Association for Aid and Relief, Japan (AAR Japan)

Association for Aid and Relief, Japan(AAR Japan) is a Non-Governmental Organization ( NGO ) aiming to provide emergency assistance, assistance to people with disabilities, and mine action, among other operations. It was established in 1979 as an organization with no political, ideological, or religious affiliation. AAR currently has offices in 10 countries.
Aug 27, 2013

Cheering up the evacuees in Fukushima Prefecture

A participant Sho assisted the magicians
A participant Sho assisted the magicians

On August 9th 2013, we organized a community interaction event at Matsukawa Daini Temporary Housing Complex in Fukushima City, Fukushima Prefecture. The event program included body massages by a professional physical therapist, folk music concert and a magic show. A total of 41 participants gathered at the community center in the temporary housing complex and enjoyed the entertaining performance, briefly forgetting the mental fatigue, which the evacuees daily experience.

Although the event had been announced to begin at 1:00 p.m., several participants started coming at around 12:30 p.m. In the first hour, the participants received body massage by the professional physiotherapist, Ms. Yokoyama, which helped the participants relax their bodies and receive advice on their health condition. At 2:00 p.m., a pair of men in bright costumes showed up in front of the audience, who turned out to be the great magicians/comedy duo ‘Akkerakan’. They performed various and eye-catching tricks and even a pigeon appeared from a hat, which evoked a wave of applause among the audience. A 10 years-old boy, Sho, who participated in the event with his grandmother, volunteered and greatly enjoyed to assist the magician duo. With an excited and amused smile, he told us that it was his first time to see a magic so closely. Then the folk music concert started, amusing the audience with powerful music, dance and comical short drama. During the concert, the audience intently listened to the united harmony of powerful singing voice, Shamisen (Japanese traditional string instrument) and Tsuzumi (Japanese traditional drum). Some participants shed tears when they and the performers together sang a message song about the prayers for the recovery of disaster-affected areas. Then, changing the atmosphere completely, a short comedy drama was performed, which featured a character that was very popular among the senior generation of the participants. The event ended with the biggest applause and beaming smiles of the audience.

Since the residents in Matsukawa Daini Temporary Housing Complex are originally from the same village, the social ties are relatively retained, and there are opportunities for gathering and doing activities together. Still, the participants assured that they were happy to join such events that gave another opportunity to come out to mingle with other residents. They are originally from Iitate Village, a large area of which is classified in the off-limit zone due to the high level of radiation. When an AAR Japan staff member Matsumoto had a chance to talk with two of the participants, Ms. Ito and Ms. Takahashi, they spoke cheerfully and, even with a laugh, described their village as ‘the area that was most severely damaged by the radiation’. They continued, ‘Even after moving to this temporary housing complex, we are doing quite well since the residents are all from the same village. We enjoy playing gateball and crafting basket together, and we are getting along well’. However, when they were asked whether they wanted to return to their home village, their facial expression slightly hardened. They answered, ‘We are not sure about that, since we are not able to return in any way’. This is the moment when we re-acknowledged that there is still a long way to go for the evacuees to positively look at their future. We will continue our efforts to cheer up the feelings of disaster-affected people and help them regain the strength to look forward. 

Powerful dance to the folk music
Powerful dance to the folk music
Participants in bright smiles
Participants in bright smiles
Beautiful harmony of Japanese musical instruments
Beautiful harmony of Japanese musical instruments
A short comical drama with the popular character
A short comical drama with the popular character
participants and performers sang together
participants and performers sang together
Jul 30, 2013

Pavement work done at 'Tamura Kibo no Sato'

The ground before the pavement construction
The ground before the pavement construction

On June 24th 2013, AAR Japan staff member Masayuki OKADA visited 'Tamura Kibo no Sato', a facility for Persons with Disabilities where we have recently completed concrete pavement work of the ground. Although the construction initially aimed at reducing the risk of radiation exposure by removing contaminated pebbles that covered the ground, it also helped the facility users in wheelchairs to move freely across the property of the facility.

About Tamura Kibo no Sato

Tamura Kibo no Sato is a workshop located in Tamura City, Fukushima Prefecture. It provides job training to approximately 20 persons with mental and physical disabilities and the workshop users are engaged in various work commissioned by companies inside or outside Fukushima Prefecture including folding and bagging of clothes, producing artificial flowers and boxing of gardening kits, etc. The users enjoy working diligently every day, which provides them with opportunity to further participate in the society. Some of the users live in the group home ‘Yu no Sato’ which is located in the same property as the workshop.

Why pavement construction?

The facility is located in the mountainous area approximately 50km away from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The mountainous area is said to be exposed to higher risk of radiation since the radioactive materials can be condensed through the ecological circulation system, hence the facility, of which backyard closely looks onto the mountain, has been very concerned over the risk of radiation exposure. Previously the ground of the property was covered with pebbles but those pebbles became contaminated by radiation following the accident at the nuclear power plant. The facility wished to remove all the contaminated pebbles and pave the ground with concrete rather than replacing the old pebbles with new ones, considering that the newly replaced pebbles will again accumulate a large amount of radiation due to its uneven surface. Thus, we decided to carry out the paving work, which completed in May 2013. This enabled the facility users to concentrate on their job training feeling less worried about radiation exposure. In addition, the paving work also brought another benefit to the facility- the facility users in wheelchair used to have trouble in moving on the pebbled ground which also had level differences and ditches. In response to this situation, the pavement construction was completed in the way to ensure eliminating these barriers. The facility is now prepared to provide better working and living environment, in which the wheelchair users can be more active and independent.

The smooth ground after the pavement construction
The smooth ground after the pavement construction
No step at the entrance after the paving work
No step at the entrance after the paving work
The facility user folds and bags the clothes
The facility user folds and bags the clothes
Artificial flowers made by the facility users
Artificial flowers made by the facility users
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
 
   

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