52 Months on; Continued Efforts to Find Missing Persons
Four years and four months passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake, and efforts to restore crumbled infrastructure including roads and dikes continue in disaster-hit areas. Landscapes have changed accordingly with signs of the damage caused by the earthquake and the tsunami disappeared, leaving less and less traces that reveal the ravage of the disaster.
In the city of Ishinomaki, the worst hit area, as many as 3,453 people lost their lives either directly or indirectly by the disaster and 428 are still missing. Even now the search activities for the missing people are carried out on the 11th of each month.
Combing a vast area for missing persons began this month in Nagatsura district, Ishinomki. The areas situated at the mouth of the Kitakami River, Nagatsura district was inundated due to land sinking subsequent to the earthquake. While the Self-Defense Forces searched the district from boats right after the earthquake, no search activities have been conducted since then. The completion of dike restoration work accelerated the pace of draining the district, and made it possible to conduct full-scale search activities.
The tsunami destroyed dikes and submerged the right section of the Kitakami River’s downstream areas including not only Nagatsura district but Okawa district where a total of 2,489 people of 712 households used to live, killing 382 people including 84 pupils and teachers of Okawa elementary school and leaving 36 people including four pupils missing.
Disaster restoration housing is now ready to receive victims living in temporary quarters, signaling post-quake restoration is rolling forward. In this situation JEN continues helping disaster victims find their way back to normal as soon as they can.
Volunteer Work Turns into a New Style: 16th “Let’s go to the sea!”
“Let’s go to the sea!” a project launched in March 2014 as a new style of volunteer work so that you might support disaster stricken areas while enjoying hands-on opportunities in tour around fishing communities, has been hosted by “the executive committee of ‘Let’s go to the sea!’“ composed of locals in the Oshika Peninsula, Miyagi Prefecture with JEN’s support.
Supporting the committee become more self-reliant, JEN opted to take only background role in 2015. Pleia Tourism, a non-profit organization established by the students of Ishinomaki Sensyu University, Ishinomaki’s only university, began to take part in hosting the project, young people uniting together with locals to promote the communities in the Oshika Peninsula.
The 16th “Let’s go to the sea!” was held on Saturday 23rd of May and following Sunday. Day 1: Ochakokai, a tea party with the staff members of “Why not stop by Oshika,” a mutual aid organization, at Kyubunhama on the Oshika Peninsula; a visit to eleven headed deity, a national important property. Day 2: fishing experience guided by local fishermen at Sasunohama, participation in the San Juan festival. A lot of plans were worked out at the tour. Participants came from many countries and regions, including, Taiwan, China, Tokyo, Sendai and so on.
The participants were heard to make such comments as “I visited many places, met and talked to various people. I’m really glad to have this opportunity. This tour offered experiences that I can’t have in Tokyo. I had productive two days.”
Just wait for the next framework of “Let’s go to the sea!” is finalized by the committee. The committee will take the initiative in planning and running.
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.
On December 13 2014, the sixth "Handicrafts Market, Hands-on Exhibit in Ishinomaki: Making Handcrafting into Jobs", an event aimed at giving a leg up to women who do handicraft in Ishinomaki, was hosted by JEN at the central office of Japan Agricultural Cooperatives in Ishinomaki, Nakazato Agricultural Cooperative Hall.
JEN’s handicraft support project for 2014 aims at promoting the empowerment of women through handiwork and putting in place a mechanism needed to ensure women’s self-sustaining and lasting business by developing a network of contacts.
It all started with craft workshops held at temporary housing and public meeting places in disaster affected areas. Some female workshop participants wanted to find a market for their products, making their hobbies into jobs.
On November 15-16, they held a craft fair at Sun Park in Aeon Mall Ishinomaki. The “handicraft market committee” composed of female handcrafters arranged the fair in a new and different way that allowed “everyone to sell everyone else’s product”, enhancing cooperation among the handcrafters. During the fair the handcrafters worked together on site management, product inspection, accounting operation and so on. Having diverse customers and selling others’ products seemed to have given them opportunities to learn a great deal.
From this year, the female handcrafters are going to come to host the event by themselves. We hope them to fully demonstrate what they have gained through their experiences so far.
Improving Children’s Park to Restore Their Associations
In the city of Ishinomaki, children have been having difficulty finding outdoor spaces to play because many of the city’s parks were left unrestored after being ravaged by the tsunami and other places like baseball parks and sports ground were used to set up temporary housing for disaster victims.
When JEN distributed questionnaires to children in elementary and middle schools and interviewed their parents this year, many of those questioned voiced the opinion that “the tsunami had taken decent places for children to play.” In response, JEN is now restoring two parks in the Kamikama district of Ishinomaki after carrying out a research at about seventy smaller parks on what kinds of needs for parks communities have, how many children will play in them, and whether there are any play spaces nearby. JEN is also helping the members of the neighborhood association bring the activities of the children’s association back into the district.
The neighborhood associations have held meetings many times among them about park restoration, providing a variety of ideas.
During the summer vacation in August, a total of seventy parents and their children in the district did exercise at the park every morning, just as they used to before the disaster, although the park was yet to be restored [The Japanese students have a custom to gather in a park early in the morning on their summer vacation to do exercise, but the district had been forced to give up keeping the custom due to the disaster.].
The neighborhood association and children’s association are now regaining their energy little by little by working together on restoring their park.
The construction work of the two parks was completed on December 7.
JEN will continue helping communities create a town comfortable for children.
Revitalization of Seaside Communities
On Saturday November the 1st and the 2nd, the second “Hamakon 2014 in the Oshika Peninsula”, a matchmaking event, took place in the Oshika peninsula in the city of Isbinomaki of Miyagi prefecture.
In line with locals’ request and with their cooperation, Hamakon was designed to address the challenges facing Oshika peninsula such as the outflow of population, the declining birth rate and aging population, and the difficulty of finding successors in the fishing industry. The event provides a chance for unmarried men and women to meet their partners.
This year’s event drew nine men from the Oshika peninsula and nine women from across the country. The male participants, who received prior instruction, made a united effort to make the event interesting. Thanks to the cooperation of local residents, the event created an opportunity for the female participants to see many interesting places in the Oshika peninsula and learn about how wonderful the nature of the Oshika peninsula is.
On the first day, the participants had one-on-one encounters, introduced themselves and played games in Meguro, a guest house featuring fine Japanese kappo cuisine in Obuchihama in the Oshika peninsula. The female participants seemed to like locally-hauled fish and seafood for dinner. After the dinner, the participants got along great and were excited to be chatting, smiling faces being seen everywhere.
On the second day, first, the female participants visited Yagawahama to talk with wives of fishermen. They talked about what it’s like to be married to fishermen over barbecued locally-hauled ascidians and scallops. Their next visit was at the “San Juan Park.” Under calm weather, the event went on as scheduled. Participants then had more get-to-know time, during which they played games, had good conversations and had lunch. Finally came the time for the participants to declare their interest for one another. Five couples were formed. Congratulation!
JEN continues to foster social revitalization of seaside communities by conducting activities such as this one. JEN’s goal is to bring more smiles to the people in these communities.
In the aftermath of the earthquake, the city of Ishinomaki had to construct as many as 7,122 row-house-style transitional shelter units to house the disaster victims. The complex is the largest of its kind among all the municipalities that were affected by the disaster.
Now, forty three months down the line, many people still have no other options than to live in these basic dwellings. Even many elderly locals have to remain in these transitional shelters, and some are growing impatient to move out as they suffer from loneliness and often do not enjoy the comfort they use to have in their former homes.
Ishinomaki aims at setting up 4,000 disaster public housing units so that victims may move from temporary shelters to homes where they can live without anxiety. However, soring labor costs and material prices are delaying the construction work, and residents of the temporary shelters fear that their quality of life will not improve any time soon.
In an effort to bring relief to victims living in the complex, JEN organizes occasional networking events within the community. These events are much appreciated as they bring a sense solidarity and mutual support and understanding among the participants. A participant said “working in a group and talking with neighbors over lunch we cooked together provided me with an opportunity to become aware and learn about things that we usually take for granted.”
Let’s Create Our Dream Playground!
On August 24 and September 7, JEN held a workshop entitled “Let’s Create Our Dream Playground!” in cooperation with UNIQLO Dream Wall project.
JEN organized the workshop to seek ideas for the construction of a playground that will be built on the Kamikama Fureai Square located in western Ishinomaki city. A total of about 100 people, including many children, attended the workshop, creating a lively atmosphere.
Workshop participants firstly had a good look at the site. They observed how large it is, where it is located, and what its surroundings are. They then had the opportunity to give their input on what they would like to have in their “Dream Playground”. The children had a lot of fun doing so. Their opinions on the layout of the playground, the color of the equipment, how to play with the equipment and so on were put together into plans presented to architect Masayoshi Takeuchi. Mr. Takeuchi will then integrate these plans into his own architectural plan, which will take concrete shape next spring.
By taking their input into consideration, the workshop brought local residents a sense of ownership in the playground project. JEN is committed to continuing these activities that aim to create an environment where children really want to play so that they may be able to realize a town where they can live an easier life and hope to live for a long time.
Kadonowaki Junior High Student Council Wins Volunteer Spirit Award for its Efforts on "Spreading Flowerbeds through Human Connections"
The 18th Volunteer Spirit Award was awarded to the student council of the Ishinomaki Municipal Kadonowaki Junior High School.
The award aims to develop volunteerism among junior-high-school and high-school students by encouraging the conduction of volunteer activities, promoting exchanges with other students, and letting other students know more about volunteer activities.
The criteria for deciding the winner of the award are: contribution to the community, creativity, ability to make a plan and execute it, leadership, and the activity’s educational value.
Kadonowaki Junior High School also invited the students of the Ishinomaki Municipal Kadonowaki Elementary School and the Omachi Elementary School to join their project. The school districts where these two elementary schools are located were severely hit by the tsunami, particularly the Kadonowaki Elementary School which was burnt down. The tsunami and ensuing fires have left many districts completely changed. One of these districts, Minimicho, looked like “a deserted city” according to some students who used to live there. To rejuvenate the area, the students came up with this idea: “We hope to make a flowerbed in our inflicted school’s playground, and make people happy with flowers of many different colors”. The damage was so bad at Kadonowaki Elementary School that many people around the country came to see this particular site to get a grasp of the devastation of the disaster.
The teachers of the school consulted with the city board of education to realize the students’ idea, but they were told it was difficult to set up a flowerbed within the school’s premises because the reconstruction plan of the school had yet to be made.
JEN helped “these students of Ishinomaki, the most affected city by the disaster, set up their initiative aimed at cheering up their communities.” JEN’s help consisted of renting a vacant plot of land located at a short distance behind the school. It removed the rubbles, weeded the plot and cleared the litter to prepare the soil for flowers.
In November 2012, many local people and volunteers cooperated with the students in making a flowerbed and planting tulip bulbs. A surprising number of flowers imbued with the students’ hope bloomed the next spring. In the autumn of 2013, the flowerbed was taken charged by the first graders from the second graders who first came up with the idea. In this manner, the activity will be perpetuated.
The Volunteer Spirit Award was awarded to the students for their efforts to revitalize their communities. No doubt, Ishinomaki’s future leaders on whom the city’s revitalization relies on are growing. JEN continues to support these future leaders.
Feel the current environment in Oshika Peninsula, Miyagi Prefecture!
In Oshika Peninsula which we introduced in the previous report, we held the event “Let’s Go to the Sea!” 4 times in total from June to August 2014.
It is new style experience-based reconstruction assistance. In Japan, many people have been interested in the current situation and the community recovery there and still finding the way to contribute to assistance there for those affected by the disaster.
We offer good opportunities for them to come to Oshika Peninsula and experience local environment, fishing, participating in a local festival and interacting with local people.
We also vitalize the local economy and to boost reconstruction there by call in many participants from outside the area.
In this report, we would like to introduce the event, the 8th “Let’s Go to the Sea!” held in June this year.
It had been held for 2 days, on June 7 and 8, at Yagawahama and Sasunohama, Oshika Peninsula.
In this event, the participants experienced fishing, listening to the locals talk about the disaster and recovery, visiting a temporary local shopping street which had been reconstructed 8 month later after the natural disaster hit the region and supported the locals, and looking around the city of Ishinomaki to know the present conditions.
Participants were able to learn directly the realities there such as the locals’ actual disaster experience and their positive spirits which they tackle difficult tasks to recover their hometown with, which they could not know through media coverage.
They shared their thoughts on the project with us:
“I was able to hear the situations in Tohoku through the media after the disaster but found out through the experience there that the reality was totally different from what I thought”.
“The event’s great attraction is that we can interact with the locals; they are genuinely kind-hearted, so I come to like Oshika Peninsula very much.”
JEN will keep conducting the event till the completion of reconstruction in the region.
Strengthening family bonds!
We have been conducting assistance for community reconstruction in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture since the earth quake and tsunami hit the city over 3 years ago.
On June 28, we held the event, “Parent-and-Child Hometown-Rediscovery Class” in order to strengthen their family bonds and to refresh their bodies and spirits.
JEN give an opportunity that elementary school students and their parents living in Ishinomaki city participate the out-of-door activity and learn about their home town.
A series of 6 classes are scheduled to be given in the June-December period, and are going to be improved so that they can give participants better opportunities to learn and experience various features of their hometown Ishinomaki.
This event held for the first time this year, was themed on hiking in Mt. Magi and photography class joined by 12 families of 29 parents and their children in total.
Firstly the photography class was conducted at the car park at the foot of the mountain and we distributed disposable cameras to each child.
Nowadays Japanese children only have experience of using digital camera so we taught them how to wind the film and how to take picture with the disposable camera.
At the beginning, children seemed puzzled to use the camera but once they started taking photo, they seemed to relax and we noticed their smiling faces and lively voices everywhere at last.
After that, the parents and children headed towards the Hitsujisaki Shinto Shrine on the top of the mountain which has an altitude of 250 meters.
In the middle of hiking, they listened to local histories and myths of Ishinomaki from a local historian who accompanied them.
Children were so excited about insects and plants living in the mountain which normally they cannot find in the city and the old tales that have been handed down in this area such as “from when human beings started dwelling at Ishinomaki city” and “a myth of Maki clan” whose name was possibly derived to the name of the Magi mountain.
Waking through nature trails, they found an obstacle course for kids, so they dashed towards it right after having lunch. The parents seemed to get more refreshed by seeing their children playing joyfully.
JEN is planning to hold classes such as fishing, camping in a remote island and cooking in the near future.
We are committed to our working on offering opportunities that parents and their children in the disaster-stricken area can strengthen their family bonds while rediscovering their hometown, Ishinomaki.
Promoting the empowerment of women!
On July 12, we held the event, the 5th "Handicraft market, Hands-on exhibit in Ishinomaki: Making Handcrafting into Jobs". The event was one of the women empowerment projects, aimed at giving women a leg up who make handicrafts in the area.
This time, we offered opportunities of making-goods experience such as weaving as well as selling and buying handicrafts such as handmade bags and other handmade items. The hall where this event was held became crowded with a lot of visitors right after its opening.
After that, JEN staffs and the local handicraft-sellers who sold things in the event, had a monthly meeting.
In the meeting, many ideas such as a central theme and layout of the next event in August were thought up by the local participants. They also actively worked on making public announcement about the event such as handing out the leaflets.
JEN is working hard aiming at developing the cooperative system between the local participants through having this kind of meeting in order them to hold the event by themselves.
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