning to give it to him when it was done. Another boy made a rainbow of 7 different types of jam along a 30-cm length of bread, hoping to surprise his friends. One girl simply crammed the dough with as much jam as she could.

The 3 bakers at Huck’s House supported the elementary school students. Like dependable elder brothers, they carried heavy trays, spread the students’ requested jams, and helped students who couldn’t close their dough around their jam. The dough was placed in the oven, and the bread was ready a short time later. The students were happy first with the pleasant smells, and then to see their own unique designs.

A Place for Interaction in the Community

Mr. Kiichi SOJIGAMI used to work at the seafood processing plant. “I was worried because I didn’t know when we could start working again,” he told us. “And we couldn’t see our colleagues because we needed to stay at home for a while after the earthquake.” Now he has started working at the newly-expanded bread factory. He told us enthusiastically, “I am learning now, but I want to be better. I’ll practice every day.”

Huck’s House has been selected to make bread for school lunch in the village, which is anticipated to offer a stable revenue stream. The neighbors both in the nearby temporary housing complex and in the local community are looking forward to having bread from Huck’s House, and the venue is expected to be a place for interaction in the community.

This project has been made possible thanks to many individual donations and through a grant from Japan Platform.

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Baker Kiichi SHOJIGAMI (Huck
Baker Kiichi SHOJIGAMI (Huck's House, Iwate Pref.)
Student at Huck
Student at Huck's House (Iwate Pref., 31 Jan 2012)
Smile for you (Huck
Smile for you (Huck's House, 31 Jan 2012)
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