Updates from Japan Relief Projects

Jan 30, 2017

Hands On Tokyo Tohoku Winter Report

Happy New Year!

Thank you for all your tremendous support last year.  You helped us convey to Tohoku communities that they have not been forgotten as they continue to overcome challenges in rebuilding their lives after the devastating earthquake and tsunami nearly six years ago.

In the days, weeks, and months following a tragic natural disaster, many people come together in response. However, the number of volunteers going to and the amount of charitable donations for Tohoku have now dropped significantly.  There is a general sense among those living outside of the Tohoku area that everything in Tohoku is back to normal and that there is nothing more to be done.  Recovery and rebuilding though take years and it is natural for those trying to rebuild their lives to feel forgotten.  We greatly appreciate your continued general support as we work hard not to forget Tohoku.

Winter is busy time for farmers as they need to clear fields so that they are ready for next year's growing season.  Labor shortages continue to make it very hard for local farmers in Tohoku to run their farms and in turn to further rebuild their lives. Growing rice, vegetables and fruit is very labor intensive and the local farmers cannot do all the work by themselves.  They need the continued support of volunteers.

With your generous donations, Hands On Tokyo volunteers have been able to continue to support local farmers, Saito-san and his wife, and the New Rice Center (NRC) in Yamamoto-cho in Miyagi Prefecture. The NRC is an agricultural association of local farmers who produce and promote local rice and local produce.

In November, 10 Hands On Tokyo volunteers helped Saito-san and his wife with winter chores by pulling and removing dead eggplant bushes from a large field.  In December, 15 Hands On Tokyo volunteers (including members and leaders of a Boy Scout Troop from the American  School in Japan) pulled and removed eggplant bushes from another large field.

Eggplants can grow well in compromised soil, specificially soil that has been mixed with sand and salt water from the tsunami.  

The local farmers always ask us to convey to everyone who supports our volunteer activities in Tohoku just how much they appreciate all the support.  What Hands On Tokyo volunteers are able to accomplish in a day would take the local farmers and their families many days to complete.  At the end of the day, Saito-san looked at the cleared fields with deep gratitude and amazement. He never imagined that the volunteers could do so much in such a short time period. 

With your generous support, we will continue to organize volunteer trips to further support local farmers in Tohoku as they continue to work very hard to further rebuild their lives.

The November and December trips to Yamamoto-cho were also a time of celebration.  In November, we celebrated the near completion of the Saito Family's new home where three generations will live together after spending nearly six years in a very tiny temporary housing unit. In December, we witnessed the first day of service of a local train line since the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The train runs next to the eggplant field, so we waved at each passing train and the conductor tooted the horn. It was heartwarming to witness the improvement and sense of community in Yamamoto-cho.

Aside from the farming activity, we were also able to bring the holiday spirit to Tohoku. Our volunteers created Christmas stockings from scratch that were hand delivered to a senior citizen`s home where former Ogatsu residents are living. The residents loved receiving individual designs of the socks and the personalized message attached to the gifts. It was a rewarding feeling to remind people that here, in Tokyo, we are still always thinking of them.

Slowly but surely the road to recovery is being paved. It is still a work in progress so we hope to continue to assist in recovery efforts. Thank you in advance for your continued support and helping sustain a powerful impact in the Tohoku area.

Jan 20, 2017

Lessons from New Attempts without Human Resouces

Construction Site of Isatomae Shopping Arcade 1
Construction Site of Isatomae Shopping Arcade 1

Since it was such a cold day, shoppers at the Isatomae Temporary Fukko Arcade quickly finished their necessary shopping and hopped into their cars. The final Shop Arcade currently under construction, right next to this temporary one, was planned to be completed in March this year. However, as the attached picture (Picture 1 and 2) shows, the construction is still at the stage of raising a land level and installing the basic infrastructure such as electricity, water and sewage. It looks as if people have to wait for a while before the Final Shop Arcade will be completed. They still need to be patient.

The construction of the Main Shop Arcade in Shizugawa, which is about 10km away from Isatomae, is also taking place. This arcade often appears in the media for restaurants offering local tastes, especially to tourists. The temporary arcade was already closed and the main arcade will most likely be completed in March this year. In contrast, the Isatomae arcade is basically for the local community with a large portion of residents senior people, rather than for tourists, thus being covered less by the media and continues to be in need of external supports.

The constructions of highways leading to Sendai are also taking place. Shizugawa looks like a construction factory, where you can find many construction equipment everywhere, creating fairly dry and noisy environments. Local people must be having difficulty to live in these environments. Students in only one high-school in Minami-sanriku-cho located on a hill side (Picture 3) must be watching the same scenery every day, while temporary houses fill the athletic and play grounds even now. Six years have passed since the disaster, a long time to suffer, but one positive effect of this suffering is that students are graduating with ever stronger wish and dream to contribute to the local community.

A Moai statue which symbolized the Chile Earthquake of the 1960s and stone monuments which used to be in destroyed sea-shore parks are placed in the high-school ground. Despite that the Moai status and stone monuments were washed away in the disaster, they were later found in different locations. What is interesting is that in the past people used to live in the mountain side fearing tsunami and disasters, but once recovery takes place, many of them just forget about their experiences and move back to the area along the sea shore, where it is easier to develop businesses.

Not to forget the memory of the disaster, the town decided to establish “a room of disaster memory.” They are making use of an empty classroom, available due to the decline of the number of children enrollment. How to convey and what type of messages are to be conveyed are currently discussed. An ample amount of digital information and pictures are available and need to be stored. Through these materials, they would like to convey the threat of disaster and the importance of life. Although donations from companies covered hardware, such as PCs and exhibits, the soft side of the room, such as how to display materials, operate the room and archive materials, need to be developed. But hardly any expert on such issues live in the town. Human development in diverse areas, such as schools, shopping arcade, municipalities, and the whole area, seems to be in an urgent need. This process may be what enables the sustainable development of a society and what we can learn from the disaster.  

Construction Site of Isatomae Shopping Arcade 2
Construction Site of Isatomae Shopping Arcade 2
Only One Senior-high-school in Minami-sanriku-cho
Only One Senior-high-school in Minami-sanriku-cho


Jan 13, 2017

Providing Mothers a Workshop on Weaning Foods

The first experience to hold babies on the back
The first experience to hold babies on the back

Enjoying each other's company, mothers are wielding kitchen knives in a cooking room; one of the mothers is carrying a baby in a wide cotton sling and the baby is watching them cooking over his/her mother’s shoulder.

This workshop, hosted by Fukushima Midwife Association, provides mothers an opportunity to learn how to prepare food for infants.

This workshop was aimed at helping mothers by easing their concerns for weaning food and provided mothers with an opportunity to learn how to cook a family meal while strapping their babies to their back. On top of that, they were also able to get answers to the questions they had in everyday life, such as:

what kind of age-appropriate diet mothers should give to their babies;
whether mothers may feed breast milk or formula to their babies as much as their babies want;
whether they worry needlessly about food allergies; and
how to be sure they are feeding their babies a balanced diet.

Choosing Fukushima Midwife Association as an alliance partner, JEN has been assisting the “Midwife-driven Comprehensive Expectant and Nursing Mothers Support Project” since June, 2016. While dealing with calls from mothers after the earthquake, the association realized that so many mothers were worrying about how to raise their babies. Accordingly that led the association to believe that addressing their concerns would help them feel good about themselves and become confident about themselves. Consequently the association has implemented the project in which it teaches mothers how to make weaning diets and cook while rocking their babies on their backs so that they don’t have to leave their crying babies as they are.

Another important thing in addressing mothers’ concerns is to help them to enhance their relationship with local communities.

 Some of the mothers’ replies were:
”My worries and anxieties disappeared thanks to the midwife’s advice;”
”I was able to consult with other mothers.”

The workshop conducted by nutritionists
The workshop conducted by nutritionists
The mothers and their babies eat meals together
The mothers and their babies eat meals together
Dec 12, 2016

Thank YOU for standing by them!

Photo by Children, Youth & Community Matching
Photo by Children, Youth & Community Matching

Since the historically devastating 2011 Japan Earthquake and Tsunami changed the course of many Japanese communities, you have stood by them. Thanks to your donations, GlobalGiving nonprofits are better equipped to support those impacted by natural disaster. Your generosity has funded many projects, but there are still more working in Japan who are determined to fulfill their mission of providing relief to people who lost homes, loved ones, and livelihoods. Below is a summary of the most recent impacts your donations have made!

Hands on Tokyo volunteers helped families finally return to their homes after five years of rebuilding.

Japan Emergency NGO (JEN)  is partnering with local organizations to empower women in their relief efforts.

Children, Youth & Community Matching  created safe spaces for children to play in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami that changed the course of their childhood.  

Association for Aid and Relief, Japan (AAR Japan)continues to provide psychological support for those who suffered losses in the earthquake and tsunami.

OISCA International planted a total of 56,000 seedlings with the constant goal of restoring 1,000 hectares of the Coast Forest in Miyagi Prefecture.

Ippan Shadan Hojin DSIAis redeveloping the Tohoku communityby focusing on childcare and providing professional training.

Peace Winds America is recreating life in Japan and recently started working on the first phases of building a dog park, children's playground, and community gardens.

We are so grateful to have such loyal and compassionate donors. It is because of you that communities in Japan have a hope for the future. Thank you for your constant generosity!

Dec 5, 2016

Continuing Assistance in Iwaki City

On 19th November, AAR Japan visited Iwaki City located in the southeastern part of Fukushima prefecture on the Pacific Ocean coastline.

The Great East Japan Earthquake on 11th March, 2011 caused this city several cracks in the ground and violent mudslides among other disasters, completely or partially destroying almost 40,000 houses, the second-worst in all disaster-affected areas only after the massive scale of destruction seen in Sendai city in Miyagi Prefecture. The tsunami and mudslides caused by the earthquake led to the deaths of more than 400 people.

In addition to the direct impact of the earthquake, Iwaki city was heavily affected by the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Soon after the nuclear meltdown, the northern part of Iwaki city was designated as indoor evacuation zone, driving almost 7,000 citizens out of the city.

The temporary housing complex we visited on 19th November, initially sheltered 72 households who evacuated from their houses in the disaster. Some of them managed to relocate to more permanent housing with or without government support. However, 64 households continue to live in the temporary housing complex today, most of whom are elderly over 65 years old.

To maintain physical and mental health of these disaster survivors who still remain displaced, AAR Japan is providing massages, calisthenics exercises, and health check-ups alongside active listening (counseling) sessions and other community events. Active listening sessions provide the participants with opportunities to interact with one another besides allowing them to pour their hearts out to counselors about the troubles and concerns that they usually keep to themselves. Massage sessions help the participants relax and promote conversations.

One of the participants (60s, woman), who evacuated from Namie-town, came with cold compress on the shoulder crying over its pain. After a massage session, she began to talk about her situation. She said she wanted to repair her house, but instead she and her husband would have to move to public housing in Nihonmatsu so that they can continue to take their grandchild to and from the same school. They look after their grandchild while the child’s parents live in Minamisoma-city, 90 km away from the school, for work. Although the parents wanted to relocate their child to live with them, they worry that the child became too shy after transferring schools several times.

Today, 12 people came to receive massages, and 13 came for counseling sessions, among whom some will remain in the temporary housing, some may relocate to new apartments built for disaster survivors, and others will return to their hometown after the evacuation order is lifted. For over five years since the 3.11 disaster, AAR Japan has continuously supported those affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake by adjusting its aid to serve the changing needs of each survivor.

Oct 31, 2016

Families Returning Home in Minami Soma

Cleaning the local family`s home
Cleaning the local family`s home

In September, we took 26 volunteers to a district in Minami Soma in Fukushima Prefecture, where former residents were finally allowed to return to their homes for the first time in July after having to suddenly evacuate more than five years ago. Their homes are still in disarray and their properties are severely overgrown from the earthquake that preceded the tsunami. 

We helped a local family discard unnecessary material from their home. This involved physically moving the materials from outside of their homes, dismantling furniture, and sorting the trash according to local garbage recycling rules. Afterward we cleaned the interior of the home. 

The father of the local family we helped was very grateful for the assitance we were able to provide, saying he could not have managed such a physically and emotionally difficult task without our assitance. He and his family can now focus on moving forward and rebuilding. 

Our volunteers were deeply touched by this experience, as they could witness firsthand how the 2011 Fukushima disaster impacted residents. The volunteers said they could not imagine the enormity of the tasks involved in actually moving back into one`s former home after more than five years away.

We also helped an elderly woman by clearing out, weeding, pruning her yard and garden. Her husband has unfortunately passed away, and it was physically impossible for her to tend to these tasks herself. Most of the former residents who are returning to Minami Soma are senior citizens and it is very hard for them to do labor intensive work. We were delighted to this work for her.

It was astounding to wtiness what our volunteers could accomplish in only two days. Our volunteers were also suprised by how much work still needs to be done in Minami Soma and other communities in Tohoku. The media has reported that people are moving out of their temporary housing and returning to their homes. Therefore the public has the impression that things have returned to normal in Tohoku, but this is not the case. 

The reality is that these families face enormous challenges in trying to return to their former homes after more than five years away. Hands On Tokyo volunters can make a real difference in helping families make a smooth transition into living in their old homes. We hope to bring more volunteers to Minami Soma and other communities in Tohoku for as long as individuals are in need of our help.Specifically, we hope to bring volunteers to help local farmers in the area reestablish their livelihoods in the near future. 

There is still so much to be done in Tohoku, and there is still so many people in need of our encouragement and assistance. Thank you for your support, and we hope we can count on your continued support in the future. Projects like these would not be possible without our donors. You have touched the hearts and souls of many people in Tohoku, and the residents of Minami Soma and Hands On Tokyo are so grateful for your help.

Pruning trees at senior resident`s home
Pruning trees at senior resident`s home
Oct 24, 2016

Where do the Young Go when Development Work Ends

Trucks busy for raising the land level
Trucks busy for raising the land level

Still many dump cars are going back and forth, busy in raising the level of land (Picture 1) to be use for building the final main shop arcade. It is scheduled to be completed in April 2017. On Oct. 19th, 2016, the ceremony of starting to build the arcade was conducted. Besides, an exit of a highway will be also constructed. Since the temporary shop arcade this weekend will organize an event, it has quite many young people gathering. It seems that the place is busy with people and trucks, giving a strong impression of redevelopment (Picture 2). But people in the town seems to be split into two groups of those who remember the old scenery before the disaster and elementary school children up to the third grade who do not remember the past scenery and grew up with the sound of redevelopment.

 During the past five years, children took school buses for the safety of children, funded by the redevelopment budget, costing 0.2 billion yen a year. With the government budget cut for redevelopment, now a discussion is taking place even to cut school buses, unless the Minami-sanriku Township will finance the operation, which is unlikely to come up with a budget of such a big sum.

 Besides, children used to walk a long distance, while the younger generation has been riding the school bus, losing a valuable opportunity to build their muscle. Although school buses are likely to be maintained, while dump cars are speeding in the main street, local culture, which used to maintain a sense of community as well as the physical strength of children, seems to have disappeared. How can the redevelopment of the past culture be achieved? It is quite a difficult question, since they feel that they are moving to a completely unknown direction.

When redevelopment construction ends and when the scenery and people’s practices change, how do people face this new stage? On October 1, 2016, the Tomura Community Center was opened, which was in the past a junior-high-school building whose first floor was destroyed by Tsunami. The school was forced to merge with another school. With some repairs, it is now used as a community center, which includes the Disaster Learning Seminar Room and a room for collecting and keeping disaster-related materials. Only existing high school, Shizukawa High School in the neighboring part of the township, now suffers from the decline of student enrollment, and decided to reduce one class down to three classes from the next April. Now, the township is planning to use the unused classroom to keep documents related to the disaster, so that people do not forget the incident.

Job opportunities for the younger generation has also changed. In the past, they all worked as fishermen, but now a significant number of them work in construction businesses involved in the redevelopment of the area. They work in small- and medium-sized construction subcontractors, which pays far less salary than that of an ordinary businessman. A big question is whether they will be continuously employed after the completion of redevelopment construction. Can they find a job a few years later? This also generate a worry to shop owners in the arcade, since the consumption will drastically decline when no job is available to young people. Besides, inequality between young fishermen and unemployed people will be a serious social problem.

According to the Committee for Redeveloping Isatomae Community, the number of people participating in its meetings have drastically declined. The redevelopment of hard infrastructure is undeniably advancing, while that of soft side is carrying a hidden bomb of aggravating community problems.

One informant to this report decided not to move into the newly built arcade. Instead, he will use a part of his new house, to be established in a redevelopment community of 100 houses. In this way, he believes that he can respond better to the needs of familiar local people and provide goods and services. Other than fishing business, this community may be the only source of stimulating economic activities in Isatomae.

Young people helping the event of the arcade
Young people helping the event of the arcade


Oct 17, 2016

Making Women's Abilities & Play an Active Role

The last Grassroots Women
The last Grassroots Women's Academy in Iwate

JEN has been partnering with local NPO’s as a new form of community support activity since October, 2015. In July, 2016, JEN partnered with “Women’s Eye”, a certified non-profit organisation based in the city of Tome in Miyagi Prefecture. In this report, we will see the types of activities that the new partner undertakes.

“Women’s Eye” was launched in July, 2013 after taking over the duties from its predecessor, “RQ Women Support Centre (Tome city, Miyagi Prefecture)” which was organized in July, 2011 by disaster-relief volunteers who came to work in and around the Sanriku shoreline.

During its support activities soon after the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, they witnessed that women in affected areas take a backseat to men as the breadwinner, or children as students, either in their homes or communities. It became a calling for them to focus on helping such women to utilize their abilities and to play a more outgoing role in their homes and communities by giving them an opportunity to live life differently. In order to find out how to the help best these women, they carried out research from the point of view from women, mindful of the fact that people in the Tohoku region of Japan generally don’t talk too much about themselves.

As part of its efforts, the organisation hosted the Grassroots Women’s Academy in the city of Tamura, located in Fukushima Prefecture over three days from 5 August 2016.  The Grassroots Women’s Academy is a workshop that provides learning and networking opportunities for young women from the Tohoku region.

The workshop was inspired by an international forum for young female leaders from the Tohoku region and experienced female leaders from both Asia and Latin America, which was held in the town of Minamisanriku and was co-hosted by Women’s Eye and Huairou Commission, a NY-based international NGO in 2015. Since then, Women’s Eye has been meeting to learn from others, share their own experiences with others, and grow themselves.

At the workshop, under the theme of, “how to get people in communities involved in our activities” women from Tohoku’s three prefectures weighed in with their own opinions about the challenges that they are facing and learnt from each other over the three days that the workshop was held.

Leveraging their partnership with JEN, Women’s Eye aims to help women to utilize their capabilities and to play an active role by giving women rich opportunities for mutual learning and cooperation in addressing the specific challenges faced by women.

The pictures: ©Women's Eye

The members of Women
The members of Women's Eye consulting each other
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