Building Resilience in Japan

Jun 13, 2013

How a Community Space Served One Resident in Japan

Before the earthquake, Mrs. Toyoda and her husband lived and worked an agricultural farm with their son, his wife, and two grandsons. After the earthquake, their home town of Odaka District was designated as a no-entry zone due to the radiation, and the family was forced to move to Tamagata. However, Mrs. Toyoda and her husband could not get used to living in a new place, and they moved to the Chikura temporary housing site. They believed it would be better to live near their hometown, even though there were fears of radiation.

The Chikura temporary housing site is one of the few places in the area where the residents are allowed to keep pets. The Toyoda’s family dog joined them in Chikura, and kept the couple company as they did not know anyone else in their site. Sometimes, Mrs. Toyoda went to see friends in other temporary housing sites, but the travel was often difficult as her husband had to drive her from place to place. She eventually stopped going, and soon she was spending her days watching television and talking to her dog. Her husband, also lonely and depressed, began drinking every day.

Their new life was so much different than their old lives – prior to the earthquake, they had a house and a farm to take care of. Now they had nothing to do. Even though they were receiving compensation for the disaster and the loss of their home, there were not many activities to participate in. “I would dream of my hometown Odaka, and my farm and house whenever I was awake or asleep,” said Mrs. Toyoda.

In February of 2011, International Medical Corps, with Japan International Volunteer Center and the local organizations of Tsunagappe Minami-Soma and Yappe Minami-Soma, created a community space in Chikura temporary housing. At first, Mrs. Toyoda was not interested. She did not want to talk to people she did not know.

Soon after, Mrs. Toyoda received a flyer advertising a traditional folk song class called Minyo, taught by the famous local singer Sadao Sawada. Mrs. Toyoda attended the class with the intention of only listening and watching – but she realized that she enjoyed the singing and missed local music. Although she was not a very skilled singer, she enjoyed participating in Mr. Sawada’s lesson. She made friends from different districts in the town.

Ms. Dochuchi, the community space manager at Chikura said, “Mrs. Toyoda seemed kind of scared when she first came to the community space. She did not try to make friends. She often talked about the fact that she cannot go back to her district. But gradually, she became social and started to do many things here.

Mrs. Toyoda now visits the community space almost every day to visit and participate in activities. Her new friends became a close-knit group, often working on patchwork sewing. In August of 2012, Mrs. Toyoda and her friends asked the staff if they could hold an exhibition of their patchwork in the community space.  Tsunagappe staff advertised the exhibition in the city, and more than 100 people came to the community space to see the patchwork sewing. Television media came as well, broadcasting the show on both Japanese National Television and French Television.

Now, Mrs. Toyoda is a much more cheerful person. She often jokes with the volunteers, “In the temporary housing site, I don’t have to clean such a large place so living here is much easier! I was so busy farming in Odaka that I never had time to learn new things like patchwork sewing.”

International Medical Corps is proud to work with local organizations Tsunagappe Minami-Soma and Yappe Minami-Soma to provide continued relief for earthquake and tsunami victims. Providing a sense of purpose for residents empowers them, encouraging recovery for those affected by the disasters.



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Project Leader

Erica Tavares

Director, Resource Development
santa monica, CA United States

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