Overview of the Damage that Still Remains
It has been nearly two years since the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11th, 2011. In spite of the steady recovery process, many people are still suffering from the aftereffects of the disaster. Many people are still displaced because of the radiation spill at the Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Fukushima Prefecture. For example, evacuees are forced to stay in temporary housing complexes because their homes and workplaces were completely washed away by the tsunami.
According to the Ministry of Reconstruction in Japan, as of December 12th 2012, there are still 98,235 people living in the temporary housing complexes and other types of publicly subsidized residences in Fukushima Prefecture alone. In the Tohoku region as a whole (Fukushima, Miyagi, and Iwate Prefectures), there are 251,869 people who share the same fate.
Number of evacuees living in temporary housing complexes and other subsidized housing
Number of evacuees who evacutaded out of their home prefectures and still cannot go back
For those who used to live within 20km of the Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Fukushima Prefecture, there is still no prospect of being able to go back to their homes in the near future. For those whose houses are outside of that restricted area, the problem of the radiation contamination still looms. There is an ongoing effort to cleanse and decontaminate the residential areas, but the effect is very limited and temporary. Since the forests and the soil of mountains regions have accumulated radioactive particles over time, every rainfall carries the threat of radioactive contamination via water streams, resulting in increases of radiation levels in residential areas downstream.
Our Building Healthy Communities Project
We started the Building Healthy Communities Project to mitigate the physical and psychological pain felt by the victims of the March 11th disaster. We hoped to help people living in temporary housing complexes recover from their many losses – their loved ones, homes, workplaces, and precious personal possessions.
Through the Building Healthy Communities Project, we hoped to foster strong, personal interaction among the victims so that they may get over their plight not alone, but as a community. People would get to know each other and start to build new supportive relationships, and as that happens on a larger and larger scale, it would re-vitalize a sense of community and the hope of regaining some normalcy.
The Building Healthy Communities Project mainly consists of 2 activities:
Between July 1st, 2012 and December 31st, 2013 we have held 9 events all together. As intended, each event was enjoyed by many elderly people and small children. Below is a record of the number of events and the number of participants we had for each activity.
We appreciate all the kind messages and generous donations that enable us to organize these events to help alleviate the pain, sadness and stress of those affected. We will continue our support for those still suffering, and every donation will help us reach as many people in need as possible. Finally, please take a look at the photos below to see how our activities are translating into smiles.
Growing Vegetables as an Opportunity for Community Interaction
Before the disaster, many of those living in temporary housing complexes along the shoreline of Miyagi Prefecture used to grow vegetables on their farms or in their home gardens. However, their lands and gardens were washed away in the tsunami, making it difficult for them to secure land and restart their farmwork. They used to be physically active through their daily farmwork, but many of them are now suffering from lack of exercise since the disaster. With the added stress of having to cope with their prolonged lives in the temporary housing complexes, some are starting to show signs of hikikomori (social withdrawal).
In such situation, activities that involve plowing vacant plots of land and growing vegetables are becoming popular in disaster-affected areas among the survivors in the effort to regain their original lives and to solve the problem of lack of exercise. AAR Japan is currently supporting survivors by preparing pieces of land that can be used as vegetable gardens as well as providing farming tools. By working cooperatively on their new gardens, people have naturally begun to converse with each other more and show smiles.
Onagawa Town, Miyagi Prefecture: “We are Happy to be able to Eat What We Made on Our Own”
Extending even into its mountainous area, the tsunami had a catastrophic effect on Onagawa Town located on the Sanriku coast. There are still many people living in temporary housing complexes.
Mr. Yoshihiro TAKAHASHI, the chairman of Onagawa Town Shimizu District Council, spearheaded the creation of a vegetable garden using a vacant piece of land in front of the temporary housing complex. There is a river next to the land so there is plenty of water that can be used for the garden. However, this area was hit by the tsunami so rubbles and rocks had to be removed first in order to use the land as a garden. In addition, the soil was sterile and lacked the minerals needed for healthy growth of vegetables.
In response, AAR Japan provided a small farm tractor, farming tools such as sickles, hoes, and shovels, a storage room to keep all the tools, 2 tons of new soil, and organic fertilizer, among other materials. As for the removal of rubbles, students from the Tohoku Welfare University and members of the Onagawa Recovery Support Center offered their help. There were many big rocks and the clearing process was not a smooth task, but a 450 square-meter vegetable garden was successfully completed after removing the rocks little by little and placing the new soil into the prepared plot of land.
This garden was named as “Fureai Noen” by the users. As the land became settled and the vegetables began to grow, smiles on the faces of people chatting as they pulled weeds or watered the vegetables, and mothers preparing snacks for afternoon tea time, have become more noticeable.
Higashi-Matsushima City, Miyagi Prefecture: Working Together to Set Up Greenhouses
At Uchihibiki temporary housing complex, Ms. Tomiko FUKUDA, a local resident, garnered support from the community council chairperson and a local support center and initiated the creation of a vegetable garden on a piece of land located next to the complex, which was to be shared among the residents. AAR Japan decided to provide farming tools such as hoes and shovels, a storage room, and greenhouses to what they named “Hibiki Farm”. With the greenhouses, the residents can grow vegetables even when it is cold.On May 13th, the greenhouses were set up with mainly the help from the men living in Uchihibiki temporary housing complex. Despite the ground being muddy following heavy rain, they managed to complete setting up the frames with the help of AAR Japan staff members, which took an entire day. 2 weeks later, on May 28th, volunteers from the Nishihonganji Tohoku division came to help the residents covering the frames with vinyl.
The completed greenhouses will start to be used around October. All the other pieces of land have been allocated to the residents, with roughly 25 residents starting to grow vegetables. Residents who previously rarely interacted with each other have begun to talk to one another through their activities at Hibiki Farm.
In addition to the above two cases, AAR Japan is providing agricultural support to disaster survivors in other areas such as “Tsuchi wo Aisuru Kai” in Higashi-Matsushima City, and “Umakko Noen” and “Mizunuki Noen” in Ishinomaki City through the provision of farming tools and planters, installation of wells, and preparation of land.
The activity of making vegetables is well received even among the elderly and men who have had the tendency of isolating themselves in their homes, as they have found it easy to participate in something where they can utilize their skills. AAR Japan will continue to support such disaster survivors so that they can engage in a healthy lifestyle, both physically and mentally.
The Colors and Aromas of a Rainbow of Flowers, to welcome Mother’s Day
As part of the ongoing recovery activities in the earthquake-hit Tohoku region, Association for Aid and Relief, Japan (AAR Japan) is carrying out a campaign called ‘Delivering Flowers and Magokoro (literally meaning “true heart”) to the Disaster-Affected Areas’. Supporters from all over Japan have welcomed the idea to deliver flowers to the desolate disaster areas from which the tsunami has taken everything. On May 13th, 2012, we visited the social welfare facility ‘Oguni no Sato’ in Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture. ‘Oguni no Sato’ is a temporary housing complex for persons with disabilities (PWDs) and their families who have been hit by the disaster. We delivered flower seedlings along with messages of support from all over Japan to the 50 families living there.
The flower pots delivered were gerbera and miniature roses. The supplier of the plants was ‘Flower Shop Hanayu’, a florist shop at a temporary shopping village in Onagawa Town. A medley of flowers greeted us upon arrival, together with the fresh scent of the miniature roses. Mr. Yukio SUZUKI and his wife Michiko put their hearts into wrapping each flowerpot.
Before the earthquake, Flower Shop Hanayu was located on the coast, but it was wiped out by the tsunami. The family ran for their lives towards higher ground, and later on found shelter at an evacuation center. In July 2011, they reopened their shop in a temporary shopping village supported by AAR Japan. “The store’s sales are half of what they were before the earthquake, but I’m just thankful I was able to reopen the store…. I feel close to tears” says Mr. SUZUKI whilst reading each campaign message of support collected from all over Japan.
A Mini-Concert By Kobe Musician
As soon as we arrived at ‘Oguni no Sato’, the residents of the facility guided us to the hall being used as the community meeting room. Many persons with intellectual, mental and/or physical disabilities, together with their families, live in this temporary housing complex. For the day of our visit, we had arranged a mini-concert to be held at the meeting room, with the flowers to be presented after the concert.
For the concert, singer-songwriter Junji SUGITA from Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture, kindly came to perform. Mr. SUGITA had previously volunteered his services, holding concerts in disaster-hit areas in 1995, after the Great Hanshin Earthquake. Other than composing his own songs, Mr. SUGITA has also written a song for AAR Japan’s picture book ‘Not Mines, But Flowers’, which calls for the abolition of land mines. The song is titled ‘Even Without Wings’ (‘Tsubasa Ga Nakutemo’), and the proceeds from the CD are being generously donated to AAR Japan.
The song ‘Even Without Wings’, which talks about wanting to deliver flowers to people in a distant land, seemed perfect for our campaign of delivering flowers to those suffering in the Tohoku region. Thus, thanks to the efforts of Ms. Mari WASHIDA (a director of AAR Japan), we were able to invite Mr. SUGITA and have him sing for us as we delivered flowers to the disaster area.
“Even without Wings, I have come to meet you”
At the community meeting room of ‘Oguni no Sato’, Mr. SUGITA sang and played the guitar, starting with Louis ARMSTRONG’s ‘What a Wonderful World’, followed by timeless Japanese classics such as ‘The Misty Moon of Spring’ (‘Oborozukiyo’) and ‘My Country Home’ (‘Furusato’), along with his original songs. Lastly, the musical score for ‘Even Without Wings’ was passed around the audience, and everyone enjoyed singing the song together.
It was the first time these residents enjoyed a live musical performance in their temporary accommodation. When Mr. SUGITA started to sing, they quickly picked up the rhythm with their bodies and merrily hummed along from start to finish. There is a simple melody to ‘Even Without Wings’, and so the lyrics “Even without wings, I have come to meet you, to bring you a flower” were joyously sung by everyone – to the point where Mr. SUGITA had to play an encore, after the audience expressed their excitement by saying ‘that was great’ and ‘we want to hear more!’ at the end of the song. Mr. SUGITA also seemed to enjoy himself, saying “Despite not having my audio equipment, you have listened intently to just my voice and guitar – I can feel your emotions. When I saw your smiling faces singing along to the songs you first heard here today, I realized how glad I am to have come here”.
Conveying Open-Hearted Support through Flowers, Messages and Music
After the mini-concert, we delivered the flowers, along with messages of support received from all over the country. One of the residents, Ms. Rumiko ABE, received a yellow gerbera along with the message ‘Stay smiling, be well’, sent from a woman in Shiga Prefecture in the western part of Japan. In reply, Ms. ABE said “Thank you for sending this message all the way from Shiga. I will carry on with a smile”. Ms. ABE had to move several times between different evacuation centers with her daughter, who is bedridden with severe disabilities. At one point, they lived in a car for one month. In July 2011, she finally managed to move into the “Oguni no Sato” temporary housing complex.
Ms. Toyoko TSUKADA was carried away by the tsunami, but managed to save herself by climbing onto the roof of a house. She now lives together with her son, who has a disability. “When I was hit by the tsunami, I thought it was over, but then my son’s image flashed into my mind, and I realized, I had to stay alive. I have survived, so I should cherish this life.” She received a message from a man in Aichi Prefecture saying “Don’t let yourself down, keep your head high. There is no need for anything more than this”. To which she replied, “You have given me courage. Thank you very much!”
Ms. Yuko ABE receives a pot of mini roses with a message from a woman in Gumma Prefecture saying “I hope the flowers will give you energy and cheer you up”. To which she replied “I love flowers, so I’m really happy. My daughter and I will make them grow. One can separate the roots of roses, so I want to try and multiply them”. At the time of the tsunami, Ms. ABE ran desperately to escape; had she waited only a few minutes longer, it would have been too late. For several days she was unable to contact her daughter Misaki, a child with severe intellectual disabilities.
At the meeting room, some of the residents spent time talking and listening to each other’s dreadful experiences in the aftermath of the earthquake, offering encouragement to one another. Maybe it is because they all have children with disabilities, that they can share each other’s hardships. Through the flowers, the messages and the music, AAR Japan conveyed the open-hearted support from people all across Japan to the residents of “Oguni no Sato”.
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"Due to radiation concerns, the children have only been allowed to play outside 5 times since the day of the disaster.”
On February 23rd, 2012, Association for Aid and Relief, Japan (AAR JAPAN) visited Tachibana Kindergarten in Koriyama City, Fukushima Prefecture. In addition to reading the picture book “Not Mines, but Flowers”, AAR JAPAN delivered 90 hand-made tote bags that were collected from supporters all over Japan, as well as delivering 90 boxes of chocolate with messages collected through AAR JAPAN’s Heart-Warming Chocolate Delivery Campaign.
There were once 100 children at Tachibana Kindergarten, but after the March 11th earthquake, 30 children evacuated outside of Fukushima Prefecture. At the same time, 15 new children entered the school from Kawauchi Village, Tomioka Town, Namie Town, and Minami-Soma City, all of which are located within the 20-km evacuation zone around Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station.
Koriyama City is located far from the nuclear plant, but some areas of the city continue to record high levels of radiation. Ms. Yuko TANIZU, director of the kindergarten, told us of the three dosimeters that have been set up in the kindergarten. “We allow the children to play outside only when the dosimeters record less than 0.5 micro Sieverts per hour. Unfortunately, the children have only been able to play outside five times since the earthquake. We tried to decontaminate the yard, replaced the sand in the sandbox, and cut down our hiba trees (a kind of cypress), which are believed to absorb radiation. We are trying our best to create a safe environment for the children.” Ms. TANIZU asked for our support in holding a social event where the children could enjoy playing indoors in order to relieve the stress of being contained inside for so long.
“Their eyes were shining. It was different from usual.”
When we arrived at the kindergarten, all the children sat in the hall in anticipation. Published by AAR JAPAN, the picture book “Not Mines, but Flowers” features Sunny-chan, AAR JAPAN’s rabbit mascot, in a story about the victims of landmines in recovering war-torn nations. The content would have seemed difficult for kindergarteners, but they all listened intently. While listening they made enthusiastic comments such as, “I went to foreign countries, too,” or “I’ve heard of Sunny-chan!”
When the book was done, the children were very excited to have Sunny-chan appear right in front of them! They lined up to receive chocolate from Sunny-chan, saying “Thank you” and shaking hands, exchanging high fives, and hugging her. The children also received hand-made tote bags with Sunny-chan key chains, which they took back home with care. “They look really happy,” Ms. TANIZU told us. “Their eyes are shining. It’s different from usual. We also really appreciate the messages that accompanied the chocolate and bags.”
Radiation, Unemployment, Health: Worries Continue
When the children’s parents came to pick them up after the event, we spoke to two mothers living in subsidized apartments in Koriyama City. They had both relocated from towns within the evacuation zone, having drifted for months from one temporary shelter to another. The first, from Namie Town, had two boys aged 6 and 4. There seems to be no end to her worries. “We used to live in a big family of 10, three generations of us together,” she said. “But now we all live separately. My husband quit his job at the Fukushima nuclear power station, but he couldn’t find any other job. We’re worried about our parents’ health, but we’re seldom able to see them. We want them to see our boys.”
The other mother had two girls, one 5 and the other 18 months. Her husband is currently working at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station, handling the aftermath of the accident at the 3rd reactor. “I can only see my husband once every two weeks. My children cry more often since we evacuated. My grandparents survived the tsunami, but they died at the nursing home where they were evacuated. We moved to a subsidized apartment, and sometimes I don’t talk to anyone at all because we don’t know the neighbors. We don’t get information from anyone. I want to find someone to take care of my second girl so I can go work, but there is nowhere to go. I want the children to play outside, but they can’t because of the radiation. Since the disaster, my first child hasn’t been able to practice riding the bicycle, so I worry that she’ll never learn how.” She had so many worries and concerns. However, when she received the hand-made tote bag and chocolate, she smiled and looked happy. “I really appreciate everyone’s warm support. It’s really nice of them to send us these bags and hand-written messages.”
More than one year has passed since the earthquake. AAR JAPAN will continue providing support to the disaster-affected people of Fukushima Prefecture, as well as linking our supporters to people in the disaster zone.
See the following link for more on Sunny-chan and the picture book“Not Mines, but Flowers”, published by AAR JAPAN:http://www.aarjapan.gr.jp/english/sunny/index.html
Join the circle of support for earthquake survivors: Give Now
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Japan: Sending Chocolates and Messages to Those Affected by the Disaster
One year has passed since the massive earthquake and tsunami hit Japan on March 11th, 2011. The emergency phase of relief activities has passed, and with restoration progressing at a varying pace in different regions, aid and relief required for recovery are increasingly diversifying. Accordingly, AAR JAPAN has been engaged in an array of relief activities in the effort to address and accommodate the changing needs of those affected by the series of catastrophic events.To Those Living in Temporary Houses in Fukushima PrefectureAAR JAPAN, in collaboration with Rokkatei Confectionery Co. Ltd., a renowned sweets maker, has recently been conducting a “Magokoro Campaign (literally meaning true heart campaign),” in which chocolate boxes are delivered to those affected by the disaster. Messages of encouragement are sent along with the chocolate. Up until now, we have delivered a total of 896 boxes to persons living in Iitate Town and Soma City in Fukushima Prefecture. Driven to Tears by the Messages
On January 18th, 2012, at the City Welfare Center (Hamanasu-kan) in Soma City, Fukushima Prefecture, we delivered chocolate boxes with messages to approximately 230 families living in temporary houses. One mother found herself in tears from receiving a message that read “You are not alone, because there is always someone thinking of you.” Reading the message over and over, she told us that it has given her courage. Some of the mothers were jovially comparing messages, asking “What kind of message did you get? Want to see ours?” There is also another episode where we delivered chocolate to an elderly woman in her seventies who had lost her family in the tsunami. We remember she was driven to tears on the spot at her front door when she received the gift, saying “Someone I’ve never met before is trying to help me.” People who are living in temporary housing facilities have either lost their houses in the tsunami or were forced to evacuate their homes because they were too close to the nuclear power plants. So many of them have lost so much, and the Magokoro Campaign reminded us again how much it means to the affected persons to receive heart-warming messages. We feel the power of words every time we make a delivery!
Delighted Children Say ”These Chocolates are Great!”
The chocolate comes in 6 flavors: raspberry, maple, black tea, mango, passion fruit, and green tea. They are popular among the children precisely because of this variety in flavors. The children looked very happy with sweets in their hands, and told us “These chocolates are great!”
AAR JAPAN is committed to long-term recovery assistance for the affected population of the disaster areas. This year, we are planning to widen the focus of the "Building Healthy Communities" project to include the Fukushima region. Due to the nuclear power plant accident in March 2011, the needs of the population in Fukushima Prefecture are different as compared to other regions that have been hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake, and recovery is progressing at a slower pace.
To improve the psychological and physical conditions of persons living in Fukushima Prefecture, AAR JAPAN is planning to provide its mobile services in the region, including physical therapy, occupational therapy, mental health counseling, and community building activities. Please stay with us and keep on supporting our efforts going forward!
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