On August 9th 2013, we organized a community interaction event at Matsukawa Daini Temporary Housing Complex in Fukushima City, Fukushima Prefecture. The event program included body massages by a professional physical therapist, folk music concert and a magic show. A total of 41 participants gathered at the community center in the temporary housing complex and enjoyed the entertaining performance, briefly forgetting the mental fatigue, which the evacuees daily experience.
Although the event had been announced to begin at 1:00 p.m., several participants started coming at around 12:30 p.m. In the first hour, the participants received body massage by the professional physiotherapist, Ms. Yokoyama, which helped the participants relax their bodies and receive advice on their health condition. At 2:00 p.m., a pair of men in bright costumes showed up in front of the audience, who turned out to be the great magicians/comedy duo ‘Akkerakan’. They performed various and eye-catching tricks and even a pigeon appeared from a hat, which evoked a wave of applause among the audience. A 10 years-old boy, Sho, who participated in the event with his grandmother, volunteered and greatly enjoyed to assist the magician duo. With an excited and amused smile, he told us that it was his first time to see a magic so closely. Then the folk music concert started, amusing the audience with powerful music, dance and comical short drama. During the concert, the audience intently listened to the united harmony of powerful singing voice, Shamisen (Japanese traditional string instrument) and Tsuzumi (Japanese traditional drum). Some participants shed tears when they and the performers together sang a message song about the prayers for the recovery of disaster-affected areas. Then, changing the atmosphere completely, a short comedy drama was performed, which featured a character that was very popular among the senior generation of the participants. The event ended with the biggest applause and beaming smiles of the audience.
Since the residents in Matsukawa Daini Temporary Housing Complex are originally from the same village, the social ties are relatively retained, and there are opportunities for gathering and doing activities together. Still, the participants assured that they were happy to join such events that gave another opportunity to come out to mingle with other residents. They are originally from Iitate Village, a large area of which is classified in the off-limit zone due to the high level of radiation. When an AAR Japan staff member Matsumoto had a chance to talk with two of the participants, Ms. Ito and Ms. Takahashi, they spoke cheerfully and, even with a laugh, described their village as ‘the area that was most severely damaged by the radiation’. They continued, ‘Even after moving to this temporary housing complex, we are doing quite well since the residents are all from the same village. We enjoy playing gateball and crafting basket together, and we are getting along well’. However, when they were asked whether they wanted to return to their home village, their facial expression slightly hardened. They answered, ‘We are not sure about that, since we are not able to return in any way’. This is the moment when we re-acknowledged that there is still a long way to go for the evacuees to positively look at their future. We will continue our efforts to cheer up the feelings of disaster-affected people and help them regain the strength to look forward.
Water is essential for life, and Japan has been proud of its abundance in water. However, after the accident at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, shortage of safe water is threatening the well-being of young children in Fukushima. The following report describes AAR’s current effort to protect health of children by providing bottled water to nurseries and kindergartens in Fukushima Prefecture.
After the accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant in 2011, radiation exposure has been a serious concern for everyone living in the affected area including young children who are thought to experience larger impact by radiation. Mothers are always worried about what their children consume at home and outside. Although food comes to many people’s mind as a primary source of radiation exposure, water, not only for drinking but also for cooking, is also a critical one.
In the most part of Fukushima Prefecture, water for daily use was not something people are accustomed to paying for. Instead they used to use tap water for drinking and cooking without worry before the nuclear power plant accident. When concern about the radiation contamination in tap water arose, nurseries and kindergartens were suddenly forced to find a way to procure safe water. At any nurseries and kindergartens, plenty of water is used every day for drinking, cooking lunch and snack for children and preparing milk for infants. However, many facilities did not have a separate budget for water purchase and no extra budget was available especially in the aftermath of the earthquake - people were facing a lot of unexpected expenses. There were some nursery school staff who bought safe bottled water for children at their own expenses and some nurseries had children to bring bottled water from home. Some teachers told us that they really wished to let children drink safe water as much as they want when they are thirsty, which they took for granted for ages.
In response to this wish, AAR Japan has been providing safe bottled water to 9 nurseries and kindergartens in Soma, Minami Soma and Date City in Fukushima Prefecture. The total amount delivered reached 16,480 litters so far. It was a great pleasure for us to see children happily drinking water and more unforgettable was the facility staff’s relieved expression. They told us that although they sometimes received time-to-time water donation, they had always been anxious since the donation was not guaranteed to continue. Water is simply essential for daily living, and the fear of running out of it is horrifying.
AAR Japan has also been supporting Yotsuba Nursery School through providing fruits for children’s lunch. Due to the concern on the radiation contamination in locally produced food, the nursery school has tried to purchase food items produced outside Fukushima Prefecture, but as they were costlier than the locally produced, this option was not financially sustainable. Hence AAR Japan decided to deliver fruits that are produced outside Fukushima Prefecture in response to the request from the nursery. Children are now able to enjoy seasonal, nutritious and safe fresh fruits for lunch. Meanwhile, this support could have more meaning - maintaining balanced diet and good eating habit at an early stage of life has a huge impact on children’s growth and future physical health. Children are eating not only for today, but also for their future.
AAR Japan will continue the support through provision of water and fruits to nurseries and kindergartens. Let us help children and mothers in Fukushima Prefecture to maintain good health through safe water and balanced diet.
Overview of the Damage that Still Remains
It has been nearly two years since the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11th, 2011. In spite of the steady recovery process, many people are still suffering from the aftereffects of the disaster. Many people are still displaced because of the radiation spill at the Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Fukushima Prefecture. For example, evacuees are forced to stay in temporary housing complexes because their homes and workplaces were completely washed away by the tsunami.
According to the Ministry of Reconstruction in Japan, as of December 12th 2012, there are still 98,235 people living in the temporary housing complexes and other types of publicly subsidized residences in Fukushima Prefecture alone. In the Tohoku region as a whole (Fukushima, Miyagi, and Iwate Prefectures), there are 251,869 people who share the same fate.
Number of evacuees living in temporary housing complexes and other subsidized housing
Number of evacuees who evacutaded out of their home prefectures and still cannot go back
For those who used to live within 20km of the Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Fukushima Prefecture, there is still no prospect of being able to go back to their homes in the near future. For those whose houses are outside of that restricted area, the problem of the radiation contamination still looms. There is an ongoing effort to cleanse and decontaminate the residential areas, but the effect is very limited and temporary. Since the forests and the soil of mountains regions have accumulated radioactive particles over time, every rainfall carries the threat of radioactive contamination via water streams, resulting in increases of radiation levels in residential areas downstream.
Our Building Healthy Communities Project
We started the Building Healthy Communities Project to mitigate the physical and psychological pain felt by the victims of the March 11th disaster. We hoped to help people living in temporary housing complexes recover from their many losses – their loved ones, homes, workplaces, and precious personal possessions.
Through the Building Healthy Communities Project, we hoped to foster strong, personal interaction among the victims so that they may get over their plight not alone, but as a community. People would get to know each other and start to build new supportive relationships, and as that happens on a larger and larger scale, it would re-vitalize a sense of community and the hope of regaining some normalcy.
The Building Healthy Communities Project mainly consists of 2 activities:
Between July 1st, 2012 and December 31st, 2013 we have held 9 events all together. As intended, each event was enjoyed by many elderly people and small children. Below is a record of the number of events and the number of participants we had for each activity.
We appreciate all the kind messages and generous donations that enable us to organize these events to help alleviate the pain, sadness and stress of those affected. We will continue our support for those still suffering, and every donation will help us reach as many people in need as possible. Finally, please take a look at the photos below to see how our activities are translating into smiles.
Growing Vegetables as an Opportunity for Community Interaction
Before the disaster, many of those living in temporary housing complexes along the shoreline of Miyagi Prefecture used to grow vegetables on their farms or in their home gardens. However, their lands and gardens were washed away in the tsunami, making it difficult for them to secure land and restart their farmwork. They used to be physically active through their daily farmwork, but many of them are now suffering from lack of exercise since the disaster. With the added stress of having to cope with their prolonged lives in the temporary housing complexes, some are starting to show signs of hikikomori (social withdrawal).
In such situation, activities that involve plowing vacant plots of land and growing vegetables are becoming popular in disaster-affected areas among the survivors in the effort to regain their original lives and to solve the problem of lack of exercise. AAR Japan is currently supporting survivors by preparing pieces of land that can be used as vegetable gardens as well as providing farming tools. By working cooperatively on their new gardens, people have naturally begun to converse with each other more and show smiles.
Onagawa Town, Miyagi Prefecture: “We are Happy to be able to Eat What We Made on Our Own”
Extending even into its mountainous area, the tsunami had a catastrophic effect on Onagawa Town located on the Sanriku coast. There are still many people living in temporary housing complexes.
Mr. Yoshihiro TAKAHASHI, the chairman of Onagawa Town Shimizu District Council, spearheaded the creation of a vegetable garden using a vacant piece of land in front of the temporary housing complex. There is a river next to the land so there is plenty of water that can be used for the garden. However, this area was hit by the tsunami so rubbles and rocks had to be removed first in order to use the land as a garden. In addition, the soil was sterile and lacked the minerals needed for healthy growth of vegetables.
In response, AAR Japan provided a small farm tractor, farming tools such as sickles, hoes, and shovels, a storage room to keep all the tools, 2 tons of new soil, and organic fertilizer, among other materials. As for the removal of rubbles, students from the Tohoku Welfare University and members of the Onagawa Recovery Support Center offered their help. There were many big rocks and the clearing process was not a smooth task, but a 450 square-meter vegetable garden was successfully completed after removing the rocks little by little and placing the new soil into the prepared plot of land.
This garden was named as “Fureai Noen” by the users. As the land became settled and the vegetables began to grow, smiles on the faces of people chatting as they pulled weeds or watered the vegetables, and mothers preparing snacks for afternoon tea time, have become more noticeable.
Higashi-Matsushima City, Miyagi Prefecture: Working Together to Set Up Greenhouses
At Uchihibiki temporary housing complex, Ms. Tomiko FUKUDA, a local resident, garnered support from the community council chairperson and a local support center and initiated the creation of a vegetable garden on a piece of land located next to the complex, which was to be shared among the residents. AAR Japan decided to provide farming tools such as hoes and shovels, a storage room, and greenhouses to what they named “Hibiki Farm”. With the greenhouses, the residents can grow vegetables even when it is cold.On May 13th, the greenhouses were set up with mainly the help from the men living in Uchihibiki temporary housing complex. Despite the ground being muddy following heavy rain, they managed to complete setting up the frames with the help of AAR Japan staff members, which took an entire day. 2 weeks later, on May 28th, volunteers from the Nishihonganji Tohoku division came to help the residents covering the frames with vinyl.
The completed greenhouses will start to be used around October. All the other pieces of land have been allocated to the residents, with roughly 25 residents starting to grow vegetables. Residents who previously rarely interacted with each other have begun to talk to one another through their activities at Hibiki Farm.
In addition to the above two cases, AAR Japan is providing agricultural support to disaster survivors in other areas such as “Tsuchi wo Aisuru Kai” in Higashi-Matsushima City, and “Umakko Noen” and “Mizunuki Noen” in Ishinomaki City through the provision of farming tools and planters, installation of wells, and preparation of land.
The activity of making vegetables is well received even among the elderly and men who have had the tendency of isolating themselves in their homes, as they have found it easy to participate in something where they can utilize their skills. AAR Japan will continue to support such disaster survivors so that they can engage in a healthy lifestyle, both physically and mentally.
The Colors and Aromas of a Rainbow of Flowers, to welcome Mother’s Day
As part of the ongoing recovery activities in the earthquake-hit Tohoku region, Association for Aid and Relief, Japan (AAR Japan) is carrying out a campaign called ‘Delivering Flowers and Magokoro (literally meaning “true heart”) to the Disaster-Affected Areas’. Supporters from all over Japan have welcomed the idea to deliver flowers to the desolate disaster areas from which the tsunami has taken everything. On May 13th, 2012, we visited the social welfare facility ‘Oguni no Sato’ in Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture. ‘Oguni no Sato’ is a temporary housing complex for persons with disabilities (PWDs) and their families who have been hit by the disaster. We delivered flower seedlings along with messages of support from all over Japan to the 50 families living there.
The flower pots delivered were gerbera and miniature roses. The supplier of the plants was ‘Flower Shop Hanayu’, a florist shop at a temporary shopping village in Onagawa Town. A medley of flowers greeted us upon arrival, together with the fresh scent of the miniature roses. Mr. Yukio SUZUKI and his wife Michiko put their hearts into wrapping each flowerpot.
Before the earthquake, Flower Shop Hanayu was located on the coast, but it was wiped out by the tsunami. The family ran for their lives towards higher ground, and later on found shelter at an evacuation center. In July 2011, they reopened their shop in a temporary shopping village supported by AAR Japan. “The store’s sales are half of what they were before the earthquake, but I’m just thankful I was able to reopen the store…. I feel close to tears” says Mr. SUZUKI whilst reading each campaign message of support collected from all over Japan.
A Mini-Concert By Kobe Musician
As soon as we arrived at ‘Oguni no Sato’, the residents of the facility guided us to the hall being used as the community meeting room. Many persons with intellectual, mental and/or physical disabilities, together with their families, live in this temporary housing complex. For the day of our visit, we had arranged a mini-concert to be held at the meeting room, with the flowers to be presented after the concert.
For the concert, singer-songwriter Junji SUGITA from Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture, kindly came to perform. Mr. SUGITA had previously volunteered his services, holding concerts in disaster-hit areas in 1995, after the Great Hanshin Earthquake. Other than composing his own songs, Mr. SUGITA has also written a song for AAR Japan’s picture book ‘Not Mines, But Flowers’, which calls for the abolition of land mines. The song is titled ‘Even Without Wings’ (‘Tsubasa Ga Nakutemo’), and the proceeds from the CD are being generously donated to AAR Japan.
The song ‘Even Without Wings’, which talks about wanting to deliver flowers to people in a distant land, seemed perfect for our campaign of delivering flowers to those suffering in the Tohoku region. Thus, thanks to the efforts of Ms. Mari WASHIDA (a director of AAR Japan), we were able to invite Mr. SUGITA and have him sing for us as we delivered flowers to the disaster area.
“Even without Wings, I have come to meet you”
At the community meeting room of ‘Oguni no Sato’, Mr. SUGITA sang and played the guitar, starting with Louis ARMSTRONG’s ‘What a Wonderful World’, followed by timeless Japanese classics such as ‘The Misty Moon of Spring’ (‘Oborozukiyo’) and ‘My Country Home’ (‘Furusato’), along with his original songs. Lastly, the musical score for ‘Even Without Wings’ was passed around the audience, and everyone enjoyed singing the song together.
It was the first time these residents enjoyed a live musical performance in their temporary accommodation. When Mr. SUGITA started to sing, they quickly picked up the rhythm with their bodies and merrily hummed along from start to finish. There is a simple melody to ‘Even Without Wings’, and so the lyrics “Even without wings, I have come to meet you, to bring you a flower” were joyously sung by everyone – to the point where Mr. SUGITA had to play an encore, after the audience expressed their excitement by saying ‘that was great’ and ‘we want to hear more!’ at the end of the song. Mr. SUGITA also seemed to enjoy himself, saying “Despite not having my audio equipment, you have listened intently to just my voice and guitar – I can feel your emotions. When I saw your smiling faces singing along to the songs you first heard here today, I realized how glad I am to have come here”.
Conveying Open-Hearted Support through Flowers, Messages and Music
After the mini-concert, we delivered the flowers, along with messages of support received from all over the country. One of the residents, Ms. Rumiko ABE, received a yellow gerbera along with the message ‘Stay smiling, be well’, sent from a woman in Shiga Prefecture in the western part of Japan. In reply, Ms. ABE said “Thank you for sending this message all the way from Shiga. I will carry on with a smile”. Ms. ABE had to move several times between different evacuation centers with her daughter, who is bedridden with severe disabilities. At one point, they lived in a car for one month. In July 2011, she finally managed to move into the “Oguni no Sato” temporary housing complex.
Ms. Toyoko TSUKADA was carried away by the tsunami, but managed to save herself by climbing onto the roof of a house. She now lives together with her son, who has a disability. “When I was hit by the tsunami, I thought it was over, but then my son’s image flashed into my mind, and I realized, I had to stay alive. I have survived, so I should cherish this life.” She received a message from a man in Aichi Prefecture saying “Don’t let yourself down, keep your head high. There is no need for anything more than this”. To which she replied, “You have given me courage. Thank you very much!”
Ms. Yuko ABE receives a pot of mini roses with a message from a woman in Gumma Prefecture saying “I hope the flowers will give you energy and cheer you up”. To which she replied “I love flowers, so I’m really happy. My daughter and I will make them grow. One can separate the roots of roses, so I want to try and multiply them”. At the time of the tsunami, Ms. ABE ran desperately to escape; had she waited only a few minutes longer, it would have been too late. For several days she was unable to contact her daughter Misaki, a child with severe intellectual disabilities.
At the meeting room, some of the residents spent time talking and listening to each other’s dreadful experiences in the aftermath of the earthquake, offering encouragement to one another. Maybe it is because they all have children with disabilities, that they can share each other’s hardships. Through the flowers, the messages and the music, AAR Japan conveyed the open-hearted support from people all across Japan to the residents of “Oguni no Sato”.
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