Updates from Japan Relief Projects

$10+ million
Over 50,000
in 111
May 19, 2015

Volunteers Mix with Locals in Disaster-Stricken Areas

Children painting on playground equipment
Children painting on playground equipment

JEN has been involved in a wide range of activities including helping victims make a living and restoring their communities since the immediate disaster of Ishinomaki in Miyagi prefecture. Our activities to restore communities were conducted mainly in the Ohara district located in the center of the Oshika peninsula.

Two-thirds of the district was left homeless by the tsunami, forcing them to live in shelters, while the other third was able to retain their houses. As a result, the difference in living conditions drove the two sides even further. However, the difference was overcome by the united efforts of local people to resume their traditional festivities and to settle in a higher ground together.

On March 29, about forty volunteers from inside and outside of the district participated in housecleaning for the Ohara Community Center and other facilities. Although the center was affected by the tsunami, it has been restored by volunteers across the country. The center has also provided free accommodation for volunteers in the peninsula, where no other accommodations were available after the disaster. Although the local authorities have planned to demolish the center, it still serves as a vital space for the community to maintain connections among people since no alternative spaces have been constructed.

The participants were divided into three groups to share the cleaning work: the Ohara Community Center; a conversation lounge attached to temporary quarters; other places including a park; small library, and bus station. The first group was assigned to the Ohara Community Center and provided thorough cleanings including neglected places, airing out tatamis and bedding, cleaning overhead lights and swabbing floors, and wiping windows and screens. In the end, the center was so transformed that the locals hardly recognized it, one of them saying “Did we have this bright a room?” The second group worked on fixing fences and painting walls and playground equipment, while the third group cleaned air conditioners, fans, and windows. After completing their assignment, both groups prepared “Okuzukake”, an Ishinomaki specialty dressed in a sauce made from arrowroot starch, for lunch with the help from women taking shelters in temporary quarters.

The volunteers and the locals had cheerful conversations over lunch, enjoying rice balls, “Okuzukake”, and marinated wakame seaweed. According to the impression by a volunteer, “Having contact with [JEN], I’ve realized that because [JEN has] the mentality to cherish a spirit of mutual assistance that can be positive even in tough living conditions.” A word of thanks from the locals was that, due to the help from volunteers, they were able to face difficulties after the disaster, and they were very happy to see the volunteers again. The day’s activity was over after the participants shook hands with each other. At the end of the activity, the locals said “Come visit us again!”


Parks Completed: Children’s Society to Restart

On December 7 last year JEN completed rebuilding two ravaged parks attached to the housing areas in Kamikama district located in the southwest of Ishinomaki city. The aim of the project was to rebuild parks that will help the recovery of the children’s associations.

The project reached its completion after a range of efforts were made to help recover children’s association starting with a planning session with the locals. Events to strengthen community ties at the park under reconstruction work included mowing grass and exercising together in the morning to instructions on the radio. (Japanese school children have a custom of gathering in a park in the morning on their summer break to do exercise while listening to instructions and musical accompaniment on a radio broadcast)

On the day of the ceremony to celebrate the park’s completion, JEN had the children put finishing touches to the park such as assembling benches, painting fences and planting plants and flowers, so that the children could use the park as their “self-made park” for years to come. The children were jumping up and down with joy upon the completion of the park.

JEN interviewed a few children after the two parks were built, and we got the following feedback: “I use to play inside the house, but now I play outside for longer time than before.”; “I’m happy because I can play with my friends in the park.” We now see children playing as well as elderly people socializing and enjoying the scenery around them. Hence, the park has become a place where people of all age groups within the local communities can relax. The completion of the parks has given momentum to the locals’ efforts to restart “children’s association”. In early February, a conference organized by the children’s association was held for the first time since the earthquake, where community members took the lead in forming groups, planning events and so on.

This year on February 22, a local event was hosted by “the children’s organization” for the first time since the earthquake. The event featured duty as well as pleasure; participants made planters for the coming spring, and then enjoyed pounding mochi (rice-cake). Children performed Soran dance  in happi (a festival costume), gifted to the children’s association by JEN. One of the participants said, “We must take good care of happi in order to make use of it in our future activities.”

One could see the participants gathered around the children’s vigorous performance, smiling and cheering. It indeed was an event that was enjoyed by the participants and the audience. Thanks to the completion of park rebuilding, the children’s association restarted its activities. We hope it continues its activities in conjunction with local communities in the Kamikama district. JEN will continue its efforts to support developing local communities so that one day JEN finish its assistance, the local community could continue its activities on their own to provide comfortable and safe environment for children.

Soran dance in happi
Soran dance in happi
Pounding mochi
Pounding mochi
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
Apr 21, 2015

Two Good News, But Also Very Sad News

Isatomae Fukko Shopping Arcade
Isatomae Fukko Shopping Arcade

One good news is that the Isatomae Fukko Shopping Arcade (IFSA) now has a clear schedule of moves to a temporary place (in August 2015) and also to the final place (December 2016). Now, people there started seeing the long-waited end of a tunnel..

The other good news is that a support by a labor union of a company mediated by the DSIA may come to be soon finalized. Three people from the labor union came to discuss with the Head of the IFSA, and proposed to sell some of seasonable commodities to about 6,000 full- and part-time union members. For special events organized by the IFSA, union members can voluntary come to not only help their events, but also participate in events. The labor union also offered to purchase a winner’s cup and medals for a football competition among eight grade school teams in the area. They even offered to give discount tickets to all participants to purchase their food sold by dispatched kitchen cars from the company. They are now trying to work out the details.

One very sad news is that the Head of the IFSA was refused to move into the final Arcade to be started in December 2016. He was the one the DSIA negotiated for establishing a temporary shop tent in 2011, has been the key representative of local organizations to receive GlobalGiving donations, and is now trying to organize a system of support to be provided by the labor union mediated by the DSIA. He is the present head of the IFSA, has organized many events to bring tourists, and has been negotiating with the city government for reconstruction. He has been truly devoting to the development of the Isatomae Community.  

Why did this happen? In the next month, a new company, which manages shopping arcades in both Sizugawa and Isatomae, will be established. Since the preparatory committee of the company is trying to prevent the future bankruptcy of the company, they developed very strict standards. Their goal is to prepare for the company’s sustainability of the next twenty years. This sounds a very good idea. But the committee asked consultants from Tokyo to evaluate the businesses of all members, and decided that members not having a prospect of survival for the next ten years will not be allowed to move into arcades, even if they have money and wish to join. Since the IFSA Head is operating a clothing and sport goods shop, consultants informed him of future market prediction, which will clearly decline due to shrinking children population. Their prediction turned out to be that he may do well for the next five years, especially due to the reconstruction of the area, but after that, it may become fairly difficult to continue his business. To me, what is taking place now is quite wrong. One reason is because nobody can decide to exit from one’s business other than those who operate businesses themselves. The other reason is that he has been diversifying into a few other businesses just recently which is not yet becoming big. But in many rural areas, it is very common to operate several small businesses to generate some decent revenues. Since I lived in a remote area in Niigata, I saw some companies expanding their businesses frequently through diversification. In a sense, he can dynamically cope with changes in the market as he faces environmental changes. Tokyo consultants treat the situation of each member very statically, and do not see evolutionary potentials. I personally feel that such decision should be left to the initiatives of individual members whether one is to take a risk or not and that the market will come to pressure individuals to make their decisions.

In order to keep the stability of this arcade company, this company is to invite a Tokyo-based convenience store. I am in favor of bringing it to the arcade, as long as they work to help local economy develop rather than simply sucking up the business opportunities of the local. How can it be done? This is clearly another difficult area, since it is far less costly to bring everything from what has been mass produced in other areas. A less populated area will not succeed in generating its economic dynamics without the base of community support and movements. People in Isatomae may end up facing much tougher situations than before if the community disintegrates. Some people criticize some types of consultants for their motives to make money from government subsidies with little interest in helping community development, though how to develop a less-populated area is a difficult issue and a central issue discussed presently in Japan.

The temporary shop tent still used as a storage
The temporary shop tent still used as a storage


Apr 1, 2015

Monthly Report vol.42

How Disaster-affected Children Are Living “Today”

“I lost a lot of precious people and things such as family, friends and a home, but since the earthquake, I have learned about the kindness of people and how tough it is to keep living. Now I can feel grateful about everything.”

Recently, we received such messages from high school and college students who were affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake. The messages are part of the essays we received from scholars of Civic Force’ s “Dream Support Project,” which supports students in Miyagi, Fukushima and Iwate prefectures with scholarships and support programs.

The Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011 and the ensuing tsunami inflicted enormous damages, including over 18,000 people dead or missing. As many parents lost their children, many children also lost their loved ones including their parents, relatives and friends.

According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, the number of bereaved children and orphans who lost one or both parents in the earthquake totaled 1,723 as of 2012. These children must adapt not only to changes in their home environment but also to changes in their study environment, such as familiar school buildings destroyed and left unrepaired as well as school grounds being used for temporary housing. In particular, many children have been forced to evacuate from some areas of Fukushima Prefecture, which has been affected by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident. Reconstruction of schools, which are the core of each local community, and mental health care of children are major issues that must be addressed together with the reconstruction of the disaster-affected regions as a whole.

Three and a half years have passed since the earthquake. In this Monthly Report, we will portray how children in Tohoku, are facing forward and proactively tackling new challenges “today” while carrying the burden of the memories of “that day.”

During the summer holidays in August, Civic Force held a three-day hands-on training in Tome City and Kesennuma City, Miyagi Prefecture, and a networking event for the scholars of the “Dream Support Project” in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures. We will also report on these events in this issue.

In addition, we will report on the relief activities for the landslide disaster which occurred in Hiroshima Prefecture in August, a joint disaster drill held in Aichi Prefecture on National Disaster Prevention Day, and the “Jinseki-Kougen Tour” held in Hiroshima Prefecture for residents of Fukushima who are planning to relocate.

Please be informed that the Monthly Report, which has been published on the 11th of every month following the earthquake, will be discontinued after this issue and our next report will be released as a newsletter in December. Please refer to page 4 for more information.

Mar 31, 2015

Report on "Support high school students in Tohoku"

Dear Global Giving Supporters,


AMDA has been supporting the high school students living in Tohoku region, where the number of lives has been impacted by the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami on 11 March 2011. AMDA has provided the scholarship to 281 students in the past 4 years. As it has been four year since the disaster occurred, we hope some of our scholarship students finally become medical professionals in this year after their studying at professional school for three years.

Thank you very much for your warm supports to our scholarship program. Your continuous support would be highly appreciated.


Mar 11, 2015

Relief for Japan's Tsunami Victims

Gymnastics Exercises. Courtesy of JEN
Gymnastics Exercises. Courtesy of JEN

Dear GlobalGivers,

Thank you so much for your continued support for the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund! Your generous contributions have been crucial to help many communities rebuild after the earthquake and prepare for the upcoming fishing season.

The Peace Winds America team has been hard at work building fishing sheds for tsunami victims. They have already completed over 100 sheds, which give local fisherman, who are still living in temporary housing needing to generate income, a place to work and store their equipment. The recipients of the sheds had a fantastic oyster season where they caught many large, plump oysters and were able to sell them at high prices, supporting their rebuilding and recovery. Peace Winds America is currently working on building 14 new fishing shelters which will be completed in time for the upcoming seaweed harvest and spring fishing season.

On the Road has continued its construction of the Multi-Purpose Recovery Base in the Japanese city of Ishinomaki. Over the past three months, volunteers have finished the electrical work, completed the drainage system, and painted many interior rooms. Once it is completed, the base will host community events and workshops to rebuild and strengthen community ties that were broken following the tsunami.

The Japan Emergency NGO (JEN) has sponsored many community events to help the people of Ishinomaki recover. In December, they held their “Handicrafts Market” where local artisans congregated to sell their products. Each year, this fair empowers local women to become self-sustaining and to turn their hobby into lasting businesses. JEN also built two new parks to give children an outdoors space to congregate and play. The kids’ response towards these parks will help JEN tailor an additional 70 parks tailored specifically to the wants of the children and parents. In November, JEN hosted a match-making event to help men and women find partners and learn about life in the fishing village. Congratulations to the 5 happy new couples who met during the event!

None of this would have been possible without you! Thank you for your continued support for Japan’s recovering communities.

Volunteers Working Outdoors. Courtesy of JEN
Volunteers Working Outdoors. Courtesy of JEN
A new fishing shed. Courtesy of Peace Winds
A new fishing shed. Courtesy of Peace Winds
Disaster Recovery Base. Courtesy of On the Road
Disaster Recovery Base. Courtesy of On the Road
Mar 6, 2015

Disaster Recovery Project 4th Anniversary

  Please join us on March 11th as we pause to reflect on the fourth anniversary of the Tohoku Triple Disaster, to pay our respects to all those who sadly perished and to think of all those who are still living in temporary housing and trying with great resilience to further rebuild their lives.  So long as people are still living in temporary housing, we will continue to hold cafes and other events at temporary housing sites in Tohoku.  And we will travel to Ogatsu to help maintain the community house which was built with the help of the Major League Baseball Players Association, the US-Japan Council and your generous donations.  We also are looking for more ways for those living in the Greater Tokyo Area to participate in our Tohoku projects and for new ways for HOT volunteers to provide support to local Tohoku businesses and families during this continued post-disaster recovery period.

  Thank you very much for your continued generous support which enabled us to bring the spirit of Christmas and Valentine’s Day to temporary housing residents in the Yamamoto-cho area of Miyagi Prefecture. In December, HOT volunteers collaborated with a Tokyo-based boy scout troop from The American School in Japan in bringing Christmas presents to children living at a temporary housing site and holding a Christmas-themed café at another temporary housing site. 

  The presents were festively decorated by students from a Tokyo-based girls’ primary and secondary school, Seisen International School.  This is a great example of how students in the Tokyo area can participate in Tohoku projects when they are unable to travel to Tohoku. Primary and secondary school students from the boy scouts troop helped the children living at the temporary housing site select Christmas presents.  There was much laughter and many smiles while the presents were being opened and while the boy scouts, their scout leaders, the HOT volunteers, the children and their families enjoyed spending time together.  Many of the children living at the temporary housing site are under six years old and have spent much, if not all, of their lives living in temporary housing.      

   We then held a Christmas-themed café at another temporary housing site where the boy scouts and HOT volunteers, all wearing Santa’s helper and reindeer hats, made yakisoba and French toast, grilled sausages and prepared goody bags filled with holiday-themed cookies and sweets. 

   In February, 18 HOT volunteers, including teenagers who live in a children’s home in the Greater Tokyo Area, held a Valentine’s Day themed café at another temporary housing site in Yamamoto-cho for the first time.  We are looking to hold cafes and other events at temporary housing sites in Tohoku that we have not visited before.  HOT volunteers made yakisoba and French toast, grilled sausages (some cut into fun shapes such as like an octopus thanks to the special talents of our HOT volunteers) and served hot drinks and Valentine’s themed cakes and other sweets.  Yakisoba is a nostalgic comfort food in Japan.  One of the temporary housing residents said that the ingredients have gotten more expensive recently so she has not been able to prepare it for her family and she was very happy to have been able to enjoy a yakisoba lunch with her family at the café.

   HOT volunteers in Tokyo also made heart-shaped sugar cookies which we brought to the café and decorated with icing and heart-shaped sprinkles with the temporary housing residents.  It was wonderful seeing multiple generations enjoying time together decorating the Valentine’s cookies and creating new memories.  After lunch one of the HOT volunteers played beautiful songs on his keyboard and then another HOT volunteer demonstrated hula dancing and taught the residents and other HOT volunteers how to hula dance.  We did several hula dances together and learned the meaning of many of the hula dance moves.  Thank you for helping us bring smiles to the faces of so many temporary housing residents. 

   There are still labor shortages in certain parts of Tohoku which makes it very hard for local farmers to further rebuild their lives, run their farms and grow their businesses. They and their families cannot do all the labor-intensive work by themselves.  They need the continued support of volunteers.  With your generous contributions, HOT volunteers have been able to continue to support local farmers, Saito-san and his wife, and the New Rice Center in Yamamoto-cho.  The New Rice Center gives local rice farmers a place to store equipment and supplies and to work, get together and share information. It also contains new rice thrashing equipment that local farmers can use when harvesting rice and packaging the harvested rice for the market.

   In December, HOT volunteers and boy scouts helped the New Rice Center by attacking a mountain of rice chaff, the protective casings separated from rice grains during the thrashing process.  The rice chaff has to be manually bagged so that it can be taken away and used as fertilizer.  Then, in February, HOT volunteers, including teenagers who live in a children’s home in the Greater Tokyo Area, helped Saito-san and his wife by weeding the inside of several hot houses to help Saito-san and his wife prepare for the next growing season and by striping the bark from logs and then treating the wood so that the logs can be used to build wind barriers.   It is hard to imagine how long it would take local farmers to bag and remove all of the rice chaff and for Saito-san and his wife to prepare for the next growing season without the support of volunteers.   

  We will continue to organize more volunteer trips to further support Saito-san and his wife, the New Rice Center and others in Tohoku as they work hard to further rebuild their lives.  We also will continue the job shadowing program with Saito-san and other local Tohoku farmers for youths who must leave the children’s home when they turn 18.  This will connect local Tohoku farmers who are looking for young people to work with in rebuilding the local agricultural economy and youths who lack family and other support in finding jobs.

  In January, we commenced a new Tohoku volunteer project with BNP Paribas.  Volunteers are helping plant a rose garden at a home in Tsukuba in Ibaraki Prefecture for children who are unable to live with their families.  This project will teach the children the joy of gardening and will help Okada-san who used to have a large rose garden in Fukushima before the nuclear accident forced him to evacuate four years ago.  Okada-san relocated to Tsukuba and greatly missed his hometown and beloved rose garden.  After hearing his story, we suggested to Okada-san that he work with HOT volunteers and children living at this home to plant a new rose garden for future generations to enjoy.  

 None of this would be possible without your generous support. Thank you in advance for your continued support and for touching the hearts and souls of so many people in Tohoku, particularly at the time of the fourth anniversary.  

Mar 3, 2015

Tohoku Fellowship Program advances to the next stage

201 Fellows to 111 Projects - 62% still in Tohoku
201 Fellows to 111 Projects - 62% still in Tohoku

Almost 4 years have passed since the Great Japan East Earthquake on March 11, 2011. Thanks to tremendus support from around the world, ETIC could have recruited 201 Fellows and sent them to 111 recovery projects. As we described in the previous reports, Fellows have made significant contributions to the recovery of Tohoku, where the aging rate is very high and thus the lack of workforce has been one of the bottleneck issues.

About 62% of the ex-Fellows decied to stay in Tohoku to continuously work for recovery. Fourteen ex-Fellows launched their own company/nonprofit.

However, Tohoku is still on a long way to the recovery. A number of leaders need Fellows who work with them as a right-hand person. Therefore, ETIC decided to expand its target for the Fellowship Program from 200 Fellows in 3 years to 300 Fellows in 5 years.

In order to achieve the target, ETIC has renewed its recruiting website to attract motivated young people. We will actively pulicize information and stories on recovery projects with good leaders in Tohoku (we are very sorry that the documents will be written only in Japanese).

New recruiting website
New recruiting website

The north coast of Japan was hit by a horrible tsunami after an 9.0 magnitude earthquake that occurred 80 miles offshore. The largest earthquake to strike Japan on record, millions of people have been affected by this massive disaster.

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