Updates from Japan Relief Projects

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
Aug 29, 2016

Hands On Tokyo Tohoku Summer Report

Summer is the peak growing season and a very busy time for farmers. 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. 
On June, 14 Hands On Tokyo volunteers helped Saito-san and his wife tend to this year's growing season by pulling weeds from hothouses and by preparing nets so that this year's paprika plants can grow strong and produce many paprikas. 
In August, we took 15 students from a children's home in Tokyo and 9 other volunteers to Yamamoto-cho. The students and other volunteers helped a local strawberry farmer and his wife and son prune strawberry plants.  
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 days to complete.  Our volunteers also appreciate how hard farmers work throughout the year whenever they see fruits and vegetables for sale at their local supermarkets. 
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.
This summer we also made two trips to Ogatsu in Miyagi Prefecture.  Ogatsu was completely devastated by the tsunami and is still far from being ready for reconstruction and redevelopment. 
In June, 14 Hands On Tokyo volunteers helped weed, fertilize, plant seeds and clear away leaves and dead flowers at the Ogatsu Rose Garden Factory.  And in August, 15 students from a children's home in Tokyo and 9 other volunteers helped weed the lavender plants at the Ogatsu Rose Garden Factory.  A local resident founded the Ogatsu Rose Garden Factory after the tsunami so that former residents and visitors could once again see beauty when they first enter the Ogatsu area.  She harvests the lavender and sells lavender potpourri in order to help defray the costs of maintaining the garden. 
Our volunteers who traveled to Ogatsu in June and August also learned about Ogatsu's rich history of slate craftsmanship and the devastating impact of the tsunami. These presentations create lasting bonds between Tohoku residents who have experienced more than one can imagine and our volunteers who want to continue helping Tohoku as much as they can.  
With your generous support, we hope to be able to continue bringing volunteers to Ogatsu.
Since our last report, we also had two new Tohoku projects.  
In July and with the support of generous sponsors and individual donors, we helped bring a group of 19 junior high school baseball players from Kesennuma and Minami Sanriku in Tohoku to Tokyo for a 3-day baseball training camp with 21 junior high school baseball players from Minato-ku (in Tokyo) and their coaches.  
These school kids from Tohoku have grown up in the aftermath of the tsunami, many living in temporary housing with their surviving family members.  It has been very hard for school sports teams to practice as school sports fields in Tohoku have been used for temporary housing sites for the past 5.5 years.  We wanted to create a Tohoku Project for some of these children to help them get extra sports training, to help them create new, happy memories and to have them bring their lessons learned and new athletic skills back to Tohoku. 
The project involved boot camp training, coaching by two Japanese baseball players who played on Major League Baseball teams in the United States, two baseball games (which were won by the Tohoku team) and a day at Tokyo Dome to see the Tokyo Giants practice and then play against the Yakult Swallows. The Tohoku baseball players also engaged in volunteering by helping pick up debris in the Roppongi area before going to Tokyo Dome.  It was a very moving and impactful experiences for all the participants and the volunteers who supported the event. 
In August, we took 15 students from a Tokyo children's home and 9 other volunteers to a district in Minami Soma in Fukushima Prefecture where the former residents were allowed to return to their homes for the first time in July after having to suddenly evacuate more than 5 years ago.  Their homes are still in disarray from the effects of the earthquake that preceded the tsunami and their yards are overgrown.  We helped a local music teacher by clearing out, weeding and pruning her yard and garden. 
She was overjoyed and practically in tears when she drove home after we got there and saw how much had been done.  Most of the former residents who are returning are in their late 60s and older and it is very hard for them to do this kind of labor intensive work. 
She told the volunteers about her experiences on the day of and immediately after the triple disaster, how hard it is to get repairs done on homes given labor shortages and the high cost of supplies and how in many respects it feels like Fukushima has been forgotten.  
We will take another group of volunteers to Minami Soma in September and hope to bring more groups of volunteers there as long as people need help getting resettled in their homes.  
There is still so much to be done in Tohoku and there are still so many people in need of support and encouragement. Thank you very much in advance for your continued support and for touching the hearts and souls of so many people in Tohoku. 
Aug 22, 2016

Visit in Fukushima with Grateful Crane Ensemble

  It’s been five years since the Great East Japan Earthquake, which caused multi-dimensional human catastrophes in the aftermath of tsunami, meltdown at nuclear power plant, and expansive radioactive contamination. Reconstruction/decontamination efforts have made progress while the majority of affected populations have long been displaced away from their home towns. For some, time has elapsed without any future prospect in sight.

  There still remain more than 150, 000 people in displacement today. The populations are predominantly elderly who were particularly vulnerable within the context of disaster recovery. Through the past half a decade, many have moved out of disaster relief temporary housings. A part of undeniable consequences of this was the fragmentation of families and communities that once held solid ties. Prior to the disaster, one family from grandparents to their grandchildren lived together under the same roof. Their communities were also close-knit that acted as a support system for everyone. Today, forced displacement that seemed indefinite has made many young families move away from their hometowns to seek a safer environment to raise their children. On the other hand, many grandparents decided to stay in hopes of going back home once the evacuation order is lifted. Nonetheless, many communities in the affected areas are on the verge of falling apart. It is evident in that less than a half of the original populations would make a decision to go back to their hometowns after the government announces the end of evacuation.

  Against this backdrop, AAR Japan is committed to keeping the communities together and attending to every person’s need in the final phase of disaster recovery. In cooperation with entertainers from home and abroad, we organize recreational events through which they often feel a strong connection to their homeland and culture.

  This past month, AAR Japan coordinated a self-funded Goodwill tour of the Grateful Crane Ensemble which is a non-profit theatrical company of Japanese Americans based in Los Angeles, the United States. In the spirit of reaffirming support and love for people in Tohoku in the midst of prolonged recovery from the disaster, we toured around four temporary housing facilities in Fukushima city, Soma city, Kawamata town and Nihonmatsu city through June 18 to 20. The group performed a repertoire of old Japanese pop songs, which symbolize for both performers and audiences pride and appreciation for the ancestral linage rooted in Japan such as “Like the Flow of the River”(),”Ringo Oiwake”(), “Kitaguni no Haru” (), “Sukiyaki song” (),”Furusato” () and so many more.Their singing inspired nostalgia and love for their homeland, and hope for the future. Many residents among the audiences had not had a chance to take part in live performances, let alone recreational activities. Many broke into tears. Many smiled. Many laughed. Many sang along. A small makeshift assembly room that stands in the middle of temporary housing facilities that are now half empty was filled with so much warmth and love. The audience in Kawamata town in particular was exceptionally ecstatic. They requested an encore after the performance was done.

   “I am very thankful for these people who came all the way from the United States just for us. I did not know the Japanese singer Misora Hibari was famous in the States,” said the woman in Soma city. A male participant in Kawamata town also said “we can’t communicate our thoughts to each other but our hearts became connected. I feel very close to them. I feel happy and supported. It’s a strange feeling but in a positive sense.” One of the members of the Grateful Crane Ensemble expressed to us that “I was thrown into shock at the sight of so many elderly residents who are still living in temporary living facilities. I was welling up while singing because I was able to feel and understand what they were going through. I cried because they cried. I was happy because they were happy. I want to continue to support these people even after I go back to Los Angeles.”

  AAR Japan places an important value on sending out message from Tohoku to let people in other countries know that the struggle still continues for those who were affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. We will not let these people be left behind. We will continue to stand by them.   

Aug 16, 2016

Healing Japan, Together!

Photo by Japan IsraAID Support Program
Photo by Japan IsraAID Support Program

On August 15th, 2016, Japan braved another earthquake- this time of 5.6 magnitude. Although no damage has been reported, it serves as a reminder of the lives changed in past earthquakes. Beginning with donations right after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami to the present, your donations to the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund have supported those impacted every step of the way. Donors like you have provided more than $9 million worth of healing in the region!

As one community therapist said in a report written by Japan IsraAID Support Program, "Just yesterday, she [a patient] finally started to talk about that day - after almost 5 years." Today, we want to share the important work of four nonprofits committed to mental healing. Thank you for standing by them!

Japan IsraAID Support Program’s mission is to build a capacity for trauma-care, PTSD prevention, coping and resilience in Japan by using foreign and local knowledge and methods. Their most recent report shared that, “in the past 4 years, more than 3,500 Japanese survivors, disaster supporters, and mental health professional have participated in HJ trainings.” Just between March and June 2016, Healing Japan worked with 72 clients and survivors.

Association for Aid and Relief, Japan (AAR Japan)’s project aims to encourage the evacuees to take new steps forward, foster community bonds and develop social networks through activities that can help improve their physical and psychological conditions. This past March they visited a community still in temporary housing in Ofunato City to give them muscle relieving massages!

This year Japan Emergency NGO focused one of their programs on the mental recovery of survivors. In a recent project report they said, “psycho-social of the recovery tends to be missed compared with the infrastructure because of its difficulty to be found out.” Today they are partnering with communities to support them as they live through hope.

On the Road,  an organization with the goal to promote to exchange people all over Japan by offering lodging facilities and community space in Long Beach House that we has built- is focusing on mental care of an earthquake victims. Throughout the past few months they have improved their beach house and held many community events.

Japan continues to recover after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami and most recent earthquakes, and mental healing remains a large need. Your donations not only go to support psychological healing but also to our nonprofit partners supporting education, rebuilding infrastructure, and restoring farming lands. Thank you for your generosity and steadfast support!

Jul 25, 2016

Assisting Mothers and Babies in Fukushima

Tohoku has been recovering slowly but surely
Tohoku has been recovering slowly but surely

Currently, JEN is working on partnership-based projects, in which we provide funding and technical support to its partners. The partners are local NPOs or organizations involving in support activities for marginalized people in disaster-affected areas.

In June 2016, JEN became with a partner of Fukushima Midwife Association and began supporting for “Comprehensive Pregnancy and Baby Support Project.” Midwives are experts in helping expectant mothers, nursing mothers, as well as their babies, both physically and mentally. Only people passed the national exam can work as midwives unless they already have nursing qualifications.

According to “the Survey on Expectant Mothers and Nursing Mothers” conducted by Fukushima Prefecture in 2014, 12 percent of those mothers in Fukushima suffered from postpartum depression, which was 3 percent higher than the national average. Frequent phone calls and consultation requests for help from the Midwife Association indicate that many mothers are concerned about both of their mental and health conditions or the mothers are isolated from the society causing absence of child care assistance.

After the earthquake, many families with young children left Fukushima to escape from the critical living conditions. Since those who chose to stay and to feel anxiety about the children’s health, Fukushima Prefecture implemented a policy which grants mothers and babies short stays at maternity centres. Besides being commissioned to perform this plan, the Fukushima Midwife Association is also conducting its own project of providing:

- Pre-prenatal classes;

- Places for nursing mothers to communicate with each other;

- Well balance meals for mothers and babies due to encouraging proper infant diets.

Five years have passed since the earthquake, yet this kind of mother and baby support projects are still little known to see across the nation. The projects will regularly carry on mothers and babies support among other local authorities in Fukushima Prefecture. Therefore, we will be supporting the Association on funding, presenting the project of the Association to the local authorities, and preparing necessary documents for policy promotion targeting other local governments, until December 2018.

$10+ million
Over 50,000
in 111

The north coast of Japan was hit by a horrible tsunami after an 9.0 magnitude earthquake that occurred 80 miles offshore. The largest earthquake to strike Japan on record, millions of people have been affected by this massive disaster.

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