Thursday, November 17, 2011


SWTJ on the ground in the disaster zone of the March 2011 Earthquake and Tsunami:  

Activity Report October/November 2011

More than eight months have gone by since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami hit the eastern and northeastern coast of Japan.

What is the current state in the disaster zone, and how does SWTJ respond and adapt to changing needs?

By the end of August, most evacuees were able to move into temporary housing sites after spending several months in crowded community centers and schools. 
Toilet units that were used in evacuation centers from March until late August wait for a new location on a field (October 22, between Kesennuma and Rikuzen-Takata) (Photo: B.Y.)

While the temporary housing sites provide some very welcome privacy and infrastructure, there are now many new problems and needs. 

Here are some of the needs that need an urgent response:

1. The environment around the sites must be improved before the winter. 
-----Sites must be protected against rain, wind, and snow; gutters need to be dug around sites; the atmosphere needs to be improved by planting flowers, setting up benches etc.

2. The end of community life in evacuation centers means that evacuees now must cope on their own. While they have the right to stay in the temporary housing for free for two years, they must now pay for electricity, gas, daily supplies, food, and other necessities. Many people are in financial distress.  
 -----Jobs need to be created in the local fishery, agriculture, business, and tourism sector. 

3.  Hundreds of people have died as a consequence of physical causes indirectly triggered by the disaster such as long-term fatigue, and worsening of chronic diseases under the stress of living as evacuees. In Miyagi Prefecture alone, 654 applications were made by the end of October to seek recognition of death as resulting from the March 11 disaster (The Daily Yomiuri Nov 19, 2011, p.3).
 -----A lifeline (a place where distressed disaster victims can get help) is essential. While each town in the disaster area tries to correspond to needs, the paperwork for applying for governmental support such as 'kaigo' (care for the elderly) is often so overwhelming and troublesome that many citizens refrain from applying. The support of private organizations and volunteers is indispensable. 

4. Communities formed in evacuation centers are now broken up. People from the same village may now be spread over several temporary housing sites. Such sites are often on high ground in the middle of nowhere, without any shops or other facilities nearby. Many evacuees find it hard to start a new social network with their new neighbors. Post-traumatic stress symptoms have started to show among many evacuees. Such symptoms include feelings of loneliness and helplessness, alcohol dependence, and depression.
-----New social networks and opportunities for making a new start as a member in a changed community need to be created.

Temporary housing site on a hill on the Karakuwa Peninsula in Miyagi Prefecture (October 24). The tank at left serves as a water purification container for sewage from the site (Photo: B.Y.)

November storms and snow will arrive soon. Some evacuees make improvements to their housing such as setting up a roof over the entrance as in this picture (October 24). While the administration has promised to improve the sites to prepare for the winter, residents are anxious that it will be too late (Photo B.Y.)

Fishers working on the top of a hill are an unfamiliar sight. Most evacuees living in temporary housing on this hill on Karakuwa Peninsula are from fishing communities, or they used to work in oyster or seaweed farms. In this picture, wakame seaweed farmers prepare ropes to be used in the wakame farms they are determined to rebuild. More than half of the population of Kesennuma had jobs related to fishery and marine farming. For these people, it is extremely hard to find a job in another field. The local fishery industry will take a long time to recover, but these people are moving ahead in their own small way  (Photo: Y.Y.)

Destroyed freezer facility in Kesennuma (Oct 20). Kesennuma's fishery industry will not recover as long as seafood refrigerating facilities are not renovated (Photo: B.Y.)
How SWTJ responds on the ground:

--SWTJ supports communities at temporary housing sites by creating community spaces that allow residents to network with others in the vicinity of their new home. Such spaces help evacuees overcome isolation and loneliness, and rebuild their social networks (see "Tsukidate community space" below).

--SWTJ conducts flower planting projects. We set up flower beds or planters together with evacuees. Such projects encourage evacuees to come out of their rooms and to share their concerns and thoughts. Caring for the planters until the flowers will bloom in spring will also give evacuees, especially the elderly who tend to stay inside, a reason to come outside (see “Tohoku Spring Flower Project” below).

--SWTJ organizes community events and meals to provide opportunities for evacuees to mingle and share. Whenever possible, we add a cultural element to the event such as music. Events were conducted in October and November at Yasse temporary housing, at Isaribi Park temporary housing, and at Rikuzen-Takata temporary housing. Furthermore, SWTJ assisted a charity concert event in Minami-Soma in Fukushima Prefecture on November 12.

--SWTJ connects with on-site volunteers who continue SWTJ's work when Kyoto members are not on the ground. 

--SWTJ cooperates with other volunteer organizations who welcome our help (such as in the case of the Minami-Soma event).

--SWTJ helps fostering interest in travel, eco-tourism and cultural tourism in the region by introducing the wider public to places where the region can be experienced through our website, through exhibitions, and through our presence in public events.
--SWTJ takes part in local activities and cultural events to establish contacts for future activities, to build trust in the local communities, and to show our gratitude for the cooperation of the local SWTJ offices (in October and November: Kesennuma Tsukidate District Annual Relay Event; soba-noodle making event at Yasse Mori no Gakko; English workshop for middle school students at Niitsuki Middle School; Shishiori Gakudo after-school care participation). 

 SWTJ takes part in the Kesennuma Tsukidate District Annual Relay Event (Nov 6) (Photo: Y.Y.)
 SWTJ Kesennuma Office Head Yoshida at the Mori no Gakko soba buckwheat noodle making event (Oct 23) (Photo: Y.Y.)

SWTJ joins other volunteers at the gakudo (after-school child care) at Shishiori Elementary School which is close to the coast. Until very recently, the school served as an evacuation center for disaster victims. Many children who frequent this center after school have lost family members or friends in the disaster  (Photo: Y.Y.)
SWTJ English workshop for middle school students at Niitsuki Middle School (Oct 21) (Photo: courtesy Niitsuki Middle School). These are the kids that will rebuild Kesennuma in the near future.

Where SWTJ works:

More than 400,000 people have been dislocated due to the March 11 triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident. 
A small organization such as SWTJ can not reach all disaster victims. 

Instead, SWTJ works by establishing relationships with local people in the disaster area who help us connect with communities that welcome help.

We then focus on supporting these particular communities over the long term. Locals who work with us or volunteers we meet in the region then introduce us to other communities that are interested in our work.In that way, we have little by little expanded the extent of our activities.

Our main local contacts are in Kesennuma (Miyagi Prefecture) and Rikuzen-Takata (Iwate Prefecture) where we established SWTJ branches.

Furthermore, we have also established contacts in Minami-Sanriku and on Oshima Island off Kesennuma (both in Miyagi Prefecture), and most recently in Minami-Soma in Fukushima Prefecture

Kesennuma, seen from the top of Oshima Island (Oct 20). During several days after the disaster, Kesennuma Bay and Oshima Island were engulfed in flames after oil tanks at the coast had taken fire after being tossed about by the tsunami. Most homes along the coast were either swept away by the tsunami, or burnt (Photo B.Y.)

Tree close to the top of Oshima Island: Today, it is hard to believe that the whole island was engulfed in flames (Oct 20) (Photo B.Y.)

Garbage still lines many roads (Karakuwa Peninsula,Oct 24). Gradually, garbage is separated and recycled (Photo: B.Y.)
Still much to do: garbage on a roadside close to Rikuzen Takata (Oct 22)

 Garbage recycling plant in Rikuzen-Takata (Oct 22) (Photo: B.Y.)
SWTJ Kyoto meets  Mr. Kanazawa (left), head of the SWTJ Rikuzen-Takata Branch Office, to discuss November flower planting and other activities (at the Rikuzen-Takata temporary housing site, October 22) (Photo: courtesy Sano)
SWTJ Rikuzen-Takata member Yuichiro Murakami (left) with SWTJ representative Yasuo Yoshikawa, October 22 (Photo: B.Y.)

 SWTJ Kyoto (left) meets Mr. Yoshida, the manager of an izakaya-style restaurant in the vicinity of Isaribi Park temporary housing, to discuss flower planting and an evening community event at the site (Oct 24) (Photo B.Y.)

SWTJ supports community space project at Kyu Tsukidate Elementary School temporary housing site in Yasse, Kesennuma:
The school yard of former Tsukidate Elementary School in Yasse, Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, has become the site of  temporary housing for tsunami survivors from the coast

 The Yasse temporary housing site (Oct 25) (Photo B.Y.)
At left, the former Tsukidate Elementary School. At right, the newly built temporary housing (Oct 23) (Photo Y.Y.)

SWTJ cleaned up and restored this former storage that now serves as a community space at the Yasse temporary housing site (Oct 25). In October, we added side wall sheeting to protect the space against wind and rain (Photo: B.Y.)

The community space has become a place for gatherings where evacuees, locals, and volunteers can meet, share a meal or a drink, and build up new networks.
Evacuees, local farmers, SWTJ members, and other volunteers gather at the community space for a meal (Oct. 20) (Photo: B.Y.)

SWTJ Kesennuma Branch Head Taiji Tamura prepares imo-ni soup, a local specialty, for a community event with evacuees,  locals, and volunteers (Oct 22) at the community space renovated by SWTJ next to the Yasse temporary housing site (Photo: B.Y.)
SWTJ helped construct a bathing facility at the site. Firewood from the nearby forest is used to heat the water (Oct 25) (Photo: B.Y.)

Former Tsukidate Elementary School houses Mori no Gakko Forest Education School (Photo: B.Y. Oct 25)

The Yasse Mori no Gakko, a local Forest Education School in Yasse, Kesennuma, was founded in 2006 (Heisei 18) in this former elementary school after a new school had been built for local students. In 2007, the building, built in 1922 (Taisho 11) was designated as a cultural property. It is the oldest wooden school building preserved in Japan. 

Mori no Gakko organizes nature and local culture, agriculture, and history education events for children, and  community events for families and others. 
Since the disaster, the school's members have offered the school ground as a camp site where disaster relief volunteers working at the coast could put up their tents during their stay. Later, it was decided that the yard would also be used for temporary housing. By August, the Yasse temporary housing on the school's yard was completed.  

Mori no Gakko members have continued to support the evacuee and volunteer community since the very day of the disaster.

Yasse Mori no Gakko opens the school to the local community and other interested groups for various events. Here, home-made soba buckwheat noodles are served, and local produce and crafts are sold.

SWTJ Kesennuma Office Manager Katsuhiko Yoshida makes soba buckwheat dough at Yasse Mori no Gakko. This is slow food: buckwheat is cultivated, harvested, processed, and prepared on site (Oct 23) (Photo: Y.Y.)

Locals and SWTJ volunteers join forces in the kitchen of Yasse Mori no Gakko to make the soba event a success (Oct 23) (Photo: Y.Y.)

The Yasse Mori no Gakko site has much potential as a cultural and educational community center in the disaster zone.

It helps rebuild destroyed communities and networks through educational and community events, supports evacuees and other disaster victims, and provides this region whose satoumi or coast was totally destroyed with new energy from the satoyama hillsides.

SWTJ will continue to support this space together with our local branch office. 

 The SWTJ Tohoku Spring Flower Project

SWTJ made an appeal on October 25th to collect flower bulbs for SWTJ’s Tohoku Spring Flower Project to be conducted in the first days of November. Within only a week, a large number of people sent us spring flower bulbs or donated money into the SWTJ account to buy planters, materials, and soil. 

SWTJ would like to thank the many sponsors of the flower project for their great response and help!
Flower bulbs collected from many generous donors (Photo: B.Y.)

SWTJ bought materials and soil locally to support local business (Nov 7) (Photo: Y.Y.)

Together with evacuees at temporary housing sites, SWTJ set up flower beds and planters, and organized small community events after planting. The project was enthusiastically received. 
Preparing the soil (Nov 8)(Photo: Y.Y.)

Preparations for a big planter

 A long-term local volunteer takes part in SWTJ's work on the ground (Photo: Y.Y.)

Preparing the flower beds
Planting the bulbs together with evacuees (Photo: Y.Y.)

Successfully planted! Large wooden planter at one of the temporary housing sites (Photo: Y.Y.)
Taking a break: evacuees who helped SWTJ with the project (Photo: Y.Y.)
Part of the bulbs was planted in individual planters so that each household could have their own (Photo: Y.Y.)
Evacuees carry planters to temporary housing (Photo: Y.Y.)

 Planting directly into the ground

Sharing a sausage snack after work

Now everyone is looking forward to spring to see the bulbs grow and bloom! 
THANK YOU again to everyone who participated! 

Text: Beatrix Yoshikawa, SWTJ Kyoto
Photos: Beatrix Yoshikawa (B.Y.) / Yasuo Yoshikawa (Y.Y.)