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Jul 9, 2013

Cheering people up with the power of entertainment

Participants enjoying folk songs
Participants enjoying folk songs

From 17th to 19th June, Association for Aid and Relief, Japan (AAR Japan) organized the tour of concert events held at community spaces in temporary housing complexes in Fukushima Prefecture. The popular entertainer Nekohachi EDOYA and 6 folk singers and musicians entertained the evacuees living in the temporary housing complexes, making them laugh from the bottom of their heart.

The tour was scheduled to cover 10 venues in just 3 days and the total number of the audience for 10 concerts amounted to 402 people. Many of them were elderly people living in the temporary housing complexes, who are unable to return home due to the concern over radiation exposure caused by the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Led by the cheerful, fun and smooth MC by Mr. Nekohachi, who is well known for his performance of mimicking animals, the event began with the vigorous session of tsugaru shamisen (traditional Japanese string instrument). The audience then enjoyed powerful folk songs performed by 3 folk singers including Mr. Masao Suzuki, who was originally from Soma City of Fukushima Prefecture. Needless to say, Mr. Nekohachi’s performance of mimicking a bush warbler was very popular among the audience, making them laugh heartily and helping them forget the stress from their daily lives. In the latter part of the event, the performers answered the requests from the audience and sung several local folk songs originated from the area, which moved many of the audience to tears with nostalgic feelings. At the finale of the event, ‘Soma Bonka’ was performed. As soon as the song began, the audience voluntarily stood up one after another and started dancing making a big circle. Soma Bonka is a song that reminds people of a sense of unity among the community- it used to be played at ‘Bon dance festival’, a Japanese seasonal festival usually held by local communities. After the communities in Soma area were broken apart as the disaster survivors evacuated and were dispersed to different temporary housing complexes, they had few chances for community gathering and greatly missed it. The audience danced lightly and cheerfully as if they were back in the old days. 

After the event, many of the audience gave remarks that they felt so brightened up, which had not happened for a while. There used to be many of such events in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake but the number significantly decreases after two years have passed since the disaster. Here are some remarks from the audience.   

‘This is my first time to attend such a fun event. Many people lost their lives because of the tsunami in this area and I myself was drawn as well. I am feeling better day by day but I’ve never had such a cheerful feeling.’ - A woman aged 62, who participated in the event at the community space at Gongenzawa Temporary Housing Complex

‘I have not laughed so heartily for a long time. Right after the earthquake and tsunami, I was just struggling to survive and did not really think about my life. Now that I have more time, I often think about the hardship I am facing and this makes me feel sad. I often see people crying but today we could all laugh together. It was really good.’ A woman who participated in the event at the community space at Ogawa Kouen Temporary Housing Complexes

Mr. Nekohachi asking for request from the audience
Mr. Nekohachi asking for request from the audience
Mr. Masao Suzuki, a singer from Soma City
Mr. Masao Suzuki, a singer from Soma City
Big laugh of the audience
Big laugh of the audience
Participants dancing together to Soma Bonka
Participants dancing together to Soma Bonka
Mr. Nekohachi and Mr. Suzuki
Mr. Nekohachi and Mr. Suzuki
Apr 11, 2013

GlobalGiving visited Fukushima Prefecture

Photo of Ms.Britt, local children and, Daijo (AAR)
Photo of Ms.Britt, local children and, Daijo (AAR)

GlobalGiving's site visit to AAR Japan's project sites in Fukushima Prefecture

           GlobalGiving’s Director of Programs, Ms. Britt LAKE visited AAR Japan’s project sites in Fukushima Prefecture on March 26th. In this report AAR Japan will introduce two of our activities from the site visit.

 Minami-Soma City: Radiation Dosimeters installed at Workshops for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs)

           Just over 20 km out of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant lies Minami-Soma City where many evacuees from within 20 km radius came to live. In Minami-Soma City, an NGO called JIN operates a workshop named “Salad Farm”, providing training and working opportunities for PWDs. Originally JIN was located in Namie-Town, only 9 km from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, but due to the high radiation contamination JIN along with many of its former employees evacuated to Minami-Soma City.

              It is the 2nd year for JIN’s staff members to cultivate their farm land. This land was originally covered by bushes and nothing was grown. The staff members spent 2 years clearing the bushes and cultivating the land in addition to building few green houses to protect the land from radiation. Now they are able to harvest several types of vegetables including potatoes, carrots and cabbages for sale.

              To promote sales of their products, with the help of GlobalGiving, AAR Japan installed a radiation dosimeter at Salad Farm so that they can measure the contamination level of the harvested vegetables. People in Fukushima Prefecture are still exposed to radiation on a daily basis; and in order to ensure steady sales of crops, thereby securing the income for the PWDs at Salad Farm, it is crucial to show that Salad Farm’s products are safe for consumption.

 Shinchi Town: Playground Equipment at Temporary Housing Complexes

              After visiting Salad Farm, Ms. Britt and AAR staff members moved on to Suzumezuka Temporary Housing Complex and Shinbayashi Temporary Housing Complex both in Shichi Town, Fukushima Prefecture, approximately 50 km from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. In both temporary housing complexes, AAR Japan had installed playground equipment in cooperation with GlobalGiving.

              After the March 11th 2011 disaster, majority of schools in Fukushima Prefecture restricted outdoor activities including Physical Education classes. The consequence was astonishing. According to the result of the 2012 health check up conducted by Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology at all the public schools in Japan, children in Fukushima had the highest rate of obesity for nearly all age groups while children aged 5 through 11 were in serious situation. Children of 5, 6, and 8 years old have twice as much risk of being overweight as the country’s average while for those aged 5-9, 14, and 17, children in Fukushima recorded the highest percentage of obesity in the nation.

              To alleviate the effect of restricted outdoor activities at schools and to improve the health condition of children in temporary housings, we installed the playground equipment. We believe small help such as installation of playground equipment can make a big difference for small children to be physically active to have healthier life in future.

              Besides the two activities reported above, we are currently implementing providing safe drinking water to kindergartens and nurseries in Fukushima, and we are also holding community gathering events periodically. All these activities are supported by generous donations that we receive from GlobalGiving. We appreciate every bit of help we receive.

Mr.KAWAMURA (JIN) shows organic garden to Ms.Britt
Mr.KAWAMURA (JIN) shows organic garden to Ms.Britt
Salad Farm staff members planting potato cutting
Salad Farm staff members planting potato cutting
A radiation dosimeter set, installed at Salad Farm
A radiation dosimeter set, installed at Salad Farm
A boy from Temporary Housing Complex at signboard
A boy from Temporary Housing Complex at signboard
Talking with evacuees in temporary housing complex
Talking with evacuees in temporary housing complex
Jan 11, 2013

Portable Planetarium Shows in Soma City, Fukushima

Children eagerly look up at the planetarium.
Children eagerly look up at the planetarium.

Delivery of Portable Planetarium Shows

Children of Soma City, Fukushima Prefecture, had been playing in their neighborhood parks and playgrounds before the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred in March 2011. However, they are now having a hard time being able to play outdoors as they want to, since many of those parks and playgrounds were swept away by the tsunami and some areas of the city still have high radiation levels.

Since the opening of its office in Soma City in April 2012, AAR Japan has assisted children of the city in many ways, including the installation of playground equipment at temporary housing complexes. As AAR Japan staff frequently visited the temporary housing complexes and subsidized housings in the city, they have become friends with children living there and often heard them voice their desire to see a planetarium show. In response, AAR Japan decided to hold “Mobile Planetarium Shows,” hoping that the projection of a starlit night sky would not only offer an educational experience to learn about the universe and constellations, but would also uplift the children so that they can pursue their dreams.

 

 Tonight, What Stars Are in the Sky Over Soma City?

Soma City has no permanent planetarium facility. Therefore, in order for the children of the city to see a planetarium show, they have to travel to the cities of Sendai or Koriyama, taking 1 to 1.5 hours by car. The mother of a second-grade boy said, “Since my son began to show interest in stars, we’ve visited planetariums in Koriyama and Sendai several times. But after the disaster, we now have fewer opportunities to see planetarium shows because we have to pass through areas with high radiation in order to go to Koriyama.

The venue for the mobile planetarium shows was Soma Municipal Nakamura First Elementary School. Inflating a sky-blue dome, we set up in the school gym a hemispherical planetarium that holds about 40 spectators per show. During the two days of September 29th and 30th, we ran 10 planetarium shows and had as many as 489 visitors consisting of students of elementary school in Soma City and their parents.

 The presenter who gives live narrations is Mr. Miyuki TOHYAMA from “Yokohama Mobile Planetarium,” one of the organizations that made the shows possible. As soon as young spectators are seated inside the dome, light music starts playing and it begins to get dark. They became excited as stars come out in twos and threes on the ceiling that was merely dark. While having their eyes glued to twinkling stars, the children find themselves in total darkness but under a myriad of stars they have never seen before. “Oh, that’s the Milky Way!” they say, pointing to stars joyfully.

Projected on the screen was “The Starry Sky Tonight over Soma City.” Mr. TOHYAMA tells the children how to identify stars and constellations such as the North Star and the Great Summer Triangle. “The star, which is known in Japan as Orihime, is Vega in the constellation Lyra, which forms one corner of the Great Summer Triangle.” “Sitting low in the northern sky over Soma City tonight is the constellation Cassiopeia.” Under the fascinating starlit sky, every 20-minute show just flies by.

 

“This is my first time to see a planetarium show.” “I felt the stars so close to me.”

“This was a very timely event for us, because my son has just begun to show an interest in stars and we bought a constellation guidebook very recently. He was looking forward to this event so much that he filled in the application form by himself without bringing it home and completed the registration at school,” the mother of 8 year-old Kosuke joyfully told us. Kosuke’s father also said, “We’re very glad to be here today as there aren’t many events like this one where children can learn. It would be great if we have more events of this kind.”

 Over 80% of the visitors were children, and for most of them it was the first time seeing a planetarium show. During the intermission, they enjoyed bouncy ball scooping, bingo, and trampolining prepared in the gym.

It was unfortunately cloudy that day, but in clear nights, the sky over Soma City will also be jeweled with glittering stars. In winter, bright stars including the constellation Orion start to twinkle in the night sky. Chances are, the Geminids will also be making their appearance. We hope they will continue to enjoy observing the stars, applying what they have learned from the show. AAR Japan will continue its activities in Fukushima Prefecture.

Soma Planetarium Project was made possible by the support and cooperation of PEACE PROJECT, GlobalGiving, Yokohama Mobile Planetarium, Soma Municipal Nakamura First Elementary School in Fukushima Prefecture, and Nalelu.Co.,Ltd.

The visitors wait in line to see the planetarium.
The visitors wait in line to see the planetarium.
Mr.TOHYAMA explains to the audience what they see.
Mr.TOHYAMA explains to the audience what they see.
"The stars looked clear and it was so beautiful."
"The stars looked clear and it was so beautiful."
boys said "It was like seeing the real universe."
boys said "It was like seeing the real universe."
4th grade boys help to build the planetarium dome.
4th grade boys help to build the planetarium dome.
During intermission, children enjoyed many games.
During intermission, children enjoyed many games.
With the spectators of the last planetarium show.
With the spectators of the last planetarium show.
Oct 16, 2012

Nature experiencing workshop for children in Fukushima

Lecture on how to make soba noodle
Lecture on how to make soba noodle

In Fukushima after the Great East Japan Earthquake and the subsequent nuclear power plant catastrophe, many families, especially those with children, are having a tough time both mentally and physically because of the risk of being exposed to radioactive particles. Parents can not let children play outside and this leads to immense stress both for parents and their children, while also increasing the risk of obesity among children from lack of exercise.

 

In response, on July 22nd and 23rd, 2012, as a part of the “Building Healthy Communities Project,” AAR Japan held a two-day workshop activity in Fukushima Prefecture in the town of Nishi-Aizu. This event aimed to alleviate the stress among disaster-affected families by allowing them to spend time in nature with no worries so that they can have a memorable experience. Before the workshops we measured the level of radioactivity in Nishi-Aizu Town and the result was 0.08 micro-sieverts per hour, which is nearly equal to the measurement at Tokyo. Thus family members from disaster-affected areas were invited to spend 2 days to enjoy many exciting and unforgettable experiences such as starting fire using only ropes and wood, making soba (traditional Japanese noodle), and creating handcraft items from bamboo tree.

 

Various enjoyable workshops and entertainment

Bamboo tree handcraft and fire-making

We invited Mr. Hideki SEKINE as the instructor for creating handcraft goods from bamboo trees and making fire with ropes and wood. Mr. SEKINE teaches at Tama Art University, Wakou University, and Kuwahara Design Research Institution and is also the holder of the title of “world’s fire-making champion”. Using bamboo, Mr. SEKINE taught children how to craft items such as percussion instruments, flutes, drinking cups, and water guns. Also children tried to make fire with just a rope and wood. It took the children many tries but in the end, when the fire was finally lit, everyone raised their voices in excitement and appeared proud of themselves.

 

Soba making workshop

Soba is a type of traditional Japanese noodles made from buckwheat flour. We invited soba master Mr. Tadashi HASEGAWA, who led the children throughout the noodle-making process which included kneading the dough, stretching it, and cutting it to make fresh soba noodles. Some children had difficulties cutting the noodles into the same width but they eventually got a hang of it and enjoyed the process. When we cooked the soba noodles, everyone was happy with the end product of their hard work.

 

Fun, fun, fun

Of course, in between the workshops, children had free time to enjoy the beautiful nature where they spent time catching insects, ran freely in the woods playing tag, and also enjoyed climbing into a tree house. At night, children and their parents enjoyed a BBQ and beautiful fireworks, which wrapped up this unforgettable night.

 

Participant’s remarks

Mrs. Hiromi IWASAKI (66) who participated with 2 of her grandchildren said with smile “Usually I can’t let my grandchildren go outside but during this event I can let them play outside without any worry and hesitation so I really enjoyed and appreciated this occasion.”

 

Mrs. Hiromi KOBAYASHI (37) who participated with her husband and 3 children proclaimed “It feels after such a long time that I can let my children play outside. All the events were great.”

 

Gratitude and resolution

AAR Japan will keep organizing many events to alleviate the stress and pain for people who have been suffering from the Great East Japan Earthquake. We hope to achieve this with help from all over the world as we have done so far. We would like to emphasize that we really appreciate all the help and kindness of our donors. We will keep collecting donation and every bit of your kindness helps us greatly. Please help spread this information and it will be our pleasure to be able to inform you how our activities are progressing in near future.

Cutting soba noodle
Cutting soba noodle
Handcrafting from bamboo tree
Handcrafting from bamboo tree
Bamboo cup
Bamboo cup
Making fire using rope and wood
Making fire using rope and wood
Playing outside, found mantis
Playing outside, found mantis
Going into tree house
Going into tree house
BBQ dinner, time to enjoy good food with everyone
BBQ dinner, time to enjoy good food with everyone
Jul 18, 2012

Cherry Blossoms, Songs and "Koinobori" in Fukushima Prefecture

Koinobori time (Soma, Fukushima - 29 Apr 2012)
Koinobori time (Soma, Fukushima - 29 Apr 2012)

In the disaster affected areas, there are many people who are struggling physically or are feeling much stress from having to live in temporary housing for so long. When AAR JAPAN’s staff visited temporary housing complexes in Sukagawa City in the Fukushima Prefecture, the president of the residents’ association came to us and asked, “Do you think we can organize something that will be enjoyable for everyone, something that will just lift everyone’s spirits?” After some planning, we decided to hold Japanese traditional and seasonal festivals such as “Hanami" (cherry blossom viewing) and “Koinobori" (carp streamers).


Singing on the Bus while Viewing Cherry Blossoms

On April 15th and 22nd, we organized an event that we called “Singing Bus Tour.” The plan was to go around the city of Sukagawa with its residents on a bus rented out from the social welfare committee. The bus went around to all the cherry blossom viewing sites in Sukugawa, while the passengers continued to sing in a chorus. Many people living in temporary housing participated in the tour: 35 people on the 15th, and 30 on the 22nd. An electric keyboard was set up inside the bus, and pianist Tomoko YAMAZAKI was there to play popular songs and nursery rhymes for us to sing along to.

Because the cherry blossoms blossomed late this year, we unfortunately could not visit many sites. However, the participants enjoyed going to famous sites such as Iwase Farm, and eating lunch boxes out in the Fukushima Airport Park. Both the participants and the members of the social welfare committee were very happy at the end of the day, and asked us, “Please make this an annual event!”


 170 Carps Swimming in the Sky

In April 29th, as a part of its “Building Healthy Communities Project,” AAR JAPAN held an event at the Elderly Support Center of Yunuki Town in Soma City, Fukushima Prefecture. We have been implementing this same project in Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures since July, 2011. Specifically, we have been holding regional community events such as massage sessions, health exercise sessions, and counseling with the goal that those affected by the disaster can regain their health, both physically and psychologically, as soon as possible. This was the first time an event was held in the Fukushima Prefecture. Since Children’s Day (May 5th) was very near, we decided to hold an event where the participants can make their own carps to fly as carp streamers on this national holiday. 

The carp streamers, or “Koinobori” in Japanese, are made by drawing an image of a fish, with its characteristically prominent scales, on a piece of white cloth. The participants also wrote messages on the carp to make them very original works of art. Many participants came; from elementary school students, to users of welfare facilities serving persons with disabilities, to Afghan staff members from AAR JAPAN’s Afghanistan office. At the end of the day we had 170 carps swimming in the spring sky.

The children actually came at 10 in the morning to start drawing pictures of carps on white cloth. They all seemed absorbed in the task, and some didn’t seem to want to let go of their magic markers even after having finished one carp. There were children that drew up to five “Koinobori.” The colorfully drawn “Koinobori” were attached to a rope by the children themselves, although with some help from AAR Japan’s staff members.

An elderly woman that came with her grandchild shared with us, “We couldn’t put up “Koinobori” last year because of the disaster, but I’m so glad we were able to this year. Our children are very happy.”

 

Pleasure from Singing Together

AAR Japan also distributed handmade tote bags collected from all over the country to the people living in Yunuki Temporary Housing Complex. The recipients were moved by the messages inside the tote bags, saying “How thoughtful to include a personal message inside each bag. We are very thankful for these messages from the heart.” There is a large public bath at the community center of the temporary housing complex, so some people said, “These bags are just the right size for me to take to the bath!” All the bags are made with much care, and the pockets are attached in very useful places, so the bags should be very sturdy and practical.

In the evening, we held a small concert with performances by opera singers Yumiko SAKANO and Takao ASAHARA, and pianist Tomoko YAMAZAKI who performed earlier with the bus tour. After the concert we also had an interactive session where the audience was invited to participate in the singing. The 60 or so people in the audience seemed a little nervous at first, but soon they were up and singing along to Japanese traditional children’s songs such as “Chatsumi” (meaning picking tea leaves) and “Furusato” (meaning hometown), lead by the two professional singers. After the concert, the participants joyfully shared with us “We usually don’t get to sing so loudly, so it was a really fun experience.”

Since many people asked us to hold both events again, we believe we were able to bring some happiness back into their lives. As requested, AAR JAPAN will continue these activities in the Fukushima Prefecture.

Lets sing! (Sukagawa, Fukushima - 22 Apr 2012)
Lets sing! (Sukagawa, Fukushima - 22 Apr 2012)
Cherry blossom (Sukagawa, Fukushima - 22 Apr 2012)
Cherry blossom (Sukagawa, Fukushima - 22 Apr 2012)
Up in the sky (Soma City, Fukushima - 29 Apr 2012)
Up in the sky (Soma City, Fukushima - 29 Apr 2012)
Getting ready! (Soma, Fukushima - 29 Apr 2012)
Getting ready! (Soma, Fukushima - 29 Apr 2012)
So colorful! (Soma, Fukushima - 29 Apr 2012)
So colorful! (Soma, Fukushima - 29 Apr 2012)
Handmade tote bags (Soma, Fukushima - 29 Apr 2012)
Handmade tote bags (Soma, Fukushima - 29 Apr 2012)
Singing along (Soma City, Fukushima - 29 Apr 2012)
Singing along (Soma City, Fukushima - 29 Apr 2012)
Relaxing massages (Soma, Fukushima - 29 Apr 2012)
Relaxing massages (Soma, Fukushima - 29 Apr 2012)
Carp decorations (Soma, Fukushima - 29 Apr 2012)
Carp decorations (Soma, Fukushima - 29 Apr 2012)

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Project Leader

Yuko Ito

Program Coordinator
Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo Japan

Where is this project located?

Map of Support evacuees of Fukushima