Friday, September 23, 2011

SWTJ's Kyoto Caravan in Tohoku for the 6th time

From September 10 to September 19, SWTJ traveled to Tohoku for the 6th time since April with six members of the Kyoto Caravan to provide food and events, to connect, and to gather information for SWTJ's future activities. In Tohoku, the Kyoto members were joined by SWTJ Kesennuma branch head Yoshida and by SWTJ Tokyo branch head Tago. 
This picture shows members of SWTJ in front of kasetsu jutaku  (temporary housing for evacuees) on the Hirota Peninsula in Rikuzentakata.

Six months after the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, many evacuation shelters have closed, and a large number of evacuees have now moved into temporary makeshift homes that have hurriedly been built by the government in a large number of locations- some in the vicinity of former neighborhoods that are now destroyed, and others in the hills overlooking the coast. People must now get used to their unfamiliar new environment. Once they move away from shelters, they lose the access to the free food, water and amenities they had in the shelters. Many of the evacuees who have lost their homes, jobs, and family have no income, and find it extremely difficult to start life in temporary housing where they have to start paying for their own life.  
This time, SWTJ not only prepared its usual food, but was entrusted to bring some special goods donated by Kyoto companies to the people in Tohoku. The Japanese sweets from the Ohara Meya sweet shop in Kyoto Gion, and the candies from the Gosho Ame Japanese candy shop in Kyoto Sanjo Kiyamachi were loved by all!

This picture features an area in Kesennuma Minamimachi, on September 17. Minamimachi has been hard hit, and the area is deserted and quiet. While most debris have been cleaned away, damaged homes and businesses have remained as they were right after the disaster. While they seem too damaged to be inhabited again, they are precious assets to their owners. Not only the houses are damaged- the soil has been liquified as a result of the earthquake. Investigations on whether it is safe to rebuild stagger, and the slow decision-process on how and whether cities will be rebuilt, and whether insurance will be paid, hinders progress in the decision process regarding reconstruction.
A rare symbol of hope in the middle of Minamimachi: here, residents have planted a green lawn above which they have hung fishermen's flags featuring the characters for a large catch of fish.

While in the area, we sighted many volunteers who had come to Tohoku with tours arranged by travel agencies, mostly from the Kanto area. Such tours offer so-called volunteer tourism. They arrange for volunteers to clean out houses and street gutters in damaged areas. For people who wish to volunteer and who find it hard to get information on how to help, these tours (for which they pay) are an easy way to get involved.

From Minamimachi towards the old fish market. Here, debris still line the road. In the back, a destroyed hospital. 

Damaged homes in in daily flooded areas.

Destroyed cars still line the roads. The characters 'kanryo' (completed) or the letters 'OK' drawn on a car indicate the fact that the vehicle has been checked for missing people.

In comparison to the last time we came, the stench near the ocean had diminished, and there were fewer flies. 

Text and Photos: SWTJ   Head of Office, Yamanaka Jumpei

Highway 45: from Kesennuma to Minamisanriku (September 2011)
(Photos: Copyright SWTJ. The use or alteration of these pictures is strictly forbidden)

The Kesennuma Hajikami Cemetery on the southern coast of Kesennuma was badly damaged by the March 11 tsunami. The cemetery contains many monuments in memory of the people who died in the Meiji Sanriku Great Tsunami (1896) and in the Showa Sanriku Tsunami (1933). Inscriptions on the monumental stones remind people to flee to high ground in the case of an earthquake.    
The Hajikami Sea Route, southern coast of Kesennuma
The remains of Kesennuma Koyo High School on the southern coast of Kesennuma

Kiyomizu Beach

Vicinity of Matsubara Park in Shizugawa-cho, Minamisanriku

Vicinity of Matsubara Park in Shizugawa-cho, Minamisanriku

Vicinity of Matsubara Park in Shizugawa-cho, Minamisanriku

Vicinity of Matsubara Park in Shizugawa-cho, Minamisanriku

Vicinity of Matsubara Park in Shizugawa-cho, Minamisanriku

Vicinity of Matsubara Park in Shizugawa-cho, Minamisanriku

Vicinity of Matsubara Park in Shizugawa-cho, Minamisanriku

Text and Photos: SWTJ   Head of Office, Yamanaka Jumpei
(Text edited for the English version by B.Y.)

SWTJ visited the local government's volunteer center. Its official name is Kesennuma-shi shakai fukushi kyogikai volunteer center 気仙沼市社会福祉協議会ボランティアセンター

Like many other cities in the disaster area, Kesennuma set up this volunteer center, located along the highway next to the home for the elderly 'Sukoyaka,' right after the earthquake and tsunami. The center has welcomed large numbers of volunteers from the whole country since its establishment. Volunteers help clean out mud from homes, clean away debris, and sort and save damaged photos, among other jobs. Until 'Golden Week' in May, 300 volunteers gathered at the center every morning from 8 am. From August, the number of volunteers began to shrink. The center now has only few volunteers.

However, unlike in Rikuzentakata or Minamisanriku, where debris have largely been cleaned away, in Kesennuma, there is still a lot of work to do, and there is still a dire need for volunteers. But the city finds it hard to continue to coordinate volunteers and to organize their work through the center. There is a lack of staff and money. The center now limits the number of volunteers it accepts at one time to 50 people. Volunteers can not just show up, they must apply at least 4 days ahead.  On the day we visited, volunteers were sent to Oshima Island and to Minamimachi in Kesennuma to shovel mud and clean houses.

The volunteer center provides volunteers with tools and even clothing, and steel soles to put into shoes for protection. It is thus possible to arrive without one's own tools. Volunteers are then given a band to put around their boots which indicates the job they are supposed to do. Tools and clothing are neatly arranged under a tent.
Wheelbarrows, crowbars, and other tools are waiting for volunteers.

After a general orientation, the 50 volunteers are divided into groups and given specific instructions.

Each group gets a safety kit.

A small bus takes the volunteers to the site of their work. Wheelbarrows and other tools are taken along. Some volunteers drive their own cars or bikes. 
On Wednesdays, the volunteer center is closed. There are some volunteers who arrive without knowing this, and who find themselves out of work after having come a long way.

SWTJ Head of Office
Yamanaka Jumpei