Saturday, August 13, 2011

SWTJ Photo Exhibition in Kyoto from August 23-28, 2011

5 months after the earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan, 

many evacuees still live in evacuation centers or crammed

temporary housing. SWTJ has been organizing soup kitchens and 

events for kids in the disaster area since April. Come and see SWTJ' 

work in pictures, meet SWTJ members, and enjoy one of the 

traditional snacks we prepare together with kids in evacuation 

centers, schools, day care centers, and temporary housing-villages 

in Tohoku.

Photo: Kanazawa Daisuke

23 (Tue)-28(Sun) August


23-26 August: 5pm-8pm

*27 August (Sat): 12pm-8pm

28 August (Sun): 12pm-6pm

*On August 27 (Sat), SWTJ will report on its activities from 

6pm, followed by a party during which you can try the snacks 

SWTJ makes for kids in Tohoku, including takoyaki 

dumplings and cotton-candy. These will be on sale together with 

home-made sangria and a series of SWTJ 

Solidarity Goods. All profits will be used for support activities 

by SWTJ in the disaster area. 

Place: Yamamoto Gallery, on Anekoji-dori (a small street 

linking Kawaramachi-dori to Teramachi-dori), 4 minutes walk 

from Kyoto Shiyakusho-mae on the Tozai Subway. See map 


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Sunday, August 7, 2011

KESENNUMA four and a half months after the disaster

On August 1, 2011, four and a half months after the March 11 earthquake, the port town of Kesennuma in northeastern Japan counts 1'000 dead residents,  and 417 missing.
The town still runs 36 evacuation centers, where people who survived the earthquake, tsunami, and fire continue to live in humid and hot community halls, schools, or gyms without any privacy.

The city has been building 3'400 units of temporary housing (including those still under construction)- small barracks into which people can move once they have drawn the right ticket in the lottery for these units. The application deadline for the barracks was July 12.  Considering that about 13'000 homes in the town of Kesennuma were either washed away, destroyed, or partly destroyed, the number of temporary housing units is far from sufficient for all evacuees. 

From July 10, the supply of food and other necessities for daily life to people who do not live in evacuation centers was stopped. Some needy people had no other choice than to move back into one of the evacuation centers in order to receive food.  

Towns and villages over several hundred kilometers along the Sanriku Coast on the Pacific Ocean in northeastern Japan have been swallowed by the tsunami.  The battered coast now looks the same over endless distances.

Kesennuma suffered the triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami, and fire. Two huge fires broke out in which many people perished. Many homes and factories were burnt to ash.  

The hoyaboya character: a symbol of recovery

Everybody in Kesennuma knows him. He is a symbol of this fishery town's strong will to recover and thrive again. With a saury as a sword, a scallop as a belt, and a cap that resembles a hoya or sea squirt, he courageously rides on a shark. 


Visiting Tohoku as a tourist:

Many people who travel to Kesennuma work as volunteers: They cook in evacuation centers, clean mud from homes, or organize events for children. Thanks to the kindness of the local people, SWTJ volunteers can stay in an abandoned school in the hills of Kesennuma during their support trips in the area. Other volunteers who travel to Tohoku stay in so-called volunteer villages where they can camp. 

Members of SWTJ on their way to Tohoku

Children in Tohoku help paint and decorate the SWTJ transportation bus

However, slowly the hotel and pension business in the area has started to come back. So there is yet another possibility to help the area: if cooking for hundreds or cleaning out mud of houses is not your thing, you can still support the ailing local economy by using its services.

Anyone who hopes for a quick recovery of the disaster area can personally help by coming as a tourist to the region and using money here. A steady flow of people and money is essential for the region to recover. It may sound sarcastic to encourage people to be tourists in the disaster area, but it is important that people come and look at the mountains of debris that still cover the disaster area-- simply because it is just not possible to imagine the extension of the damage without actually seeing it. People, homes, shops, and factories were simply washed away. Those remaining have lost whole neighborhoods, all infrastructure, and every lifeline. Without seeing the damage, we easily forget about the fate of the survivors.

I encourage everybody to come and stay, to travel, eat, drink and buy in Tohoku. Recovery here is slow, but little by little hotels, pensions, restaurants, shops, and boutiques are reopening. Let's support them by using them!

Here is some information on hotels or businesses in Kesennuma that have reopened:

Kesennuma Tourism Association:

Text: Yamanaka Junpei (Head of SWTJ Kyoto Office)

(Edited for the English version by B.Y.)

Friday, August 5, 2011

Food and recreation for kids in the disaster zone

July 28: SWTJ at Shinjo Elementary School

In the morning of July 28, a group of four SWTJ volunteers who worked with us on the ground for the first time were taken to the coast areas so that they could see where the evacuees are originally from. It is important for volunteers who enter the disaster area for the first time to be briefed on the disaster and on the current state of the areas from which the people we work with were evacuated.

Nearly five months after the disaster, wide stretches of land still look the same: boat washed into residential area (July 28, 2011)

Cleanup of debris will take a very long time (July 28, 2011)

In the early afternoon, we drove to the nearby Shinjo elementary school where the kids were already waiting for some rare treats and recreation

SWTJ on the way to Shinjo elementary school (July 28)

Unpacking of SWTJ gear in preparation of an afternoon of cooking and recreation for kids at Shinjo elementary school in Kesennuma, Miyagi prefecture. Today, our photographer Kanazawa Daisuke helps out in the kitchen!

SWTJ Yamanaka Junpei sets up the cotton candy machine
Soon, a lot of kids stood in line for the treat. 
Back left: SWTJ Head of Office Yamanaka Junpei
Back right: SWTJ Head of Kesennuma Branch Tamura Taiji.

Okonomiyaki pancakes made with and for the kids
After the food, the recreation! Kids gather around SWTJ soccer coach Kanazawa Ryo. Soon the soccer teams are ready to go.

Many kids commute to elementary school from evacuation centers or from tiny crammed temporary barracks. Recreation activities during the day are crucial for their well-being.

Ogawa Hayato, SWTJ member on the ground with SWTJ for the first time, says: 'It was tough to see the reality in the disaster zone this morning. I felt helpless in front of so much destruction. But working with the kids at the school this afternoon has given me a lot of motivation. We really can learn so much from the people here. I came with the intention to encourage the evacuees. But instead, they seem to have encouraged me. Heartfelt thanks to all the kind people at the Shinjo school!'

Photos: Ogawa Hayato
Photo text: Ogawa Hayato
(Edited for the English version by B.Y.)