Response to Japan Earthquake and Tsunami

New Oars Bring New Hope
New Oars Bring New Hope

Along the tsunami-ravaged coast of Minamisanriku, abalone and sea urchins are an important source of income for local fishermen. Unlike other sea crops, these bottom-dwelling creatures are neither cultivated nor caught with nets, but caught by hand and with spears. In order to harvest these high-value species, fishermen need to be able to approach without a motor, using oars

However, all the oars in Minamisanriku were lost or destroyed in the devastating tsunami in 2011. Replacing this resource allows fishermen to restart earning from the bottom-dwelling species, and improve their livelihoods.

Mercy Corps was asked by our partner agency, Peace Winds Japan, to provide funds to create 50 oars. In the end, the combined efforts of both Mercy Corps and the International Rescue Committee provided 200 paddles to fishermen from the Shizukawa Fishing Cooperative. Also benefiting from this program were two local carpenters who gained additional income by finishing the woodwork and adding protective coating on the oars.

Thanks to ongoing support from donors like you, these resilient fishermen will be able to harvest abalone and sea urchins starting this November and continue on in the future!


Tomihiro and Akiko Kashiwagi using business grant
Tomihiro and Akiko Kashiwagi using business grant

If you had never visited Japan’s tsunami-ravaged coast until now, the bleak landscape where homes and businesses once stood would be sobering.

Having watched the relief effort and the recovery, my visits back to the Tohoku region have been increasingly reassuring. In fact, my recent visit with partner colleagues was inspiring. We were there to witness the signs of recovery – and we found many. Thank you for your donation to make these improvements possible!

At a recent event organized by Kesennuma Shinkin, a local cooperative bank we’re partnering with to support small business recovery, 13 entrepreneurs were awarded grants. The recipients from Kesennuma and three neighboring coastal towns have used the funds to start new businesses in the disaster area. Their businesses run the gamut — from a day care center, a fish processor and a baker to a machine repair shop, a mulberry tea producer and an ice-making factory.

In only five months since its inauguration, this Mercy Corps program has funded the startup of 20 new businesses (like the three featured in this video) and supported the recovery of an additional 50 businesses through a loan subsidy program. Well over 300 jobs have been created in the process.

But the program does more than restore jobs — it recreates livelihoods and self-determination. Each of the entrepreneurs has an incredible story to tell and an important contribution to make.

Like Tomohiro Kashiwagi, whose repair shop was completely destroyed by the tsunami. Without a building or the capital to buy or build one, he and his wife, Akiko, are starting from the ground up with a completely new — and very innovative — business in their home. They are recycling cooking oil into fuel.

Kashiwagi has lined up a string of restaurants as a source of used cooking oil. He collects it and refines it using a machine that he bought with his grant. He then sells the fuel for use in converted diesel engines. It’s not only good for the couple — and good for the environment — it’s good for customers, as it sells for about 30% less than commercial diesel fuel. The city of Kesennuma, in fact, is Kashiwagi’s primary customer, having converted some of its garbage trucks to run on his recycled vegetable oil. He says they smell like fried chicken when they drive by!

It was a very moving day. Because of your support, the lives of hardworking entrepreneurs, their families and their community ar being transformed. Thank you.


Smiling girl displaced by Japanese tsunami
Smiling girl displaced by Japanese tsunami

One year after the worst natural disaster in Japan’s history — the massive earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011 — Mercy Corps continues to work with our partner agencies, Peace Winds Japan and PlaNet Finance Japan, to help the Japanese people rebuild. Thanks to your support, we have brought much-needed assistance to four towns where 148,000 people live and are recovering from the disaster. On their behalf, we thank you and offer this brief report of the progress they have made.

After the Disaster: Bringing Relief

In the first days and weeks after the earthquake and tsunami, our team focused on providing a wide range of relief items to survivors.


Mercy Corps and Peace Winds provided relief supplies — tents, tarps, blankets, mattresses, space heaters, kerosene, medical masks, clothing, bottled water, diapers, toilet paper, school supplies and food — to 42,000 people living in shelters.


We provided vouchers that 6,300 survivors used to purchase goods — food, clothing and other supplies — from local merchants. People prioritized their own needs while supporting local economies.


We supported 15 mobile shops in two cities that brought goods to local people and provided a living for merchants in Rikuzentakata, where almost all commerce was destroyed.


We started a bus program that provided 7,330 rides to allow survivors to shop for basics and access essential services like medical care and banks, while boosting the business of damaged shops.

After the Disaster: Helping Children Recover

Mercy Corps recognized that the disaster was profoundly upsetting to children. Our programs, described below, helped 2,300 children and the adults in their lives heal from the trauma.


Comfort for Kids builds up the ability of local communities to help children recover from the emotional effects of a large-scale disaster. We customized this program for Japan and incorporated activities for adults.


We partnered with Peace Winds Japan and Nike to introduce Moving Forward, a program that uses sports to help young people recover physically, socially, mentally and emotionally from traumas associated with disasters.


We worked with a Japanese art therapy specialist to offer art activities to affected children. Art Caravan helps kids by letting them express themselves through creative play.

Looking Ahead: Boosting Economic Recovery

As the cleanup continues, our team has shifted focus to economic recovery.


We provided equipment and funds to quickly rebuild the hatchery in Minamisanriku, which processes more salmon than anywhere else in Japan. Our rapid response allowed the hatchery to harvest eggs and raise fish in time for spring release. These fish will provide a huge boost — $8 million in annual sales as well as jobs — to the town’s economy.


We provided a generator, forklifts, fish tanks, ice storage and scales to help reopen the Ofunato fish market, which supports the fishing industry of the entire town. The market employs 20 people who serve dozens of fishermen and 100 vendors who buy, sell and process salmon and other kinds of fish.


We are supporting fishing associations in Minamisanriku to restart the production and processing of wakame, a seaweed staple of the Japanese diet. Wakame processing employs 400 local women who traditionally do this work. Mercy Corps helped purchase 100 sets of equipment — tubs and containers for boiling, cooling and preserving — to grow the seaweed and harvest and process the crop.


Mercy Corps partnered with local groups to establish a fund that provides grants and subsidies to help small and medium-size businesses rehire workers and rebuild their operations. The program also supports the start-up of new local businesses.

Because of your donation, progress has been made and will continue. Thank you.  


Hiroko Mirura leads 400 women who have found jobs
Hiroko Mirura leads 400 women who have found jobs

The compassion of supporters like you has helped women get back to work in Japan - thank you.

Last week, I met Hiroko Mirura. In her early 60s, Ms. Mirura is a former scallop merchant, proud wife of a fisherman, and a strong female leader in the town of Minamisanriku. Hiroko's impressive life boasts many accomplishments, including being the only female board member of the town's powerful fishery association.

But last March, Hiroko's husband was swept away in the tsunami, and her house and business were decimated. Overcome with grief after losing her husband, she went into a deep depression for the next three months. She didn't eat. She didn't get out of bed.

Then one day, she decided that her drive to help her community was stronger than her grief. She wanted to do what little she could to mobilize the other grief-stricken women in Minamisanriku —and it turned out that 'a little' was a lot. She started hosting teas for the unemployed women in town, which led to a community candle-making venture, which led to the need for re-employment.

With a little help from Mercy Corps and Peace Winds Japan, and thanks to the generous support of donors like you and our corporate partners, she is transforming her community.

Today, Ms. Mirura is in charge of mobilizing the 400 women who have gained employment through Mercy Corps' wakame seaweed program.

Wakame seaweed is wildly popular food in Japan and around the world (I’ve already eaten it many times in only four days here). This northeastern coast of Japan is famous for its high quality wakame, but after the tsunami, cultivating, harvesting and processing of this valuable crop had all but ceased because the specialized equipment was washed away. Generously, Walmart donated 26 pieces of the wakame processing equipment, bringing the industry back to life.

I was lucky to arrive just in time for the beginning of the 12-week wakame harvesting season. Each morning at dawn, as the fishing boats return with harvested batches, a group of women gathers around a large metal tub ready to first boil the seaweed, then wring it, then dry it. It's a complicated and intricate process — and one that these women, and Ms. Mirura, are immensely proud of.

Mercy Corps programs are focused on recovery for hard-hit families and children.  We thank you for your ongoing support.

New equipment stands ready for seaweed harvest
New equipment stands ready for seaweed harvest


With Thanksgiving fast approaching, we want to thank you for your generous support of diaster relief in Japan.Your donations embody the spirit of this holiday season and serve as great reminders for all of us to be thankful for what we have and to be generous to those less fortunate. 

Your donations are are so important to what we do. Please watch and share this video of me expressing my appreciation.

Our lifesaving work is not possible without you. Please accept my thanks on behalf of our worldwide team and the millions of people we serve around the world.

I hope that you and your family have a Happy Thanksgiving and a truly special Holiday Season.

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Portland, OR, United States

Project Leader

Carlene Deits

Portland, OR United States

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Map of Response to Japan Earthquake and Tsunami