Sunday, July 31, 2011

Oshima Island

July 25: SWTJ visits Oshima island

Oshima is a small island off the port town of Kesennuma in Miyagi Prefecture. The tsunami of March 11 literally washed over the whole island.

From Kesennuma, we drove to the port, and loaded all our gear and supplies on a truck which went on the ferry that links  Kesennuma with Oshima Island. This island has had less support than other areas since it is so isolated. Ships and debris carried inland by the tsunami are still stuck in the mud or in the fields. 
We organized an afternoon event and dinner for the 60 people who live in the temporary barrack-village that has been built for villagers who have lost their homes on the island.

We prepared a refreshing summer dish with rice, egg, seaweed, potato salad, vegetables and pork. 

Old and young came out of the barracks to enjoy the event and to sing along with SWTJ vocalist Shimomura Yoko. Some of the older islanders started to sing shimauta. These are ancient folk songs of Oshima Island that only the elderly remember.

We are looking forward to be back in Oshima and to cooperate with the people of the island in their efforts to rebuild their future. 

Text and photos: Kanazawa Daisuke
(Edited for the English version by B.Y.)

July 26-27: SWTJ in Rikuzentakata and Kesennuma

On July 26, SWTJ traveled to the area of Rikuzentakata, one of the towns on the Sanriku coast that have been nearly completely washed away by the March 11 tsunami. We met evacuees who now live in temporary barracks built on high ground in the vicinity of where their former town used to be. We cooked hot meals for the 100 people living in the barracks, and talked with them about their worries and prospects.

A view of gas containers that serve the barracks. In the fields beyond, there are still a lot of debris carried inland by the tsunami.

As always, we organized a small event for and with the people at the barracks. Our musicians Nao Masaki and Yoko Shimomura were enthusiastically welcomed by the evacuees.

Sugar candy is especially popular with the elderly. This special sweet evokes memories of childhood, home, and better times.

SWTJ director Yasuo Yoshikawa talks and relaxes with evacuees under a tent in the barrack-village.

The barrack-village has a multi-purpose space where we made our last preparations for dinner for the 100 evacuees who live there. This photo shows a meal for one person, including rice, egg, vegetables and some pork.

This time too, we not only provided food, but took time to talk with the evacuees. In the village that was here once, most families made their living from fishing. Now, however, they have lost family, friends, their homes, boats, jobs, and income. When we made traditional octopus dumplings for the kids, a fisherman promised he would send us some of his octopus catch once he would be able to go back to work.
At SWTJ, we keep in contact with the people we meet in order to establish long-term relationships. We facilitate networking with other areas so that evacuees can rebuild their own future.

'Solidarity' means not only support, but sharing responsibility and working together to make things better. SWTJ keeps the discussion with the people affected by the March 11 disaster alive in order to help them build networks useful for reconstruction and for a productive future of their area.

Text and photos: Kanazawa Daisuke
(Translated and edited for the English version by B.Y.)

July 27: Summer event at the Furumachi Child Center in Kesennuma

On July 27, we organized an event at the Furumachi Child Center in Kesennuma. We were warmly welcomed back, since we had been visiting this center already during our third trip to Tohoku. At that time, we had heard that the traditional summer festival held in the area had been canceled because of the disaster. We had then promised that we would be back in the summer, and that we would hold a small summer event for the child center.

At the event, we organized a little street picture book show (kami-shibai) which was much loved by the kids. SWTJ Office Head Junpei Yamanaka acts as the narrator.

The show continued with the appearance of SWTJ representative Yoshikawa in middle-eastern wear.

Kids love to make their own cotton candy.

The Furumachi Child Center in Kesennuma is located on a high hill and was thus spared from the high waves of the tsunami. The center has become a gathering place for both, families affected by the disaster, and those who were spared. Some of the kids who come here have lost one or both parents or siblings, while others have lost their home and live in evacuation centers or with relatives or acquaintances. Our event allowed both adults and kids to relax, talk, network and gain new energy through communication and contact with people from outside.

Everybody enjoys a relay game.

Many of the parents, caretakers, and children remembered us from the last time we were here and were happy to see us again. By returning to the same places, we slowly build trust, and a basis for continued cooperation.

Photos: Ueda Yuko and Kanazawa Daisuke
Text: Kanazawa Daisuke
(Translated and edited for the English version by B.Y.)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Tohoku representatives visit SWTJ Kyoto Office

16-19 July 2011

Our SWTJ Kesennuma representatives, the Tamuras and the Yoshidas, joined the SWTJ Kyoto team in Kyoto during a first opportunity for most Kyoto SWTJ members to directly meet up with our Tohoku representatives who work so hard for us on the ground to help prepare our trips to the tsunami area in and around the fishing port town of Kesennuma.

Meeting of SWTJ members from Kesennuma and Kyoto on July 16, during the Gion Festival 

The fact that we all met up at the time of Kyoto's Gion Festival, one of the largest traditional festivals in Japan first held in the ancient imperial capital to ward off disaster and disease, is highly symbolic for SWTJ's work. 
The first Gion Festival ceremonies held in Kyoto were in fact a consequence of the 869 Sanriku earthquake and tsunami which struck the area around Sendai in the northern part of Honshu on 9 July 869 (May 26 year 11 of the Jogan era) and killed around 1000 people. This year's Gion Festival, held only 4 months after the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami which hit the very same region (the Sanriku Coast) in Japan again, has thus a special meaning. It reminds us of the many historical links between Japan's northwest (Tohoku) and Japan's old capital Kyoto over the centuries. The Jogan era was a time when the imperial court of Japan battled with the people of the Tohoku region. Since that time, and especially in the area around Kesennuma, many locations carry names adopted from locations in Kyoto, and many of the temples and shrines built in Kyoto in that era have links to Tohoku.
Today, in a time of need after a disaster has struck Japan's northeast, these ancient connections between Kyoto and Tohoku have taken on a new meaning in SWTJ's efforts to create an open lifeline between the two regions. 

Kesennuma representatives Tamura and Yoshida at Seikado Gallery, where the SWTJ Office is located.

SWTJ's Director Yoshikawa (front) and SWTJ's Kesennuma representatives Tamura (left) and Yoshida (right) talk about SWTJ's work and the current needs in the disaster area in Tohoku on radio KBS Kyoto.
(Was broadcasted July 26, 2011).

Text: Chika Tsukamoto
(Edited for the English version by B.Y.)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

From the ground four months after the disaster in northeastern Japan

In Kesennuma, little has improved for evacuees since the earthquake/tsunami disaster of March 11, 2011. But the world has started to forget. A report from the ground on July 13, 2011:

This year, July temperatures in Tohoku have hit a record high of 35C. The heat and humidity in the elementary and secondary school gyms where many evacuees are still staying is debilitating.

4 units of temporary housing barracks (foreground)

The right to move away from evacuation centers into temporary housing is decided by lottery. But once people move into temporary housing, a new dark reality hits: these barracks are identical one-room boxes built one beside the other in isolated places with no communities around. They provide a roof, but not a new perspective of how to start a new life after having lost family, friends, homes and jobs in the disaster in March. People have the right to stay in temporary housing for 2 years. After that, they will have to find their own place to live.

*The elderly are at a loss of how to make a living once they move into the barracks. They often don't get any further help once they have moved in.

*Living as a couple or family in such tiny spaces leads to much stress.

*People moving into barracks don't know their neighbours as temporary housing is awarded by lottery. Walls between barracks are very thin, and residents can hear everything that is going on next door.

Funeral goods and incense are prominent in every super market

This is the reality four months after the disaster. Kesennuma is only one community among hundreds that have been affected. More than 500'000 people have been displaced by the disaster.

Not only the world, but also regions in Japan not directly affected by the disaster are starting to forget or to ignore what is happening in the northeast.

We must use our imagination and cooperate with the people in the disaster area so that they can build a new future.

July 13, 2011: Four months after the disaster, the roads are clean, and much debris have been piled up in garbage plots. But for the displaced people, the situation has not improved.
July 13, 2011, Yasuo Yoshikawa
(Translated and edited for the English version by B.Y.)