On 15th and 16 March, AAR Japan hosted the Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Event in Soma City, Fukushima Prefecture, as a parallel event to the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture. This two-day event included a music concert and a symposium on DDR, in which a total of 1,100 people participated.
At the concert, a great number of disaster survivors enjoyed folk songs by Japanese folk singers and the performance of a professional impressionist, mimicking sounds of animals.
The symposium held on the next day was informative and thought-provoking. Dr. Kyung-Wha Kang, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), attended the symposium as a guest speaker. Referring to the Great East Japan Earthquake on 11 March 2011 and its aftermath, she highlighted that “the unique experience of Fukushima offers many lessons for humanitarian crises, not only to improve Japan’s own Disaster Risk Reduction efforts, but also to build a more resilient world.”
After the inspiring speech from Dr. Kang, the Soma City Mayor, representatives from local organizations, and physicians working in Soma Region passed on experiences and lessons learned through emergency operations and rehabilitation efforts after the 3.11 Tohoku catastrophe. Panelists also discussed DRR measures to prepare for, mitigate, and better respond to future disasters.
Ms. Hideko Igarashi, official storyteller of Soma City Disaster Storyteller Group, was one of the panelists in the symposium and told about her experiences from the disaster. On March 11th, she was working in her guest house near Soma beach when the massive tsunami swept her away. “The tsunami rushed toward us quickly and quietly. The waves dashed against buildings and houses, and increased in its strength. Before I knew it, I was swallowed by the waves,” she recalled. “I could no longer hold onto the hands of my husband and uncle, who were running away with me. I felt fear of death for the very first time in my life”.
Unfortunately, Hideko lost her husband and uncle to the tsunami. It was a year later that she decided to become a story-teller, but in the beginning she had no idea what message to convey to the audience. She sometimes sobbed for the entire session, recalling the day. Today, Hideko has made it her mission to speak about her experiences, while appreciating life and the fact that she survived. She also feels that her husband and uncle are giving her a supportive push.
Speaking about the importance being aware of disasters, she stressed that “evacuation is the first and foremost priority when a disaster strikes. We are forgetful beings. We must remember the Great East Japan Earthquake and its lessons, and maintain crisis awareness at all times.”
It has been almost four years since the 3.11 disaster struck Tohoku Region in Japan. In the disaster stricken areas, some rehabilitation and reconstruction progress can be seen. For instance, new public restoration apartments have been constructed. Some people have already moved out of temporary housing complexes on their own. On the other hand, there are those who drew a losing ticket for public housing allocation and are waiting for construction of other public restoration apartments, as well as those who are hesitative about moving to public housing due to concerns about monthly rent payment (temporary housing residents do not need to pay rent).
Many of the residents at temporary housing complexes are elderly, and it is difficult for them to reconstruct house on their own, and to leave their hometown and join a new community. As such they tend to live alone in a temporary housing complex. Further, alcohol dependence is prevalent among those with a dismal outlook after losing a job to the earthquake or nuclear power plant accident, or those who cannot free themselves from much sorrow over the loss of family members and friends.
In response, AAR Japan has conducted a variety of events under “Building Health Communities Project” to prevent deterioration of physical and psychological well-being and to promote communication within temporary housing complexes in Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima Prefectures. In Tohoku Region, many people are reticent and reserved, and tend not to open up to outsiders. Knowing these characteristics of Tohoku people, AAR has regularly visited same temporary housing complexes to gain their trust with time and care.
This is a report from one of those temporary housing complexes in Watari Town, Miyagi Prefecture. 306 lives were lost to the 3.11 earthquake and tsunami, and 3,733 houses were destroyed or damaged in the town. AAR has been assisting Watari Town since the occurrence of the disaster, and has visited the featured temporary housing 13 times (as of the end of January, 2014).
On December 14th, 2014, AAR staff and a counselor visited the temporary housing complex. It was a cold day with snow piled on the ground. Despite the weather, a total of 16 residents gathered in the meeting hall to participate in a recreational activity to make mini Christmas trees using a pine cone. As a prior notice was disseminated among the residents, many looked forward to the event. The participants concentrated on the task of delicately putting beads on a pine cone. Towards the end of the activity, the participants started to discuss a variety of topics including daily lives at the temporary housing (life rhythm, handicrafts that they made), the prospect of their new house (anxiety and relief about moving into a new house), and their health (tips for cold prevention and care for maintain their physique).
At the beginning of the activity, however, it seemed that a sense of unity was lacking in the temporary housing complex. It was probably because the residents came from several different communities in Watari Town, and they separated themselves into small community groups. Nonetheless, once mini Christmas trees were made, the walls between the groups broke down. They enjoyed interacting with each other. After the activity that required much concentration, we ended the day with calisthenics.
When everyone was almost finished with the mini Christmas tree making, a lady in her 80s approached an AAR staff member, and started to talk about her experience of the day the disaster struck. “Immediately after the earthquake, I asked the company president if I could go home”, she recalled. “That was the right judgment call. My colleagues who stayed at work passed away… I survived, but I only had clothes I was wearing, and everything else was washed away. Not even a picture is left. It’s sad.” She continued, “I can’t fit in this temporary housing complex where most people are from different communities. All the houses are so close to each other, and I feel like my neighbors are peeping in my house. This had never happened to where I used to live. I’m fed up with living in this cramped cave.”
Although almost four years has passed, and many people lived in the same complex, there are still those who isolate themselves from their neighbors. Those people do not have anyone or any opportunities to talk about their feelings and bitter experience of the disaster. Some pour out their feelings when AAR visits the temporary housing complexes. It is not easy to assuage someone’s grief over loss of not only friends and family, but also livelihood and hometown. What we can do is to be with the survivors’ hearts and offer those who isolate themselves opportunities to interact with others. Four years since the disaster, such psychosocial care is still needed. AAR will continue to provide the survivors with psychosocial care through Building Healthy Communities Project.
AAR Japan organises a variety of events for temporary housing residents, who have been living in a dire situation ever since the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, for the purpose of giving joy and encouragement to, and revitalising communities.As one of such efforts, we organized violin and ocarina concerts at a temporary housing complex and community hall in Minamisoma City, Fukushima Prefecture and Watari Town, Miyagi Prefecture on 4th and 5th of October, 2014. The temporary housing complex in Minamisoma City accommodates evacuees from Odaka-Ku near Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Their home was not only destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami, but also contaminated by radiation from the power plant, which prohibits the evacuees from returning to their homes. Watari Town is located in the coastal area in the south of Miyagi Prefecture and had a vibrant town life with a prospering fishing industry and a popular beautiful beach before the disaster.On this occasion, we invited Ms Mitoko Sato, a Japanese violinist active in France who has been playing the violin in the disaster-stricken areas, to play in the temporary housing communities. ”I live off music”, she says and explains that “the only way that I can help the disaster survivors is through music”. At the concerts, she collaborated with a group of local ocarina musicians from Soma City, Fukushima Prefecture, upon her request. The concert started off with ocarina performance. The local musicians played Japanese popular songs, folk songs, and local traditional songs. The warm timbre of ocarina brought smiles to the residents of temporary housing complexes. Violin performance of classic music, which followed the ocarina performance, fascinated the audience, as well. The highlight of the concert was the joint performance of ocarina and violin. They played chorus music, which everyone knows from his/her school days, as well as Japanese National Television’s rooters’ song, “Hana wa Saku (Flowers bloom)” “Hana ha Saku” was performed alongside sign language. The harmony of the violin and ocarina was truly beautiful. The audience brought back smiles to home after the concerts. Three years and eight months after the disaster, some progress toward rehabilitation can be recognised in terms of construction of private housing and public permanent housing for the evacuees. However, approximately 188,000 people still live in temporary housing complexes in three prefectures affected by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. In order to support these evacuees and survivors, AAR Japan is determined to continue our assistance activities in disaster-stricken areas.
AAR Japan visited the former residents of Katsurao Village, Fukushima Prefecture, where the radiation level is significantly high, at Kaiyama Temporary Housing Complex and held a Fragrant Soap Making Class and a Classic Concert. 32 people have participated.
AAR has been hosting monthly events at various Temporary Housing Complex since May, 2012. From this experience, we have found that many disaster victims suffer from isolation, insomnia, depression and other hardships. Aiming to ease their stress and improve their mental health, we have organized this event in which participants could relax themselves with botanical aroma. Aromatherapy is effective in altering a person’s mind, mood, cognitive function or health from negative to positive.
Chihiro Itani, an aroma-therapist, lectured ‘Aromatherapy 101’ class and introduced the variety of essential oils and their effects. It was the first time to appreciate aromatherapy for many of the participants, and they seemed very interested in the lecture. After the lecture, participants sniffed and compared various scents and chose their favorite to make a fragrant soap with. “I love this smell!” “This one smells like shiso leaf.” “What shape should I make?” The conversation took lively turn. To our surprise, there were several male participants actively engaging in the making of soap, which was a rare scene in our usual events. A male participant who made a heart-shaped soap happily told us that he would give it to his wife as a present.
There was an Instrumental Trio Concert with trumpet, trombone, and piano following the Soap Making Class. Familiar songs and famous songs were played, and there were many participants who hummed along with their favorite tunes.
Three years have passed since the 3.11 the Great East Japan Earthquake, and residents of the temporary housing complex grieve the fact that there are less and less events for them now. They were afraid that they have been forgotten over time. We will continue to hold events to support the disaster victims and make sure that no one is left behind.
On March 12th, 2014, AAR Japan and the ladies who live in Kojirahama Temporary Housing Complex in Kamaishi City, Iwate Prefecture, prepared red and white rice cakes for the students and teachers of Toni Junior High School. Kamaishi City suffered from catastrophic impact caused by the 3.11 earthquake. The ladies living in the Complex located within 5 minute walk from the school adore these junior high school students as if they were their own grandchildren, and have been wishing to do something for them. Likewise, Toni Junior High School appreciates the relationship with the residents of Kojirahama Temporary Housing Complex and often invites the residents to their school events.
To celebrate the graduation of the class 2014, the ladies suggested preparing something heartwarming as a graduation present, so AAR Japan decided on red and white rice cakes, as the combination of red and white is a symbol of auspicious or happy occasion in Japanese culture. As it takes a lot of time and effort to prepare rice cakes with traditional equipment, AAR Japan provided two new rice cake machines to the local community center in Toni district.
With their practiced hands, the ladies finished preparing rice cakes so much faster than we initially expected. Soft and aromatic with the scent of glutinous rice, their rice cakes came out even better than the ones sold at stores. AAR Japan staff was moved when hearing the participant say “Knowing that this is for the students definitely gives us motivation!”
In Japan, celebration has been traditionally accompanied by rice cakes. People used to prepare rice cakes with traditional equipment but are more apt to buy them at a store. Having two new rice cake machines, ladies of Kojirahama Temporary Housing Complex are now able to prepare rice cakes whenever they want to. In fact, the ladies were already discussing preparing rice cakes for the celebration ceremony of raising the framework of a public housing complex.
We do not know yet when the residents of Kojirahama Temporary Housing Complex will be able to move into new permanent houses. Some of the construction sites are finally fixed, but even on those places general contractors are not yet arranged to start the construction. The prospect of moving out from the Temporary Housing Complex is still not clear.
The longer the life continues in Temporary Housing Complex, the more important such social events become for the residents; as it is easy to isolate themselves in the Temporary Housing Complex. Though the preparing of red and white rice cakes, the ladies of Kojirahama Temporary Housing Complex were able to socialize with each other as well as to build strong relationship with Toni Junior High School. We sincerely hope that the young and the old of Toni Town continue to unite and move forward together.
This activity was made possible by your generous donations. We have purchased two new rice cake machines and some glutinous rice for this activity.
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