Sunday, October 21, 2012

SWTJ at OPEN DAY in Kyoto, November 3, 2012

NOVEMBER 3 (Sat) 2012: 11:00-16:00

Come and meet SWTJ at Kyoto’s famous international autumn festival!
OPEN DAY at Kyoto International Community House 


1 1/2 years after the disaster in northeastern Japan, Solidarity with Tohoku, Japan (SWTJ) will be present at

OPEN DAY at Kyoto International Community House near Subway Keage Station in Kyoto, an autumn festival much anticipated by the local and international community every year!
PLACE: Kyoto International Community House, 2-1 Torii-cho, Awataguchi, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto Tel. 075 752-3010 (5 min. on foot from Keage Tozai Subway Station).

SWTJ will participate for the second time in the category of Disaster Victim Support. We can be found in the Kids’ Space on the third floor in rooms 3 and 4. Now that people are starting to forget about Tohoku, support is needed more than ever! There will be photos of our continuing support activities in the Tohoku disaster areas, including those of the SWTJ Kids’ Summer Camp in Kesennuma! Come by for a chat, we’ll be very happy to see you! SWTJ goods will be on sale, and our very popular cotton candy (watagashi) machine (used by hundreds of Tohoku kids who have enjoyed making cotton candy during our activities) will accompany us to the site! Try your own!
At the festival, don’t miss the wonderful World Music, a live and talk show by an Okinawan musician, The World Culture Workshop, the Flea Market- and most of all the yummy food at the international food stalls! People line up way before noon, so coming early is recommended!

Below some pictures of the SWTJ 2012 SUMMER SCHOOL for Tohoku kids in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture- come and see more pictures in our display on November 3!

'We won't forget!'

SWTJ remains committed to long-term support of victims of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

SWTJ Summer Camp

August 19-24, 2012: SWTJ 15th Activity Week  


The parachute-game! So much fun.
Summer 2012. The second summer after the great earthquake and tsunami. People still stay in temporary housing, many still without jobs. Children have become used to live in cramped quarters.  Many have lost relatives and friends, and some even a parent, a sibling, or both. And many had to move to unfamiliar places and find new friends in new  schools.

SWTJ's summer is dedicated to these children! The children of the disaster area, who have experienced so much during the last one and a half years!
SWTJ camp participants pose in the hot morning sun!
Thirteen children stayed overnight in tents, over thirty kids joined us for the daytime and evening programs, and many members of the nearby evacuee community helped during the program or joined our evening events. 


The SWTJ summer camp is not just any camp. It has been designed to empower the local children, to teach them skills, and to inspire them with enthusiasm and a dream for the future. These are the children who will lead the future of the destroyed areas of northeastern Japan. We want them to know that we care, and that despite all the destruction there is so much for them to explore, to discover, and to create in and around their new homes.


The first part of the program was dedicated to empower the kids to create a big community event for the whole neighborhood! 
The children learnt how to put up tents, how to organize stands, how to invite neighbors and kids from a neighboring school, and how to entertain them. 
Children enjoy making cotton candy for the community event during the summer camp.

Children learn to make 'misanga' armbands.

The neighborhood in Tsukidate consists of both the old rice farming community, and the new evacuee community from the coast. The children were thus part of an event that brought both communities together. Evacuee residents from  the neighboring temporary container housing were invited to join camp events, and some of them turned out to be great leaders themselves!
The first task was to set up the tents. The children were taught how to do it right away. It sure was a hot day!
Learning how to set up a tent.

Setting up the main tent for the camp

Activity location: 
Right next to Tsukidate Community Space, on the yard of Former Tsukidate Elementary School in Yasse, Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture.

The activity tent is set up!

Overnight tent location: 
On the yard of the New Tsukidate Elementary School.

Early morning at the SWTJ overnight camp. It's going to be a hot day!

SWTJ would like to thank both schools for kindly letting us use their yards for the Tsukidate summer camp, and the managers of the local 'Yasse Mori no Gakko' Nature Education School for their invaluable help and cooperation!

Breakfast in the activity tent

After breakfast, the children helped cleaning up.

Buckwheat-noodle making workshop: 
We all learnt how hard it is to make neatly shaped noodles! But not so evenly-shaped noodles were still delicious! Thank you to the 'Yasse Mori no Gakko' Nature Education School for providing this workshop!

Playing at the nearby river was one of the most popular activities during he camp!

Nagashi-Somen for lunch! These noodles are poured into an inclined bamboo stem cut in half together with water, and kids line up along the bamboo and try to catch some of the flow. Lots of fun!

Visiting the people in temporary housing:

While most SWTJ members were busy leading the kids' camp, some others brought events to the surrounding temporary housing, together with our musicians.

Along with the summer camp, SWTJ also organized visits by SWTJ members to temporary housing to listen to recent problems and needs. 

SWTJ thanks Kyoto designer M. for donating T-Shirts decorated with his own designs to the people in temporary housing! The T-Shirts were very popular and were gratefully received- they were gone in no time!

The temporary housing visits were followed by a concert by SWTJ musicians for evacuee residents 

Back to the camp!

In the second part of the camp program, the children were able to choose the workshop of their choice: Drawing, playing at the nearby river, learning to sing English songs, and many other activities.
Drawing workshop

The most daring were allowed to draw on SWTJ's community bus!

The children made their own lunch: Rice cooked in bamboo. Delicious! The charcoal, made from fine local oak, was donated to the camp by the 'Yasse Mori no Gakko' Nature Education School- it is made in the school's own charcoal kiln, one of the features of the school's green tourism program. 

The highlight of the camp: The campfire!

In the afternoon, everybody practiced for the evening community concert around the campfire! SWTJ musicians, including three percussionists, practiced with the children who gathered around the big 'cajon' to beat the drum together with the lead musicians.  Many neighbors and evacuee residents from the temporary housing joined in. There was a great sense of togetherness.

The 'cajon' hand-made by SWTJ representative Y. Many little hands tapped the drum to the rhythm of the musicians, and it sounded really nice!
Small fireworks finalized the evening...

Time to say goodbye...

We all had such a good time!
The kids write good-bye messages such as 'I hope there will be many more camps to come!' ...

SWTJ would like to thank the many donors who made this year's summer camp possible with their generous donations! 

We also received many donations in kind, including boxes of delicious onions, tissue paper, and games, among them a very original and colorful parachute-game that has become very popular during the camp with both children and adults!


13th Activity Week April 20-25, 2012

SWTJ 13th Activity Week April 20-25

Networking, community meals, music, and haircuts for displaced people in Miyagi and Iwate prefectures

Life in temporary container housing is obviously especially tough for the elderly. But we have also met many middle-aged people who find it extremely hard to cope. Deprived of family and job, they find it hard to make a new beginning. Conversation within the housing complex always turns around the same topics. Everybody is tired of always talking 'tsunami' and 'radioactive pollution,' and yet, these are the subjects that always come up. Some of these jobless people don't come out of their tiny unit unless absolutely necessary, a phenomenon called 'hikikomori' in Japanese.
SWTJ April community event at Zaito temporary housing, with Mr. Toba in the center.  In the background, the 'fields' on which the hometown of these people once stood.

The leader of the temporary housing complex 'Zaito' in Otomo, Rikuzentakata in Iwate Prefecture knows, that despite all the difficulties, they must make some effort to build a new community within the complex, so that people get to know each other, and so that people can be taken care of if necessary. 'Even if not all residents want to take part, it is important to organize events for those who enjoy coming,' he says. SWTJ has already been able to organize several community events at the Zaito complex and at other temporary housing in the vicinity thanks to the great cooperation of Mr. and Mrs Toba as well as thanks to the infatigable efforts of Mr.Kanazawa (SWTJ Rikuzentakata Branch Director) and Mr. and Mrs. Murakami (Rikuzentakata Branch Managers). 
SWTJ Rikuzentakata Manager Mr. Murakami (center, in the red shirt) is a great mood-maker, and knows how to bring a smile onto every face. Thank you, Yuichiro! 

The April event was also a great opportunity to finally introduce SWTJ Kesennuma Director Tamura (right) and SWTJ Rikuzentakata Director Kanazawa (left) to each other. SWTJ Representative Yoshikawa stands in the middle.

This time, Nobuyuki Seto, a professional clarinet player, accompanied SWTJ to bring some music to temporary housing!
People all over Japan love Karaoke. But for the people living in temporary housing in Tohoku, singing popular songs together has a special meaning: it reminds them of the good times in their former hometowns. Whenever we have a musician with us, SWTJ organizes live music karaoke at temporary housing. Over and over again, we are asked to play the song 'furusato' ('back home').

Seto discusses the next song with junior high school students at the temporary housing complex.

As the evening progresses and encouraged by Seto's clarinet, even shyer residents take courage, stand up, and enjoy singing a song in front of the community.

Community event at the 'Former Saijo Elementary School Temporary Housing Complex' in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture:

SWTJ distributes the lyrics, and everybody enjoys singing along to the nostalgic tunes. Next time we need to enlarge the letters for the not so young eyes!

People at the Saijo temporary housing complex loved trying 'Raclette', a Swiss cheese speciality. This complex with only 40 'households' has not yet often been visited by volunteers, as it is so tiny. People at the complex were very excited to have a chance to welcome spring with a community meal and music event, and to have a chance to get their hair cut by a professional beautician.

Some residents of the Tsukidate temporary housing complex in Yasse, Kesennuma (location of the SWTJ Kesennuma Branch), have become close to SWTJ and love helping during our activity weeks whenever we come. This is also the case with fisherman S. (right), who lost his job as a tuna-fishing boat manager due to the tsunami, and now lives in temporary housing with his wife and son. Here, he meets an old neighbor (of a now swept-away town), while accompanying us to an event in a different housing complex. Happy encounters!

Free haircuts for residents of temporary housing

Mariko Matsunaga from Hiroshima took a week off her busy schedule as a professional beautician with her own salon in Hiroshima to provide free haircuts at temporary housing in the disaster area together with SWTJ.  The residents loved the cheerful and skilled hairdresser, and Mariko was super busy! 

In fact, some of the elderly women had not had a chance to go to a hairdresser since the tsunami more than a year ago. They had just had too many other worries, and most of them did not have their own vehicle, so they were shy about asking anyone to take them to town for such a trivial matter. 
Thanks for your great work, Mariko! 


A junior high school girl is also happy to get a new cut.

And a mom and daughter too!

Lucky to be able to work under a blue sky!

                                                                                         Text: Beatrix Yoshikawa (SWTJ)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Talking with evacuees in temporary housing- a picture report by SWTJ member Mariko Matsunaga

The people I met: Giving a voice to evacuees

Mariko Matsunaga, a professional beautician from Hiroshima volunteering with SWTJ from April 20 to April 25, reports on her experience while giving free haircuts for evacuees

                                 Text and portraits by Mariko Matsunaga

This would be my first trip to Tohoku. SWTJ had informed me that volunteering in Tohoku needed personal initiative, and imagination. Nobody would tell us what the needs were- because there were too many. And nobody would tell us about pain- because it was too overwhelming. We had to imagine it. 
Indeed, the suffering and stress of the people in the disaster area was too overwhelming for me to imagine. Here are a few portraits of people I talked to. 

I used to be the chief cook on a tuna-fishing boat. I had started as a kitchen boy on that boat right after junior high school, and have spent most of my life there. So I never learnt to drive. After the tsunami, everything at the coast was gone. I finally moved alone into this temporary housing in the hills at the edge of the city. But without a car or driving licence, I can't do anything. I even don't have the money to buy a cell phone. Four times a day, a bus passes by that goes to town. But the return trip costs 960Yen (about 12US dollars), which I can't afford. If you guys (the people of SWTJ) wouldn't be here regularly, I think I would go crazy!








「マリ子ちゃんオラも切ってけろ」  (私)「!!!(何処を??)」
「眉毛切ってけろ。」 (私・・・一安心。



別のところで再開したらしいが、髪を切り行く気力がなくなっていたそうだ。 とても喜んでくれた。









Friday, August 17, 2012

SWTJ 14th Activity Week , June 2012

JUNE 13-20 SWTJ Carpenters' Week:
Completing Tsukidate Community Space in Kesennuma 

As a result of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, more than 300,000 people lost their habitual hometowns. These coastal people now mostly live in temporary container housing built for them by the government  at the edge of towns and villages in the hilly interior of the country. However, little is done to socially integrate these displaced people into the culturally different rice-farming communities of the interior regions of northeastern Japan.   


Tsukidate Community Space in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, has been built by SWTJ in cooperation with locals, evacuees and other volunteers to provide a space that links the old (farming) and new (coastal evacuee) communities at the border of the disaster area in Yasse, Kesennuma. 

During our June activity week, the carpentry work was nearly completed! 

SWTJ would like to thank the many generous donors who donated funds and materials, and the many volunteers who donated their skills and time!

The space was built in collaboration with the 'Yasse Mori no Gakko,' a Kesennuma Nature Education School and Green Tourism promoter, and with the help of a large number of volunteers and locals, either from the nearby hamlets, or from the temporary housing.

 Fisherman H. from the temporary housing helps fixing the last electrical wires.
Tsukidate Community Space in the morning: Evacuees, local farmers and others who pass by enjoy a cup of coffee and a chat- a great way for the evacuee newcomers to mingle and network with the old community.
Multipurpose space
Evening community meal with evacuees and local villagers.

Why a community space?

By the summer 2011, the government had built  temporary container housing for most evacuees. 
Tsukidate container temporary housing was ready for evacuees in August 2011

Until then, most of the evacuees had spent three or four months sleeping on mats in schools or gyms, often more than a hundred in one room. During that time (April to July 2011), SWTJ had organized warm meals for the evacuee community and built up a network of contacts so that support for evacuees could continue once  these evacuation centers would be closed.
Hundreds of evacuees lived together in gyms such as this one on the floor during the first 4 months after the disaster.

When evacuees were finally allowed to move into temporary housing in the summer, they were exhausted. First they were glad to finally have some privacy, but many soon realized that the new freedom meant loneliness, boredom or helplessness. Bereaved of family, job, friends and hometown, it was hard to remain positive. Depression, chronic disease, alcoholism and other stress symptoms became common. Children had to somehow cope with the stress of their parents while themselves dealing with the loss of parents, relatives or friends, and trying to adjust to an unfamiliar environment.

In many cases, the container housing lacks an atmosphere in which residents can positively build a new community. Without someone taking the initiative, these housing complexes (often in the middle of nowhere) remain anonymous. In some container complexes, leaders have appeared who organize gatherings and try to create a community spirit. In others, NGOs and other organizations have helped adding community spaces, benches, flowers, or gardens that foster a sense of community.

SWTJ took the initiative to build a community space right next to temporary housing in Tsukidate, Yasse which houses many former fishermen who lost their jobs at the coast in the tsunami, and who have a hard time getting used to live in the hilly countryside. In the newly built Tsukidate community space, container housing residents and local farmers alike can now freely gather for a cup of tea or for a community event, or discuss how to cooperate in nature education workshops organized for children by the neighboring Nature Education School. A mini-kitchen allows people to cook and to sit down together for a meal. A bookshelf is planned, so that residents have a reason to come by and sit down with a cup of tea, browse in a book, and strike up a conversation with other users of the space.


Original design for Tsukidate Community Space:Atelier+E Architect Design Office

Why in Tsukidate?
The building of the Former Tsukidate Elementary School has been used and maintained by  the 'Yasse Mori no Gakko' Nature Education and Green Tourism School  since 2006. The School produces its own slow-food buckwheat noodles, and organizes nature workshops for both children and adults.  

Buckwheat is biologically cultivated, harvested, and made into noodles at the  Nature Education School. 

Former Tsukidate Elementary School was designated a cultural asset in 2007

Former Tsukidate Elementary School
(left) and  temporary housing for evacuees (right)

The location between the old school and the temporary housing was ideal to build a space where the locals and the newcomer evacuees could mingle, network, and collaborate in green tourism and cultural activities.

While the Nature Education School is run by the villagers, the newly built community space is a more neutral space, where evacuee residents can take the initiative and organize gatherings of their own, or where they can invite others. 

These evacuee fishermen from the destroyed coast have been very active in helping construct the Tsukidate Community Space. Building the space gave them purpose and something to look forward to in their suddenly empty lives.

The SWTJ Team was busy throughout the winter!



Lively gathering in the Tsukidate Community Space

Planning for the future:

The space is built! SWTJ will continue to actively support the cultural and community-building activities taking place in the space with the aim to help integrate the displaced people into their new environment. For the summer, a kids' camp for children of the disaster area is planned in cooperation with the evacuees of the Tsukidate temporary housing and locals of the farming community. Among other workshops, some of the fishermen evacuees will teach kids how to cook seafood when on a ship with minimal comfort! Look out for news of our kids' camp  in one of the next blogs.
Find more pictures of the Tsukidate Community Space on youtube here:
                                             Text:  Beatrix Yoshikawa (SWTJ)