Updates from Japan Relief Projects

Jul 22, 2016

JEN Begins Assisting Mothers and Babies in Fukushi

A photo shows Tohoku has been recovering
A photo shows Tohoku has been recovering

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.

Jun 1, 2016

Hands On Tokyo Tohoku Spring Report

Spring is a very busy time for farmers. They must work very hard to prepare for this year's growing season. Labor shortages continue to make it very hard for local farmers in Tohoku to run their farms and grow their businesses 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. With the labor shortages, 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 March, 13 Hands On Tokyo volunteers helped Saito-san and his wife clear hothouses by removing clips and stakes and by pulling out old paprika plants in preparation for this year's growing season. 
In April, we took 22 members of the Hands On Tokyo Club at the American School in Japan (ASIJ). The students helped Saito-san, his wife and the NRC prepare for this year's rice growing season by gathering rice seedlings and setting them up in hothouses so that the rice seedlings can grow a bit before they are planted in the rice fields. 
Saito-san and his wife always ask us to convey to everyone who supports our volunteer activities in Tohoku just how much they and the NRC appreciate all the support. What Hands On Tokyo volunteers are able to accomplish in a day would take Saito-san and his wife and other local farmers days to complete. 
With your generous support, we will continue to organize volunteer trips to further support Saito-san and his wife, the NRC and others in Tohoku as they continue to work very hard to further rebuild their lives.
This spring we also made three trips to Ogatsu in Miyagi Prefecture.  Ogatsu was completely devastated by the tsunami and is where we built the first new permanent building -- the O-link House -- with your generous support and the generous support of the Major League Baseball Players Association and others.  The 0-link House is a community center and plays a very important role in connecting and keeping the Ogatsu community together while the infrastructure is still being rebuilt.  Former Ogatsu residents regularly travel to Ogatsu to use the O-link House to meet their friends and to hold meetings and classes. It also is a place where local artists can hold exhibits. 
In March, 13 Hands On Tokyo volunteers helped weed and plant flowers at the Ogatsu Rose Garden Factory. 
The volunteers also helped make 1,000 slate pieces from slate that was salvaged after the tsunami. The slate pieces are being used in an art installation project aimed at conveying the vibrancy and resilience of the Ogatsu community.  In April, 22 members of the ASIJ Hands On Tokyo Club helped further prepare the slate pieces for this art installation project.
Now there are only approximately 1,000 people who are part of the local community after factoring in all those who tragically perished in the tsunami and all those who have since moved away. Prior the tsunami, Ogatsu was famous for its slate and slate-making crafts. Each remaining community member is being asked to paint a piece of slate and, once all the pieces are painted, the pieces will be arranged in an art installation conveying the continued strength of the local Ogatsu community. We are very happy to be able to support this project. 
A local resident (who founded the Ogatsu Rose Garden Factory after the tsunami so that former residents and visitors would once again see beauty when they first enter the Ogatsu area) kindly conducted a disaster preparedness class for our volunteers who traveled to Ogatsu in March and April. 
In May, 11 Hands On Tokyo volunteers helped maintain the O-link House by weeding the lawn and by painting the community center.  Being located near the ocean, the O-link House needs to be painted every two years. The volunteers were very happy to be able to paint the O-Link House and the fresh paint provides great encouragement to all members of the Ogatsu community. We are planning to bring more volunteers to Ogatsu over the summer. 
In May, the volunteers also made goody bags and decorated baskets filled with cookies handmade and beautifully decorated by volunteers from Moody's Japan in Tokyo. We then delivered the cookie-filled baskets to the Ogatsu Elementary and Middle School Parent Teachers Association so that the PTA could distribute the cookies to all the Ogatsu elementary and middle school children who are waiting for their schools to be rebuilt in Ogatsu. 
With your generous support, we will also continue to hold cafes and other events at temporary housing sites and evacuation centers in Tohoku and neighboring areas so long as people are still living in such places. 
There is still so much to be done 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. 
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.

Apr 26, 2016

The First "Children's Cafeteria" in Iwate

Well balanced meal
Well balanced meal

On the 11th March 2016, it is the fifth anniversary of the Great East Japan earthquake.
Even though many people in Tohoku experienced great fear at that day in 2011, now you can see various restoration endeavours are taking place in the region. JEN is putting its efforts into the recovery by providing a wide range of assistance to four partner organisations involved in unique activities that address people who tend to be left behind by the recovery.

In Iwate Prefecture, JEN has been in partnership with “INCLU IWATE”, an NPO dedicated to supporting single-parent households that we support their initiative “Children’s Cafeteria” since its launch in January, 2016 in Morioka city.

Over 80 percent of Japan’s single parents with job and more than half of them are living in low income; these parents are apt to be isolated from the society. In Morioka city, you can see such households who moved from the coastal regions after the earthquake and began to settle down in the city.

INKLU IWATE and its “Children’s Cafeteria” initiative are expected to change the present situation where single parents and their children easily become socially isolated. The day of opening the Children’s Cafeteria, which runs occasionally, provides single parent households with not only nutritiously well-balanced meals, but also comprehensive support, for example: providing useful information; giving consultation service; learning support for children, and supporting the single parents who quickly access family and child benefits.
Also, INKLU IWATE is going to open the second “Children’s Cafeteria” in the earthquake affected coastal areas.

The first picture shows – the volunteer cooked well-balanced meals. Many of the ingredients are contributions by local farmers or NPO’s.

The second picture shows – the day care centre offers the “Children’s Cafeteria”. The lady on the right is a dietitian, and the lady on the left is a counsellor, they prepare a meal with volunteers.

The specialists
The specialists
Apr 26, 2016

Tormented by Schedule Changes & Visitors' Decline

Temporary Shop Arcade Right Next to the Ocean
Temporary Shop Arcade Right Next to the Ocean

Two months have passed since the temporary Isatomae Fukko Shopping Arcade was opened. A very serious problem which shop owners in the arcade face is that the number of visitors to the shop drastically declined. Unlike the previous temporary place, this arcade was located much closer to the ocean. To make the situation worse, many trucks drive by for the construction of dikes. Besides, the entrance to the arcade is difficult to be found, and access there became uneasy for drivers. The road was originally planned to be built much closer to the ocean, situating the arcade looking closer to the inland and enabling to guide customers to the arcade much easier. However, the construction of the road was suddenly stopped. Over weekends, no car has been parked, though a significant number of visitors walked to the arcade. These days, they do not even see any visitors walking to the arcade, simply because it involves quite a long walk and even going across a traffic heavy road without any signal or crossing. It is quite natural for many visitors simply not to come to the arcade.

To overcome this difficulty, only solution is to make the arcade more attractive. They are planning to have many events, such as an event of eating local sea food, a summer festival with famous singers and fire work in August, a stop of Le Tour de Tohoku in September to which over 3,000 cyclists will attend, etc. However, visitors are mostly coming from outside of Isatomae and are not likely to purchase many goods from shops which are basically selling the necessities for daily living. Since there is only one restaurant, some of shop owners close their main business and try to sell food at the arcade during events. Thus, increased attractions are not necessarily strengthening the attractiveness of the arcade. Besides, the police these days warn about the safety of visitors, thus requiring more cost for security guards. May be, much more efforts are necessary to nurture long-term attractiveness of the arcade itself.    

In April, a new school year starts. There are five grade schools close to the arcade. The total number of newly entering students is less than 80, suggesting a decline of newly entering students. These schools may be unified in the future, and even high school may not be continued. Shizugawa whose population is about twice bigger than Isatomae, located about half an hour away from Isatomae by car, is now trying to build a public housing complex starting this year, while the land level of a large area still requires to be raised. Once Shizugawa is fully redeveloped, small shop arcade in neighboring areas may face a difficulty of attracting customers in a car-based rural living. It is a serious problem. And in March 2017, the renewal open of the Isatomae Fukko Shopping Arcade will take place, while construction to raise the land level continues until February 2017. The planned date of Arcade Renewal is different between the government and shop owners, while abrupt changes of plans by the government are rather frequent. Shop owners just have to tolerate and cope with such uncertainty.


Mar 10, 2016

Working for sustainable economic recovery

New community space developed next to Onagawa sta.
New community space developed next to Onagawa sta.

It has been 5 years since the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. The earthquake led to a rapid brain drain from the affected area to other areas. One of the most serious challenges is the sustainable revitalization of local economy.

Against such a backdrop, the fellowship program focuses on the following three areas.

1) Work to support people doing something new
Hope for Tomorrow, a nonprofit organization in Onagawa town, Miyagi prefecture, plays a hub function to connect local people with resourses outside the town, such as human resources, professionals and major companies. Fellows have made significant contributions to the organization utilizing their expertise.

2) Work to make money
Sweet Treat 311, a nonprofit in Ogatsu town, Miyagi prefecture, opened Moriumius, a new facility for experimental learning in 2015. Their 8-day retreat program to learn in rich natural resources, receives high commendations from participants from all over the world. Some of the fellows joined the organization as full-time staff.

3) Work to protect the lifestyle
In Tohoku, the number of elderly people who need public welfare service is very large. Link and Rehabilitation plus, a nonprofit working in Ishinomaki city, Miyagi prefecture, provide exercise programs to elderly people. In addition, working with fellows, they provided a training program to 60 local people so that they can support elderly people.

For more information, please refer to our new report that introduces various new initiatives in Tohoku (We are sorry that it is in Japanese only.)

Mar 2, 2016

Tohoku Winter Report

It is hard to believe that this month marks the Fifth Anniversary of the March 11th Triple Disaster in Tohoku. Please join us in taking a moment to think of all the people who tragically perished and all the people whose lives were forever changed that fateful afternoon. 
Agriculture was one of the key drivers of the Tohoku economy before the Triple Disaster. Labor shortages continue to make it very hard for local farmers in Tohoku to further rebuild their lives, run their farms and grow their businesses. Growing rice, vegetables and fruit is very labor intensive and the local farmers cannot do all the work just by themselves and, with the labor shortages, they need the continued support of volunteers. Recent news reports, however, indicate the number of people volunteering in Tohoku has dropped and the local farmers are feeling the impact. 
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, strawberries and apples.
In December, Hands On Tokyo volunteers and a group of  25 boy scouts and troop leaders from a Boy Scout Troop at The American School in Japan (ASIJ) helped Saito-san and his wife remove clips and stakes from an eggplant patch in preparation for this year's growing season. 
In February, 17 Hands On Tokyo volunteers helped Saito-san and his wife remove 1,000s of clips from five hothouses in which paprika plants are growing. What the volunteers were able to accomplish in a day would have taken Saito-san and his wife days to complete. After taking a short break while eating delicious grilled leeks grown by Saito-san, we also helped clear stones from land where Saito-san and his wife want to start growing vegetables this year. It was very moving to find fragments of everyday dinnerware from the houses washed away by the tsunami and to imagine how Saito-san and his wife will be able to clear the rest of the stones by themselves so that the land can be used to grow vegetables.  
We will continue to organize volunteer trips to further support Saito-san and his wife, the NRC and others in Tohoku as they continue to work very hard to further rebuild their lives and relaunch their businesses.
Five years later there are still people living in temporary housing. In December, Hands On Tokyo volunteers and the ASIJ Boy Scouts served rice pilaf, hot soup and hot dogs to temporary housing residents in Yamamoto-cho. We made holiday goody bags and presented them to the residents together with beautiful holiday wreaths made by employees of American Express Japan in Tokyo. We also decorated Christmas cookies with the residents. It was wonderful seeing so many generations enjoying this holiday activity together and seeing so many smiling faces. 

On Valentine's Day, 17 Hands On Tokyo volunteers served chicken wraps, rice pilaf and hot soup to temporary housing residents in Yamamoto-cho. We also made Valentine's goody bags for the residents and Valentine's chocolates, and decorated tissue boxes with lots of Valentine's hearts with the residents. There was much laughter and many smiles. The volunteers and residents could not think of a better way to spend Valentine's Day. When we prepared to return to Tokyo, the residents asked us to please come again soon. 

In December, nine Hands On Volunteers traveled to Joso City in Ibaraki Prefecture where, in September last year, there was unprecedented rainfall and tens of thousands of local residents were forced to abandon their homes as the Kinugawa Ruver burst its banks. The volunteers made lunch for 150 local residents whose houses were either swept away or made uninhabitable by the flooding and who are still living in temporary evacuation centers. We made chicken wraps and served them with hot soup and Christmas desserts. The local residents were very grateful to be treated to lunch, particularly now that the flooding is no longer in the news. 
Thank you for helping us bring smiles to the faces of so many temporary housing and evacuation center residents. We will continue to hold cafes and other events at temporary housing sites and evacuation centers in Tohoku and neighboring areas so long as people are still living in such places. 
There is still so much to be done and there are still so many people in need of support and encouragement. Thank you in advance for your continued support and for touching the hearts and souls of so many people in Tohoku. The local residents often say "wasurenai de ne" (which means "please don't forget"). With your generous support, Hands On Tokyo and its dedicated volunteers will never forget.
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. 

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