Sunday, March 18, 2012

SWTJ 12th Activity Week in Tohoku March 9-14, 2012

“Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.”
(Victor Hugo)
Photo: Shibuya Atsushi

Requiem Music Caravan

In memory of the victims
 of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of March 11, 2011

SWTJ organized a Requiem Music Caravan in the disaster area for the first anniversary of the earthquake.

In close cooperation with our local contacts, we determined the place and time at which SWTJ could show its solidarity with the people in the disaster area at such a sensitive time.

Together with the local branches of SWTJ in Kesennuma and Rikuzentakata, we decided that bringing music in the spirit of remembrance of the souls of the disaster victims would be the most appropriate way to share our sorrow with the survivors on and in the days close to the anniversary.

We are extremely grateful to the members of the Fanfare Roma’n-Garde, an ensemble of Japanese musicians led by Seto Nobuyuki, for having agreed to take part in the March 2012 SWTJ Activity Week under the same conditions as our own members, which means as volunteers who donate their time and skills.

Seto Nobuyuki, Clarinet (Photo: Shibuya Atsushi)

Musicians of the Fanfare Roma’n-Garde: Seto Nobuyuki (leader): clarinet; Terukina Toshinori: euphonium; Nagata Mitsuru: percussion; Watanabe (Watanbe) Mitsuru: drums; Mihara Sachie: accordeon; Nobori Keizo: sax; Ikeda Ayuko: percussion; Kumasaka Yoshito: contrabass; Kumasaka Natsumi: Kumasaka Kota : percussion; Igaki Akiko: violin.

Kumasaka Kota, the youngest member of the Caravan, beats the drum

March 10:

Musicians and SWTJ members arrive at the Former Tsukidate Elementary School, our base in the hills of Kesennuma in the disaster zone where we can stay overnight on the floor of an unused classroom during our volunteer activities.

After a last rehearsal by the musicians at the school, we head to the Zaito and Yanagizawa temporary housing sites in Otomo,  Rikuzentakata, where local SWTJ branch leader Kanazawa who lives close to the temporary housing has arranged the site for our event.

We spend precious time together with the evacuees from the temporary housing and other locals. Evacuees and locals join the musicians, and we all sing some familiar songs together.
It has become a tradition that SWTJ offers takoyaki octopus dumplings and watagashi cotton candy at some special events with evacuees. March Activity Week Project Leader Shuto Naoya reports:
'Today from 12pm we shared time with the evacuees at the Yanagizawa Community House, and from 3pm at the Zaito temporary housing site. While the ensemble played, we prepared takoyaki octopus dumplings and cotton candy on-site. The atmosphere was friendly and relaxed. 

One of the evacuees, fisherman Yu M. contributed the octopus that is needed for the dumplings, and it was him who had caught and boilt it! 

Of course, that made the takoyaki dumplings an especially delicious treat. Wataro, the nine-year old son of SWTJ member Wako, was really good at making the cotton candy!
Elderly evacuees at Yanagizawa community house, Otomo, Rikuzentakata
After the event, the locals treated us to local wakame seaweed and other delicacies from the ocean. It is still freezing cold in Tohoku, but there is a hint of spring in the air!“

March 11:

Today is the anniversary of the earthquake.
Today, we mourn the victims together with the earthquake survivors.

In order to honor the silence and privacy that survivors will need today, exactly a year after the earthquake and tsunami brought so much tragedy to so many families, our group moves to areas in a certain distance from residences that have symbolic significance.

We move to Mount Anba above Kesennuma City from which large parts of the destroyed coastal area can be seen. 

Requiem at Mout Anba above Kesennuma

Next, we move to the old Hajikami Cemetery on the southern coast of Kesennuma, where gravestones were badly damaged by the March 11 tsunami, and where monuments remind the visitor of earlier devastating tsunamis, such as the Meiji Sanriku Great Tsunami of 1896, and the Showa Sanriku Tsunami of 1933. 

Finally, we move to Shishiori, a Kesennuma district that was hit especially hard.
Shishiori in mid-March 2012
The huge boat  sitting in the middle of the former residential district Shishiori has become famous (March 2012)
Here, a huge ship was washed inland by the tsunami and still sits on the foundations of destroyed homes.

Requiem in front of a ship that was washed inland by the tsunami

The requiems are played in remembrance of the souls of the victims, and in prayer for recovery of all natural life in Tohoku.

March 12:

Today, the Music Caravan travels to Minamisanriku. Driving south from Kesennuma, where the earthquake and tsunami and a subsequent fire left unsaid destruction in homes and factories, here, we encounter a different sight: Homes and factories have completely been washed away: we enter a deserted land.
Utatsu, once a peaceful fishing village on the coast within the municipality of Minamisanriku, has physically disappeared.  There used to be an Utatsu train station here, but it is gone.

But in the hearts of the residents, Utatsu is strong: the evacuees of this village have become famous nationwide for their extraordinary cooperation, determination and courage after the earthquake. 
Fishermen lost all their boats to the tsunami, and today they rely on a few boats that they share. Without more boats, Utatsu cannot recover.
In December 8 months after the disaster, a first makeshift container market was built with the help of outsiders: the Utatsu Isato-Mae reconstruction market.  It is a first sign of recovery for the residents.

At the Utatsu Isato-Mae reconstruction market, SWTJ members sell takoyaki dumplings, cotton candy and popped rice. The people at the market are warm and friendly, and even help us make the food. SWTJ donates all profits to the Utatsu Isato-Mae reconstruction market association.
SWTJ sells takoyaki dumplings at the makeshift market in Utatsu.

Today, the Fanfare Roma’n Garde slowly parades through the bare land where Utatsu once was. The ensemble’s leader Seto leads the group in the spirit of remembrance of the tragic fate of the people who once lived here.  

Requiem parade in Utatsu, Minamisanriku

In the local tradition, the souls of the dead cannot rest in peace unless the dead body is found and a burial is held. 
Officially, a year after the disaster, the death toll stands at 15,854, and 3,155 people are still missing. People pray for the spirits of the dead and missing.  The parade was held in this spirit.

At night, SWTJ moves back to Kesennuma where the Fanfare Roma'n- Garde gives a performance for the people of Kesennuma at Ping-Pong, an izakaya-style pub well liked by the locals. 

The Fanfare Roma'n-Garde at Ping-Pong, Kesennuma (photo: Shibuya Atsushi)
Ping-Pong's first floor had been flooded by the tsunami- but the manager persevered and reopened the second floor to the public as soon as possible. Today, it's the first time a live performance is held at Ping-Pong! SWTJ thanks the manager for so graciously welcoming our event.  

Locals and visitors alike are touched by the sincere performance and moving sounds of the music ensemble.

Nobori Keizo: Sax (photo: Shibuya Atsushi)

March 13

In the morning, the SWTJ Music Caravan plays at Tsukidate Elementary School in Yasse, Kesennuma. We visit the school during the main morning break, and the children get very excited and follow the musicians as they parade through the school. They are also very interested to get to know so many different musical instruments.

We are very happy to re-encounter the school rector and teachers, who always receives us so warmly here in the hills of Kesennuma whenever SWTJ organizes an activity here. Many thanks!
In the afternoon, the Music Caravan moves to Kesennuma’s Minamimachi Ward, a low-lying part of this port city in Miyagi Prefecture that was terribly damaged by the 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Minamimachi has come a long way since March 11. With the help of the Japanese military first, then the firemen and policemen, and later a large crowd of volunteers, victims have been helped and dead bodies have been searched for, people have been evacuated, and dirt has been carried away. Still, there is so much to do.
But there is a first sign of reemerging business: the Minamimachi Murasaki Ichiba- a makeshift market building for retailers who have lost their shops in the disaster. It was inaugurated in December 2011, and has brought some new life into the area.
Minamimachi Murasaki makeshift retailer's market

Today, we work together with the group KRA (Kesennuma Reconstruction Association) many of whose members are disaster victims themselves. KRA organized a photo event for Kesennuma citizens today at the corner space ‘Cadocco.’ We are in close contact with Hashimoto-san of the KRA group, and have made sure through him and his contacts with retailers in the area that SWTJ and the Music Caravan were welcome to play in this area during the days of the one-year anniversary of the disaster.

While the ensemble plays, other SWTJ members make takoyaki dumplings, cotton candy and popped rice after having prepared their stand. All profits from the SWTJ sale today are donated to the association that runs the Minamimachi Murasaki Ichiba makeshift retail market.
The SWTJ Music Caravan parades through the roads of the market. Many locals as well as visitors or volunteers who have come for the anniversary week gather. People are first surprised, but soon join the rhythm of the music and sing along or dance along.

There is a great sense of unity through the power of the music.
SWTJ thanks the people of the Minamimachi Murasaki Reconstruction Market for their warm welcome!

March 14
It's time to clean up and say good bye! Our sincere thanks go to the Fanfare Roma'n-Garde, whose music brought tears and smiles to so many during this week; to the SWTJ branches in Tsukidate (Kesennuma) and Rikuzentakata for arranging our visits; to KRA for connecting us and to the Murasaki market for welcoming us in Minamimachi; and to the people of Utatsu for giving us space and a warm welcome at the Utatsu Isato market.

Finally, we would like to thank the many sponsors who made the March Anniversary Requiem Week possible for their trust and generous support!

Based on a report by Shuto Naoya@SWTJ

(Edited for the English version by Beatrix Yoshikawa)

SWTJ will be in the disaster area again in late April. After an extremely exhausting year for the disaster victims, many now try to find a new livelihood. SWTJ will adapt to new needs in the disaster area in close cooperation with our local contacts.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Candle Lighting March 11 Remembrance Event in Kyoto

11 March 2012, Kyoto

First Anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami 

SWTJ organized the Kyoto part of a remembrance candle lighting event held 
simultaneously in Miyazaki, Kyoto, and in Kesennuma in the disaster district. 

From 6pm, organizers and visitors alike started to light the candles and to share a 
time of silence in remembrance of the victims of last spring's disaster.

Due to the cold wind and snow, we had to light the candles again and again. 

Finally, the candles expressed together what we all felt regarding the people in  the disaster area: 

"In Kyoto, we are with you, from the bottom of our heart!' (the candles shape a Chinese character meaning 'heart')

We would like to thank all those who participated, the visitors who joined us, and those who couldn't come but who were with us in thought or sent messages from afar. 

At this first anniversary, SWTJ confirms its strong determination to continue to support the disaster area over the long-term. 

We thank the many people who supported SWTJ so generously during the last year with their time, skills and donations! Thank you for your continuous support! 

Text: Watanabe Eiji@SWTJ

Candle lighting event:
Cooperation: Kyoto Kitayama Ward Citizens' Association
Thanks to: Kyoto Kitayama Retail Shops and Convenience Stores

SWTJ February 14-19: Community Activity Week

SWTJ 11th Activity Week 

The Chocolate Caravan!

Chocolate-making workshops in Tohoku

A local temporary housing leader told us:

 'Please continue to organize community events with the people in temporary housing and in their neighborhood. 
People need a reason to come out of their tiny temporary housing units, a topic that makes them smile, a theme that lets them forget the traumatic events of last year even for just a while, and inspiration for starting a new life. '

Many children have lost family, friends and their habitual social environment.
Since last year, thousands of children from the disaster area  have made huge efforts to get used to a new way of life in which nothing is the same as before.

Dislocated children in the disaster area need opportunities to make new friends. 

Uprooted elderly people find it hard to get newly acquainted with strangers in their new temporary homes. They also need events through which they can build new networks and friendships.

Happy about the community event, and hoping for good things to come!

A report of the SWTJ February 14-19 Chocolate Caravan 

by Chocolate Caravan Project Leader Junpei Yamanaka

A view of former Otomo Town, seen from a site of temporary housing on high ground. The JR Ofunato Line used to stop at Otomo Station in the center of the town's shopping district. That is all gone.

Only a few weeks before the anniversary of the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, evacuees who lost all they had still live in temporary housing without much perspective for the future. Some now live in large temporary housing complexes with more than 100 units, while others live in complexes with 30 units or less. The quality of the housing differs. Many people don't get enough support, both material and emotional. Volunteer groups tend to support larger complexes, and some smaller ones get often forgotten.  

Our first stop is the tiny temporary housing site close to the Gouemongahara Tennis Court in the hills of Kesennuma. 
This site has been overlooked by many volunteer groups.

The Kyoto Chocolate Caravan Schedule:
Feb 14: Gouemongahara Tennis Court Temporary Housing Site;  Arashiro Public Elementary School After-School Care (Kesennuma)
Feb 15: Yasse Kiridoshi Temporary Housing Site; Shishiori Public Elementary School After-School Care (Kesennuma)
Feb 16: Former Tsukidate Elementary School Temporary Housing Site (Kesennuma)
Feb 17:  Oshima Kokumin Kyuka-mura Temporary Housing Site (Oshima Island off Kesennuma)
Feb 18: Otomo Yanagizawa Temporary Housing Site and Otomo Zaito Temporary Housing Site in Rikuzen-Takata.
Feb 19: SWTJ helps at the Yasse Mori no Gakko Soba buckwheat noodle event- an ecotourism event.

SWTJ's local branches inform us of how we can support locations where evacuees have gotten little support from volunteer groups so far.

Swiss volunteer Quentin Pache (Kent) joins SWTJ for the Chocolate Caravan. Thanks Kent for bringing delicious Swiss chocolate for the workshops! 
We are very grateful to the SWTJ Kesennuma Branch and the SWTJ Rikuzen-Takata Branch for having done all the research for us and for having arranged the time and location for all the activities of the Chocolate Caravan Activity Week!
The children at Arashiro after-school care love decorating (Feb 14)
We toured many sites in the disaster area and used 26kg of chocolate on the way...! 
At the Kiridoshi Temporary Housing Site in the hills of Kesennuma. Here, there were many elderly people. 
SWTJ prepared materials so that evacuees could take home presents for others.

People were especially excited about the chocolate-fondue fountain in which they could dip banana or mandarine pieces. 
'Chocolate Fountain' at Shishiori Elementary School after-school care. This school used to be an evacuation center for the badly damaged Shishiori district in Kesennuma until last summer. These kids have seen so much since March 11 2001.
The chocolate pudding workshop with the elderly was also very popular. 
Evacuees on Oshima Island off Kesennuma enjoy making chocolate pudding (Feb 17)
Kids loved decorating!
The kids at the Shishiori Elementary School   write down to whom they want to give the chocolates.  The head of school is very popular with them!
But in fact, these workshops are not about chocolate. They are about providing the evacuees and the locals in the vicinity a place to unwind, to make new friends, to gain access to information, and to network with the aim to find the strength and motivation to start a new way of life.
The chocolate fountain

On February 16, we organized a chocolate workshop for evacuees from the Former Tsukidate Elementary School Temporary Housing Site. Locals from the vicinity who had offered us the old school's kitchen for the workshop also joined. 
Here, we also met KRA (Kesennuma Reconstruction Association), a group established and employed by Kesennuma City. 

Orange is the color of revival of the Kesennuma Reconstruction Association KRA.  At the Former Tsukidate School, KRA members joined hands with SWTJ and helped with the Chocolate Caravan (February 16)
Most KRA members are disaster victims and survivors themselves, and have found a temporary job in the association. Currently, they clean and sort lost photographs, and exhibit them in the Former Tsukidate School so that locals can come and search for photos swept away by the tsunami.
Takai Shinji founded the photo project "Save our memories'
See his blog here:

On February 17, we board the ferry to Oshima Island off Kesennuma to visit a temporary housing site on the island
SWTJ made a reservation for the SWTJ mini-bus to be loaded on the ferry. 

On the way to Oshima Island, we meet many cargo ships carrying dump cars. 

Map with indication of evacuation centers on the island

Where will Oshima Island garbage go? 

The slow pace of reconstruction
These used to be the treasured belongings of people. 

View from Oshima Island toward Kesennuma. 

SWTJ Chocolate Caravan Project Leader Yamanaka (SWTJ Head of Office) with Mr. Komatsu, the leader of the  Kokumin Kyukamura temporary housing site on Oshima Island.

Chocolate workshop at Oshima Island

The Oshima Island Kokumin Kyukamura temporary housing site is well organized! They have a 'coffee and socializing' time for residents twice a day.

The chocolate pudding workshop is a big success! Just chocolate and eggs, milk and sugar.  A large percentage of evacuees participated!

A 'Reconstruction Brainstorming Board' set up by a volunteer who had already supported survivors during the Kobe Earthquake back in 1996. Ideas are needed and discussion on reconstruction continues. 

We met these kids already during one of our earlier activity weeks. They still live in temporary housing.  Will they ever live in a real home again?

At 5pm, we had to take the ferry back to Kesennuma. It sure was hard to leave the warm people on this beautiful island. 

We thank SWTJ Kesennuma branch head of office Katsuhiko Yoshida for having arranged all the sites and for guiding us on Oshima Island!

February 18: Chocolate workshops in Rikuzen-Takata in Iwate Prefecture

Workshop at the Yanagizawa Temporary Housing Site:
On Hirota Peninsula in Rikuzen-Takata, there used to be a tiny village called Otomo. Today, we visit the evacuees of this area at the Otomo Yanagizawa and Zaito temporary housing complexes.

It's Saturday- many children have time to join our workshops! Volunteer students from Toyo Univeristy and Waseda University join hands with SWTJ during the workshops. In the photo: Volunteer Chu from Waseda.  

We had been told that it was hard to gather evacuees for activities on the island. This can't be said for the chocolate workshop: especially the elderly loved it!

and more chocolate...

While making the chocolate, people discussed their worries and ideas for reconstruction, and expressed their hope that we would be back soon!


We will be back soon!

More workshops at the nearby Zaito site of temporary housing:

And we have to say good bye to Rikuzen-Takata! 

Many thanks to SWTJ Rikuzen-Takata Branch leader Mr. Kanazawa, and to Mr. Murakami and Mr. Toba for arranging our workshop at the sites in their town!

And this is the end of the long long Chocolate Caravan...

Thanks to all who supported the workshops with donations, who participated as volunteers, or who continue to donate their skills for SWTJ on the back stage. Special thanks to the people in the disaster area who welcomed us so warmly!

Yamanaka Junpei
(Edited for the English version by Beatrix Yoshikawa)