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.
May 12, 2016

Ofunato City, Iwate Prefecture

AAR Japan visited the temporary housing complex in Ofunato City (Iwate Prefecture), a city along the Sanriku Coast. A major tsunami engulfed Ofunato City and more than 3,000 families lost their homes. Although efforts are being made to rebuild residential land, there have been delays in the construction of public restoration apartments. As of April 2016, there are still 35 temporary housing complexes in this city that host 863 displaced households. This month, AAR Japan visited a temporary housing complex built on the ground of a public ballpark that hosts 72 displaced households.

Massages can relieve muscle tension and create a sense of connectedness through therapeutic touch. Even the residents who initially looked nervous were able to relax after a massage session and lingered, sipping on freshly brewed coffee and exchanging friendly conversations with AAR Japan staff and other residents who were also waiting for a massage. There was a resident eagerly awaiting for our arrival. She had prepared homemade marinated mountain vegetables (sansai). “Mountain vegetable picking is so much fun during this season. I always pick more than I can eat, so I preserve them by marinating them. I hope you enjoy eating them,” said the resident.

Each unit in the temporary housing complexes  is so small that when residents lie flat on the floor and extend their arms, they “can touch the walls of the unit”. The walls are so paper thin that residents can hear every little sound. During winter months, residents are troubled by mold that grows on walls resulting from condensation. Living in these temporary housing units for more than five years is undesirable. However, the residents do not show their frustration but visit massage sessions and have friendly conversations about the coming of spring and mountain vegetable picking. Although our capacities are so limited that we cannot drastically improve their lives, our success can be measured by the smiles on their faces.

It has been over five years since the Great East Japan Earthquake. There are still over 170,000 displaced persons in Japan (primarily in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures) who are forced to live in temporary housing complexes. Construction of public housing, planning of collective relocation of survivors who remain at risk of potential disasters and development of residential land are underway in various affected areas, but these projects are far from completion. AAR Japan remains committed to supporting those affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Feb 2, 2016

Ochakko and Massage Therapy Report in Fukushima

It has been almost five years since the Great East Japan Earthquake. Assistance and efforts have been made in rebuilding the debilitated communities; the construction of disaster recovery housings is underway; the planning of collective relocation of survivors who remain at risk of potential disasters in the foreseeable future is being formulated. The ground preparation for ensuing construction work for housings is being carried out, which is yet to be completed. The extensive delay in advancing the reconstruction work is inevitably keeping the displaced populations in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, amounting to 180,000 persons, stuck in temporary housings. (December, 2015. Reconstruction Agency of the Japanese Government)

This month’s report will share with you the current situation of a temporary housing complex in the city of Koriyama in Fukushima prefecture. The Earthquake of magnitude 9.0 shook the entire Tohoku region, subsequently triggering monstrous tsunami waves that caused a series of blasts and ultimately meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Approximately, 20,000 persons who had resided in the town of Namie along the coast line were displaced. A public office for Namie town was put up in the city of Nihonmatsu for temporary operations. To this day, the residents of Namie town are dispersed and displaced at different temporary housing complexes.

Since the immediate aftermath of the nuclear power plant accident, AAR Japan has visited temporary housing complexes on a consistent and regular basis to ensure the mental/physical well-being of the survivors are well taken care of.

On January the 24th, 2016, our team consisted of two physio therapists and two counselors visited a temporary housing complex that hosts 24 families who cannot go home because of the evacuation order that is still in place. Their city has been cleared of radioactive contamination and public housings have been constructed to its completion which will open this autumn. Nonetheless, more than half of the displaced populations seem disinterested in registering for the lottery to win their space at this newly-built housing. The reason being that recovery of other public services is stagnated and they are not in full operation to serve the community.

The majority of the displaced populations is about to go into their fifth year in temporary housings. Unavoidable limitations on physical mobility and freedom have taken their tolls on the health of the displaced who are predominantly farmers and carpenters by occupation. The massage therapy, through the skin-to-skin contact, loosens the internal tension in their bodies and alleviates the mental anxiety. By providing massage, the physio therapists also find out the extent of stress and physical conditions of these residents.

While waiting for their turn, people exchange friendly conversations with AAR staff over a cup of tea and snacks. This recreational tea time for the purpose of building relationships with one another is the tradition called Ochakko, unique to the Tohoku region. To this, we add a trick to minimize the interpersonal distance and to facilitate people to connect with one another. Everyone is expected to prepare a cup of coffee for someone else, from grinding coffee beans, brewing it and pouring into a cup to serving it on the table. This simple activity springs up a conversation and breaks an awkward tension to interact. The counsellors sit down and join the conversation. Their mere presence and tuned-in attentions to people’s concerns alleviate a sense of distress and frustration and to feed positivity at the table.

The following are the voices of those who participated in Ochakko and the massage therapy:

“Decontamination of radioactive substances is being done in my hometown area and I am happy that I am allowed to go home for a little bit during the daytime. On the flipside, I am saddened to see my house exactly the same way I left it when I first evacuated almost five years ago. There are weeds all over my garden.”

“While I was in my house, I tried to clean up all the mess but I am old and my back is very weak. I wish someone would help me carry things around but everyone is very busy.”

“I feel excited at the prospect of finally moving back to my own house. But I am very concerned that hospitals, grocery stores and other necessary places are not open. Even if I move back, I am not sure if I will be able to live as I used to.”

We always receive words of appreciation from these people when they come to Ochakko and massage therapies we provide in the temporary housing complexes where they live. In the midst of ambiguity over the prospect of future livelihood, a number of displaced persons feel anxious. AAR Japan will continue to visit these people at temporary housings to provide support that they need. 

Dec 28, 2015

Fukushima Concert with Impersonator, Edoya-Nekohachi and Folksingers

From the 3rd and the 4th of December just a few weeks ago, we hosted an exciting concert at a total of seven post-disaster-recovering housings and temporary housings in Aizu-wakamatsu city as well as Nihonmatsu city in the prefecture of Fukushima. The concert was anchored by Edoya-Nekohachi, who is most famous for animal impersonations, accompanied by a group of folksingers who represent the prefecture.

We were at the newly-built post-disaster-recovery housing in Aizu-wakamatsu on the first day. The housing hosts displaced populations who have been uprooted from Okuma town, located within a 20 km radius of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, under an evacuation order. These residents have long stayed at a temporary housing but only recently were able to move into the recovering housing.

This is a new community still under development. Communication is still a struggle among the residents. In the face of this ubiquitous sense of uncertainty hovering over this new community, the concert provided a fantastic opportunity for the residents to connect and get to know each other. They exchanged conversations of commonly felt anxiety, comfort and hope. Some were saying “Oh I didn’t know you also moved here. I am happy to see your face,” while others were saying “I have started to get used to a new life here in Aizu.” There were people who seemed happy on the surface but still had a sign of nostalgia and confusion on their faces.

We were at a temporary housing in Nihonmatsu on the second day. This housing also hosts displaced populations from Namie town located within a 20km radius of the nuclear plant. The concert was held in an open congregational area and was attended by a number of people. The nature of it, being held in a physically liberating place and featuring folk-singing on the main stage served to comfort the residents who are locked up in an occlusive environment of the housing on a daily basis. Folk-singing was also very much appreciated by the elderly residents.

The concert on both days was very successful. The biggest highlight was Edoya-Nekohachi’s impersonations of nightingales and cows, which gave a thunder in an auditorium with the audience breaking into laughter and loud applause.

There were people shedding tears while Mr. Suzuki Masao was singing traditional folksongs from Fukushima.

Edoya-Nekohachi who has co-hosted, along with AAR Japan, commemorative/comfort concerts on more than 100 occasions understand the struggles of the residents undergo. He tells the audience that “I understand that every day is a challenge but you cannot give up. If you keep smiling, you can keep going. I know you all will be fine because I see all of you are smiling now. I would like to continue to be a part of the future events and concerts until the very last moment when there is just one person left in temporary housings.”

It’s been five years since the 3.11 disaster but Fukushima is still in the process of recovery. AAR Japan has been supported enormously by generous support from individuals inside/outside of Japan. Our support for people of Fukushima will continue into the year of 2016. 

 
   

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