AAR Japan has continuously carried out a project called “Building Healthy Communities” ever since the earthquake and tsunami on March 11th, 2011, to prevent isolation and stress accumulation, as well as ill health among evacuees in temporary housing complexes. “Rehabilitation and active listening” are the main activity components in the project, which we have conducted in meeting halls in temporary housing complexes in Miyagi, Iwate, and Fukushima Prefectures since July 2011. Every weekend, volunteer physiotherapists and occupational therapists visit different meeting halls, and offer massage and physical exercise sessions. Further, whilst the participants wait for their turn with the therapists, volunteer counselors from JAICO (Japan Industrial Counselors Association) listen to the participants over a cup of tea. They sometimes enjoy handcrafting pouches and small bags, as well. We aim to promote physical relaxation through massage, as well as relieve psychological burden through casual conversation with the counselors and handicraft. AAR’s Programme Coordinator, Shinichiro OHARA, who has been engaged in the program since the emergency phase reports his experiences in Fukushima.
A great number of people have not been able to return home, and are distressed under pro-longed stay in temporary housing in Fukushima Prefecture, as the radiation from the nuclear power plant has yet to cease. On the other hand, some of the disaster survivors from coastal areas, whose home were destroyed by tsunami, have seen some progress; they began to move into public restoration housing from temporary housing complexes. We hear lively and cheerful voices more frequently from these people who can move to permanent houses and set goals with longer term prospects.
Among these seemingly lively people, there are those who strive to overcome grief. A case in point is Kazuko KOBAYASHI, a survivor who lives in the coastal area in Fukushima. On March 11th, 2011, tsunami swallowed her son who was a fire fighter. The son went back to work after telling Kazuko who was tidying the earthquake-stricken house to “evacuate, tsunami is coming.” Kazuko swiftly evacuated to a high ground by car at her son’s instruction. Her son who was trying to stop cars heading toward the coast on duty was reflected in the rearview mirror. That was to be the last time Kazuko saw her son. “I am moving out of the temporary housing in the coming March”, Kazuko tells us cheerfully, but she has carried psychological burden for these three years and eight months. She added “on my son’s birthday, I planted a tree on the lot where our house used to be. The tree was to abandon sorrow and move forward. The only unfortunate thing is that I cannot live with my daughter-in-law and grandchildren, as they fear the sea so much that they cannot live near it.
There are many survivors like Kazuko who hold agony experienced since the earthquake and tsunami, but they are able to move to new permanent houses from temporary housing and make progress in their lives.
Although the situations surrounding the residents in temporary housing complex vary, they all have undergone hardships, such as collapse of house and loss of family members. Since they know that everyone has difficulties, it makes the residents reluctant to discuss their bitter experiences and worries among themselves. Some residents actually find it easier to talk with AAR Japan staff. We believe that our activities provide psychological care through conversation and interaction, in which the disaster survivors are able to share pain and worries with us.
It has been three years and nine months since the disaster struck Tohoku area, but approximately 84,000 people have no choice but to live in temporary housing even today. We will continue our activities alongside the survivors.
The interviewee in this report is mentioned by pseudo name.
Soma Fireworks Festival has been held every year with a prayer for restoration and commemoration of the Great East Japan Earthquake disaster victims. This year, the festival was held on August 9th at Soma Koyo soccer field, Soma City, Fukushima Prefecture. Soma City and neighboring communities organize this event together to reunite the people who have scattered for evacuation and relocation. In support of their motive, AAR Japan has been involved in the planning of this event since 2011.The festival involves not only fireworks but also karaoke tournament, concert, games, and other shows. There are also many stalls that sell local food and products.
This year, AAR Japan organized superhero live show for children. Unfortunately, rain was sprinkling in the morning, and we were worried that we might need to cancel the event. Staff and children prayed for good weather all morning. In the end, sky must have heard our wishes. It stopped raining before the scheduled time for the superhero show. Many children gathered in front of the stage to see their favorite superheroes they always watch on TV. Children all cheered and shouted with joy when the superheroes finally appeared on stage, and their excitement reached its peak when their heroes battled with villains. The smiles on children’s faces told us that this event was a success.
After the superhero show was another fun event for the children, handshake event with the superheroes. Children ran up to their favorite superheroes and made a long line to shake hands with the heroes who they thought only existed on TV. It was very heartwarming to see manychildren running back to their parents to share their excitement as soon as they finished shaking hands with the heroes.
Three and a half years have passed since the 3.11 the Great East Japan Earthquake. A number of disaster survivors have moved into their new homes in Soma City, and we can feel that the restoration is on its way. On the other hand, concerns over radiation effect are still present; and the stress on children’s body and mind is never too light under such circumstance. AAR Japan will continue the activities to support the children of Soma City
Three years have passed since the 3.11 the Great East Japan Earthquake. However, in Fukushima, significant number of people are still obliged to live in temporary housing complexes due to the damage caused by the earthquake, tsunami, and the nuclear disaster. Some people have lost hopes on going back to their hometowns altogether and have decided to settle down in the northern part of the prefecture, where radiation level is relatively low. New apartments have been built in the northern cities and towns to host these evacuees, but several disaster victims still remain in temporary housing complexes for various reasons.
To support the residents in temporary housing complexes, especially the children, AAR Japan provides play equipment to help them improve their physical and psychological health. Recently, we have placed new play equipment at the temporary housing complexes in Koriyama City and Miharu Town, where former residents of Tomioka Town now reside. Tomioka Town is within a 20 km radius of the Fukushima First Nuclear Power Plant whose nuclear reactors melted down and released substantial amount of radioactive materials. Due to the high radiation level, the former residents of Tomioka Town are still unable to go back to their hometown.
On April 25th, we brought swings and spring riders to the temporary housing complex in Koriyama City. During the day, children in nursery school visit the play area with their teachers; in the evenings, children living in the temporary housing complex play there with their friends. All the equipment is designed for children to play together, which facilitates not only children but also the parents to communicate with each other through play.
The teachers at the nurseryschool thanked us deeply and said, “All the play equipment is so colorful that just looking at them cheers us up. The swings can be used by children of all ages for various types of play. I am sure children will enjoy playing with this equipment for a very long time. Thank you for providing us with such great play equipment.”
(All pictures were taken at the Housing Complex in Koriyama City. May 20th, 2014.)
AAR Japan held Christmas parties at four kindergartens and children’s houses1) in Soma City and Minamisoma City, Fukushima Prefecture on December 24th and 25th, 2013. It was the 3rd Christmas after the 3.11 disaster. Many organizations came to Fukushima Prefecture and held events for a while after the disaster. However, as time went by, the number of such events has decreased. Today most of the events are held by the local institutions such as kindergartens and children’s houses themselves. AAR Japan, on the other hand, remains committed to providing long-term support to the institutions that were severely affected by the 3.11 disaster and are yet to achieve full recovery. AAR visited children’s houses where we held Christmas parties in the previous year and kindergartens, which received no Christmas-related support from any aid groups in 2013 to give Christmas presents to the children.
At a kindergarten in Minamisoma City, children marched into the play room with Christmas music, and we read a picture book to them. The children were absorbed in listening to their favorite picture book. After the storytelling, the children heard someone saying “Ho Ho Ho”. As they wondered whose voice that was, Santa Claus showed up from the stage with a big white sack. The children were not notified about this special guest and thus were very surprised. They all welcomed Santa Claus with delight. Soon after, Santa Claus found himself surrounded by the children.
The children received Christmas stockings filled with candies from Santa Claus, and they sang a song and played music with bells and castanets in return for his kindness.
Children really enjoyed the time with Santa Claus, and they gifted him a card at the end of the event. The principal of the kindergarten told us, “We could not invite Santa Claus at our own Christmas party this year. We were happy to see children having a fun time with him”
1) Children’s house is a welfare facility, which promotes children’s health and development through offering a variety of play.
All the photos were taken at the kindergarten at Minamisoma City on December 24th, 2013
The sixth folk music tour was held at 10 temporary housing complexes in Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture from November 11th to 13th. The performance of ‘Minyo-jin’, a folk music team which consists of folk musicians and popular entertainer Mr. Nekohachi EDOYA, amused and cheered up as much as 277 participants. The temporary housing complexes where we visited accommodate evacuees from Okuma Town, Tomioka Town and Naraha Town, which suffer immense and long-lasting damage caused by the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.
At the venue before the concert, the audience sat still without much expectation on their face. However, once Mr. Nekohachi stroke up the cheerful introduction with his soothing smile, the atmosphere gradually softened and the audience began to relax and enjoy. The audience heartily laughed at Mr. Nekohachi’s performance of mimicking animals and avidly listened to the powerful folk music. As the program proceeded, the audience stood up and started to dance together with the performers and after the concert, many of the audience rushed to the performers to tell how amazed they were at their performance.
Here are some comments from the participants.
A 76 year-old lady who evacuated from Naraha Town told us, ‘I have been unable to go out since I have suffered shingles, but I was really looking forward to this concert. After the 3.11 disaster, I moved from temporary housing complex to complex seven times and I felt so sad to have nowhere to settle at this old age. I am now growing dahlia in planters but I miss the large garden where I grew various vegetables and flowers’. In the last part of the concert, she happily joined the dancing circle of the audience and performers. ‘I really enjoyed dancing to ‘Soma Bon-uta’. It made me forget bad things’, she beamed.
A lady in her seventies excitedly told us that at the concert she was able to meet one of her friends who used to live in Okuma Town together. The friend came from a temporary housing complex in Aizu City to join the concert and it was their first time to see each other since the 3.11 disaster. ‘I feel so happy to see my friend after 2 years and 8 months, thanks to the concert. Thank you for coming all the way to Fukushima Prefecture,’ the lady said with a deep bow.
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