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 Children  Japan Project #9146

Childcare Support at Disaster-Stricken Tohoku

by Ippan Shadan Hojin DSIA
Childcare Support at Disaster-Stricken Tohoku
Childcare Support at Disaster-Stricken Tohoku
Childcare Support at Disaster-Stricken Tohoku
Childcare Support at Disaster-Stricken Tohoku
Childcare Support at Disaster-Stricken Tohoku
Childcare Support at Disaster-Stricken Tohoku
Amway House under Construction 1
Amway House under Construction 1

In contrast to the previous visit in early August when weather was still hot and streets were filled with the mood of summer festivals, this visit in early November is chilly in the early morning and the late evening. Leaves in the mountain started coloring nicely. Now, winter is felt just at the corner.

As usual, Kirarin Kids (KK) offered diverse programs in three months from the previous visit. One example of big events is “The Second Family Festival 2019”, held in “Dream Arena Takata” which is built for community interactions, having a swimming pool and a basketball court, all an in-door type. There were more than 550 visitors from close-by communities. Children enjoyed carrying artistic balloons as well as playing a sword fight with balloon swords. It was really a fun day for children.

Another event held on November 5 (Tues.) was “Kirarin Athletic Meeting”. Eight pairs of parents and children participated, and enjoyed exercising and talking to Takatano Yumechan, a city’s official staffed doll. Its visit to the even especially excited children and made it quite memorable.

The day for the final move for KK from a temporary facility to a permanent one is coming close. December 18 will be the Framework Raising Ceremony, and KK hopes to start their activities in January 2020. Finally, after eight years of loaming around from a temporary facility to another temporary one and to another one. KK can finally settle down and concentrate on their activities.

However, this does not mean that its unstable situation ends. But rather it is a start of new unstable one.

KK will move into Amway House, located right next to Rikuzen Takata Station on a land-raised area. Despite its name, neither railway nor a station is found. It is simply a small-size bus terminal operated by JR. Because of this location, KK is now worrying whether children rush out to streets. It is now preparing for a set of rules for safety. An additional worry KK just found recently is that there is still a piece of land behind the House connected with a stairway, but not yet raised and even uninformed when to be completed.

KK has been operated, up till now, by soliciting the participation of staffs and allocating works to match their merits. But, given the fresh start of their activities, KK is thinking of developing a firmer organizational structure centered around three founding members. In comparison to the post-disaster period, staffs start having some extra scope to accept types of activities which they have been rejecting to get involved. But staffs still have their own post-disaster situations. One just built a house to move in after eight years. They all feel that they have come only half a way. Despite so, KK is coming to the point that they are reaching a new and final stage of its redevelopment, requiring long-term visions, a firmer organizational structure, and well-organized operations.

Actually KK is now facing a stronger sense of pressure and responsibility than before, since Amway House will be maintained by Amway for the first ten year, but after that period, KK has to take care of all maintenance costs by itself. It felt needs to generate more earning and even to save money for future unexpected expenditures. Hence, it is presently exploring diverse possibilities for stabilizing financial resources, such as introducing a monthly support system as well as an on-line donation system.

While KK staffs are extremely busy to organize events in November and coming Christmas Party in December, they also have to prepare for the final move coming soon. But amid busy schedule, everybody is haunted by this difficult issue of long-term sustainability.

Amway House under Construction 2
Amway House under Construction 2
An Ocean-Side View from Amway House
An Ocean-Side View from Amway House

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Picture 1 Moving Summer Festival
Picture 1 Moving Summer Festival

In Rikuzentakata City, two Summer Festivals (Tanabata Festival) are usually held every year on August 7 in Takatacho and Kesencho separately, two towns divided by Kesen River. These towns suffered from a large number of losses in the East-Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster. Takatacho, where Kirarin Kids (KK) has been in operation even before the disaster, holds “Moving Summer Festival (Picture 1)”. The town is divided into about ten areas, each of which organizes a group and spends about three months to build a beautifully decorated festival-float every year. People pull floats and walk through their areas. But when one float meets another one, they swing floats back and forth with loud and rapid drumming, whistling and bell-ringing. This festival has the history of more than several hundred years. To maintain this tradition, people struggle to continue the festival by changing the routes due to obstacles on the road created by redevelopment and land-raising operations. Many people participate to dedicate the festival to the victims of the Disaster as well as mutually and spiritually support redevelopment efforts.

KK obtained a grant in 2019, named “Kirarin Disaster Prevention”, from a Sumitomo Corporation program, called “Follow-up Program of Redevelopment from the East Japan Disaster”. The goal of “Kirarin Disaster Prevention” is to raise parents’ and residents’ awareness about disaster by re-informing experiences in the East-Japan Disaster. The meeting is held every month. The theme of June Meeting was on water. Eight years after the Disaster, residents forgot about their experiences of drinking water shortage, while many new residents who came to live in the city recently do not know about the symptoms of dehydration by the difference of age. The key issue is how to prevent dehydration while preserving drinking water. It is quite a difficult, but very important, issue at a disaster situation. Another issue covered then was about disaster prevention in the case of torrential rain.

As a part of the program, KK at its “Kirarin Summer Festival” cooked miso-soup with pork and vegetables for 100 people as an exercise of serving food at a disaster situation. Up till last year, July “Kirarin Summer Festival (Kirarin Kids Summer Evening Festival) at the previous temporary arcade used to offer fireworks and thin-wheat-noodle floated down with cold water in a half-cut water shoot. However, this year it was held from 11 am to 2 pm on Saturday at “Rikuzen Takata City Common” located right next to “Abasse Takata”, which is a major commercial facility in the city. KK will soon move into an area close to these facilities (Picture 2). Because of this locational change, KK had to give up several well-reputed attractions. But by offering free lunch and bubble-blowing play, it succeeded in attracting many residents enjoying shopping and parents coming after they picked up their children at daycare centers. The play was so popular that KK had to go to buy additional bottles of soap. KK hopes to increase visitors to its parents-children care facility. However, it had three regrets. One was whether many participants really paid attention to the goal of “Kirarin Disaster Prevention” which was explained in fliers distributed to them. It seems that many might have misunderstood the soup as just free offering. Another was that KK had to pay extreme care about participants’ safety due to high traffic in and out from Abasse Takata. Safety of children was really a serious issue. And the other was that the festival was held very close to a basketball court, making it difficult for high school students to play basketball. Since this is the first time to organize the festival in the area, KK learned a lot and will improve the next year.

On July 25, KK held “Children’s Health Salon” by inviting a pediatrician from Takata Hospital. This event was the 12th one held since the Disaster, including events previously organized by a different NPO. Five sets of parents and children participated and asked a lot of questions, making two-hour session too short.

July was an extremely busy month for KK. Every month, it goes to three different locations to open their activities to people living in remote areas. Then, children went to crop potatoes planted in Spring and came to organize “Potato Cooking Event”. They also organized candle making, health salon, dietry education for children, etc. Some of such activities were brought in by outside organizations. KK feels that outside organizations come to propose these activities, since it is much more flexible to operate with than the city or other public organizations. But such events are also considered beneficial for KK to increase new participants or attract more active participation of present members.

KK’s activities are very important, especially for Rikuzen Takata City to become a childrearing-friendly community. In the past, the extended family system, having grandparents and other relatives living together or close by, supported childrearing by providing support and transmitting necessary knowledge. But presently, due to the nuclear family system, some mothers feel isolated, not knowing anybody in the community, receiving vital information about childrearing, having any opportunity talk about their childrearing problems, etc. KK provides vital place for parents and children to come together and enjoy, not like a daycare center where staffs simply take care of children while parents are away. Mothers can freely and openly talk about their worries and problems about their children or returning back to their work. They even consult KK’s staff about diverse issues. KK is really becoming a valuable place where parents with children feel safe, relaxed, and enjoyable (Picture 3).

However, since mothers return back to their work much earlier than before, it is also true that the number of KK’s members is declining. Mothers sometimes shift from KK to a daycare center to drop their one-year-old children behind. This trend is not reversible. Despite so, the roles and the high quality of services KK offers to parents are unique and valuable. To further enhance their valuable contributions to parents in Rikuzen Takata City, KK needs to make extra efforts to increase its new members.

Picture 2 Location where Kirarin Kids Moves in
Picture 2 Location where Kirarin Kids Moves in
Picture 3 A Day at Kirarin Kids
Picture 3 A Day at Kirarin Kids

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Kirarin Go Out in Rainbow House before Visitors
Kirarin Go Out in Rainbow House before Visitors

As soon as the final location and the date of move will be determined, Kirarin Kids (KK) is ready to move. However, things are not that clear. At least, KK hired one additional full-time and two part-time staffs, to be ready for expected increase in participants and activities in the very near future in a new location near newly established Apasse Takata.

On April 27, 2017, a commercial complex, Apasse Takata, opened, where fourteen shops and several large-sized stores started operating on a raised land. They are leading the redevelopment of formerly disaster-stricken center of Rikuzen Takata City. It is now becoming the center of commercial and city activities. Apass is a local dialect, meaning “Let’s go together”. People’s expectation is that they come together, enjoy, and have a fun through community interactions. To commemorate the second year of the Apasse Takata opening, KK is joining and moving together with people in Rikuzen Takata. As one indication, KK had “Odekake Kirarin (Kirarin’s Go Out)” at Apasse Takata for commemorating its second year.

As a matter of fact, KK conducts this outing in three locations at Rainbow House, House with Sun Shine, and Apasse Takata. They are highly active to get the children and parents of KK to join diverse city activities to contribute to redevelopment. Such activities all started when they were in the previous shopping arcade. Since the playroom there was too small, they looked for a larger place for children to play around. It started from the Rainbow House. But KK expanded this outing to the House with Sun Shine, since it is located a little bit far away from the city center. It tried to provide opportunities for children in that area to benefit from diverse activities which KK can offer. However, since Apasse Takata will be very close to where KK hopes to finally move into soon, it conducts its outing there in order to make the name of KK known and introduce their activities to people who may come to live or work in that area. For example, in outing held on May 14 at Apasse Takaya, KK organized some craft-making for children to show one of their creative programs to attract children and parents and how communications among participants can be stimulated in KK’s program, instead of simply bringing their toys and equipment there.

KK decided to close their facility for a long golden week, which was exceptionally long due to the change of reign in the Imperial Household. Given this unusual occasion, despite some requests to open KK facility, it decided to close completely to allow staffs to rest. Hardly any construction truck was moving, which generated a real sense of peace and quietness, suggesting how peaceful it will be when all rebuilding finishes. The center of the city was noisy with homecoming people and tourists, though.

KK is also getting involved in a quite unique program. It proposed to develop a program for “Redeveloping a Child-rearing-friendly Town with Community’s Preparedness for Disaster with Security and Safety.” KK won a grant from the Sumitomo Japan Redevelopment Fellowship Program, and tries to offer divers seminars on security and safety from disasters, combined with child-rearing practices. On May 21, they organized the second seminar, in which they crafted bracelets made out of very strong strings even used for parachute, which can be used to pack, stop breeding, and even make fire. Inside the string, it has several thin threads which can be used even to start fire. Although a bracelet is fairly small, it is made out of three-meter-long strings, which can be used for many different purposes highly convenient at a time of disaster. KK now has its own disaster prevention advisor, who will help organize diverse seminars. When this program will be over in March 2020, KK is planning to create a booklet to have all of these seminars recorded and distributed.

KK is performing diverse schedules as they did before. They are Summer Evening Festival and Parents-Children Festival. Both of events are considered quite important to develop a city with very friendly environment for child rearing. This year, they are trying to have these activities at Apasse Takata, so that they can attract more participants as well as to have KK’s existence known to city people. Although there are several organizations to take care of children, which has contracts with the city government, KK is the only one having an NPO status, giving them freedom to organize things they believe is extremely important.

All staff gather in the morning of every Wednesdays, exchange information, discuss diverse issues for improvements, and make case presentations. They are all working very hard to fit to the changes of needs in parents-children relations. It is providing a good opportunity to make KK constantly evolving. It is simply because their needs are constantly changing. For example, immediately after the disaster, KK functioned as a place to provide information to obtain necessary goods for children. However, now KK is a safe and comfortable place for parents to have relaxations and exchange information and for non-Japanese parents to look for guidance and advice. KK hopes to satisfy parents’ needs as much as possible.

Bracelet of Paracode
Bracelet of Paracode
Newly Built Center of Kesennuma
Newly Built Center of Kesennuma

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Picture One (New City Office Location)
Picture One (New City Office Location)

In our visit to Kirarin Kids (KK) in Rikuzentakata City, we recognized that the redevelopment of the coastal area is advancing fairly well. The level of a fairly large portion of land was raised, and now we see electricity polls standing in some areas. The development seems to be advancing from the stage of land raising to that of infrastructural installations. Shops seemed to start appearing in the order of  convenience stores, temporary shops, schools, a large-sized mall, and redevelopment housing. After these constructions, individual’s houses came to be built, following the last year’s rush for building temporary shops. It took eight years to see the beginning of restoration in people’s living. However, it is also true that some people decided not to come back to where they used to live and sell their restored piece of land which has a sign of “For Sale”. The new City Office will be built behind redevelopment housing (Picture 1). Many people must have been forced to change their living style, needless to say, about their living itself.

According to KK, family structure has been drastically changed due to the East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. The nuclear family, which is very much a characteristic of urban area, replaced the traditional extended family structure of rural area in Tohoku. Grandparents used to take care of their grandchildren, whose mothers are at work. Now, younger generations move out of rural area, while grandparents remain in the mountain side or their old places. Now, only twenty percent of parents bringing children to KK had the experience of the earthquake, but the remaining eighty percent of parents are those who moved in anew to this area, in order to engage in redevelopment works.  

Playground for Children and Parents (Oyakono Hiroba) has been developed in many communities all over Japan for promoting interactions and exchanges among parents and children. However, some groups carry fairly big responsibilities in their communities. KK is clearly this case. It plays very important roles of exchanging information and sharing their feelings among parents and children, which the City Government uses as a monitoring place of opinions and feelings. KK contributes to providing information for formulating City Government’s policies. Because of their important roles, KK feels that they are nurturing children by providing comfortable environments for good parents-children relations and are helping to retain young generations in the city. KK is one of key actors to create the future image of the city. In a sense, as we see electric polls being established as a part of hard infrastructure, KK is now trying to establish soft infrastructure in the city.

From the days of New Year Celebration, KK has been extremely busy to move to a new, but another temporary place. The present temporary shop arcade is placed in a private land, to which the Government provided subsidies for free rents. Despite that the Redevelopment Agency promised to keep free rent until the next place can be found, the land and shop owners agreed to end the free provision of facilities and land. From October 2018, KK’s place has been costing them \90,000 (about $800) per month. KK’s operation has been provided free of charge, especially to allow children to come out of their own houses and join together to play around. The philosophy also applies to children’s parents. Hence, it is extremely difficult to suddenly charge money for their fun time. But if they pay \90.000 per month, KK will soon bankrupt. After a tormenting period of discussions with the City and staffs, they decided to move to a place in a higher elevation, donated by the Rotary Club and owned by the City, which happened to be previously used as another Playground for Children and Parents. The temporary place is better owing to a larger playground and an adjacent office (Picture Two). It is safer and more efficient. Besides, it is free of charge. But this place is until they move to a place in the central part of newly developed city center.   

KK is moving into a new house this coming Fall, built by the support of a company, where they pay a far lower rent than the previous place. After they move to the new place, in order to provide KK’s activities to many parts of the city, they are planning to conduct satellite activities (Odekake Hiroba). Given their sense of responsibility to contribute to the development of the city, they would like to expand their activities to many parts of the city. They may be able to respond to much wider needs of children and parents. Naturally, this additional operation with two new staffs joining this Spring costs money, and KK has to figure our how to financially manage such activities. But it is also nice to know that they have built networks with many of such professionals as nursery teachers, counselors, nutritionists, retired kindergarten presidents, etc.

KK is growing and evolving as the City gradually redevelops. Instead of rushing to do many things, they always stick with their goals and sense of responsibilities, which enabled them to keep stuffs motivation very high all the time. Relative to the period of the disaster, KK’s roles and responsibilities to the community grew big. Consequently, KK came to be trusted and relied by people in the community and the city.

Undeniably, declining population is advancing in many rural areas in Tohoku. Rikuzentakata is not an exception. To cope with this difficult problem, attracting younger generations to move into this area is indispensable. KK’s summer events attract many young students from big cities. Some come every year. Having them come to the city and see how development is taking place itself is already a contribution to the city, simply because attracting young people to come to city is the beginning of getting young people moving into the city. But their traveling cost is high, which also works negatively to attract young students to come to the city. For the sustainable development of rural areas in Japan, people need to learn how development takes place and know what they can do for the goals. It still requires time and ingenuities. KK is struggling with their ingenuity to fight against this big trend of depopulation.

Picture Two (New Place Outside Look)
Picture Two (New Place Outside Look)
Picture Two (New Kirarin Kids Inside)
Picture Two (New Kirarin Kids Inside)

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Dream Arena Takata
Dream Arena Takata

In April 2018, a new building called Dream Arena Takata (Picture 1), officially called as Rikuzen Takata City Community Exchange Center, opened at a location where the City Gymnasium used to stand. The facility stands in the area of 10,000 square meters, located at 30 meter above the ocean. People can look at beautiful ocean there, but it can be used as a shelter to run away from tidal waves in case of Tsunami disaster. It has multi-purpose halls, an arena, a swimming pool, etc. The Family Festival organized by Kirarin Kids (KK) was held in the biggest area, where many parents and children came to enjoy playing together. Especially, children enjoyed running around this large space. There was also poster exhibits of KK’s events, which several participants stared at (Picture 2).

In this district, the Dream Arena is the biggest event place. At 10 am, as soon as the door opened, one family came in rushing. There, they found wood blocks for children, a large-size slide, a tricycle corner, go-carts, etc., full of equipment, good for children from a baby to a toddler. It is an environment, even brothers and sisters can play with whatever equipment they choose, instead of fighting over their turns. KK planned well, so that parents and children can play from their hearts (Pictures 3 and 4). Surprisingly a large number of fathers joined the event, when it is very rare to find the attendance of fathers in many KK events.

In the past, one staff obtained a city subsidy and operated it. Now, this event is carried out by KK, which successfully obtained helps from many cooperators, such as local companies, the Male Nursery Attendant Association, an NGO to promote children’s playing, etc.

KK, a very small NGO with firm belief for children’s happiness at the time of the disaster grew up to be a significant force even to organize the biggest event in the area. It took eight years to reach the present stage, not because they wished to be, but simply because they wanted to contribute to develop humanly warm parents-children relations. This speed of growth was also helpful, since women not wishing to work full-time managed both their household works and KK’s voluntary works (Picture 5), which facilitated the local awareness of KK’s contributions to the local community. This is an excellent outcome to show how many of small-amount donations, such as GlobalGiving ones, continued to give energy and nourishments to KK, just like intravenous injection, resulting in an unrecognizably big and competent organization. It is clearly a big achievement for KK.

In contrast, the disaster-stricken area is still in the middle of big constructions, now witnessing a big road, a shopping center, and several new houses there (Picture 6). To report about KK to GlobalGiving allows us to look at the rebuilding process from the residents’ perspective. The area is still lacking many human supports to enable people live in a comfortable way. People still needs places to consult with or meet others. In this situation, KK played a vital role in not only providing information, but also acting to help those who are in needs.

However, KK’s activities are remote from covering its costs and sustaining its operations, needless to say about satisfying community needs. Achieving such sustainable operations will still take a long time to come, as the disaster-stricken area indicates still an enormous amount of time to complete construction works. KK is now facing a pressure to look for a new place to move in. Despite such painful situation, they continue to shine as an organization to provide smiles to parents and children in the community.

Participants Staring at Posters
Participants Staring at Posters
What a Fun to Play There
What a Fun to Play There
I Want to Play This One Next
I Want to Play This One Next
Staffs Happy to See Children Playing
Staffs Happy to See Children Playing
New Road, but Still Underconstruction
New Road, but Still Underconstruction

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Organization Information

Ippan Shadan Hojin DSIA

Location: Tokyo - Japan
Website:
Project Leader:
Yoshitaka Okada
Tokyo, Japan
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