Tuesday, January 31, 2012

SWTJ 10th Tohoku Activity Week January 2012

Report by SWTJ volunteer Akane Fujimoto  

Although I have been active as  a SWTJ member for more than half a year doing back-stage support including helping out at the sake-matsuri SWTJ fundraiser in Hiroshima last October, this is the first time I accompanied SWTJ in the disaster area. I took part in the January SWTJ Activity week from Jan 21 to Jan 23. Even though my stay was short, there is so much to report.

Taking part in the Mori no Gakko Nature School Soba Buckwheat Noodle Event

When we arrived at the Old Tsukidate Elementary School, we were warmly welcomed by the SWTJ Kesennuma local staff. After tea-time and unpacking, we were briefed on the Noodle Community Lunch Event with locals and residents of the neighboring Tsukidate temporary housing site that would be organized the next day, and in which we would help during the morning. After that, we would head to Rikuzen-Takada in the afternoon for a community event with evacuees in temporary housing there.

SWTJ staff member Watanabe is behind the tempura frying counter. Having taken part a month ago in a similar event, his  cooperation with the local ladies is perfect. Especially the shingiku chrysanthemum leaf tempura is delicious!

SWTJ Kesennuma Branch members Tamura (front) and Yoshida (back) are hard at work preparing soba noodles from scratch. Both are highly concentrated on their work- no unnecessary words are exchanged during this crucial process.

A vending car came by the Tsukidate site: local ladies sold tai-yaki, a pancake-like sweet filled with bean jam. The ladies were very generous and gave us plenty! This is an example of local small business picking up.

This picture shows a veteran lady from the Mori no Gakko Nature School and myself. I hope I was of some help, although it was my first time! Looking already forward to being here again!

Shinnenkai in Rikuzen-Takata

SWTJ joined hands with the staff of the Zaitsu Temporary Housing Site in Otomo, Rikuzen-Takata, 
in organizing the first community event (shinnenkai) of the year.

For this event, SWTJ prepared kasujiru-soup, a traditional vegetable and fish soup based on miso and sake lees. This is actually the dish that SWTJ prepared in its soup kitchens back at the time when we were up in the disaster area last April! Kasujiru wonderfully warms the body.

This time, 20kg of sake lees for the soup, and additionally delicious sake rice wine, were donated for this shinnenkai by the Higashi Hiroshima Sake Brewery Kamotsuru. We thank this generous donor for their big donation! We prepared the soup on-site with the efficient collaboration of the residents of the temporary housing. 

One of the evacuees in the temporary housing told me that he had been a fan of Kamotsuru rice wine since before the disaster, and that he had actually preserved a nice label of a bottle from 18 years ago, but that of course the tsunami had swept it away...but that he was glad to be able to encounter that sake again at the shinnenkai! 'Yes, this one, it was this one!', he exclaimed delightedly.

This same resident had been in the mountains hunting game a few days earlier, and brought carefully cut deer fillet steaks to the dinner. There are not many people who both hunt and also know how to prepare the deer, but he was one of them. Some of the best cuts were served raw as deer-sashimi, together with wasabi Japanese horseradish. Truly delicious. Some other evacuees at the temporary housing brought delicious homemade giant radish pickles and other treats to the event.  

←This is 'hatsu' or deer heart from one whole deer

・・・the hunter told me about the different cuts of deer and how they needed to be prepared. All truly delicious.

At the shinnenkai, I also met a woman from Kumamoto, Kyushu, who is a nurse like myself. She had been sent to this area as medical staff in May last year right after the disaster, and although she is now back home, she still has close ties with the evacuees who had received her care in large evacuation centers or schools last year. Like her, many people from other areas who have been in contact with evacuees once keep coming back to nurse their friendships and bonds with the evacuees. 

In the disaster area for the first time:

For the first time, I visited Kesennuma, Rikuzen-Takata, and Minami-Sanriku with SWTJ. Standing on the ground and thinking that the tsunami wave was many times my own height when it destroyed everything is still hard to imagine. People used to live here. We may not forget their fate. 

Sea water at Kesennuma's coast still stands in the area
Rikuzen-Takata has been mostly cleaned from rubbish. There used to be a town here. 
Minami-Sanriku, Shizugawa
The things that one cannot see  

During my short time in the disaster area, the following realities struck me:

In many areas of the disaster zone, three-generation households were common. However, many families have been torn apart by the disaster. Due to various reasons such as vicinity of schools or age, they now have to live in separate temporary housing sites, far from each other.

People from widely different towns and villages now live in the same temporary housing site, often finding it hard to make new friendships.

Measures to protect temporary housing units from the cold vary from town to town. There is no common strategy, and some were protected against the cold early, some later, some worse, some better.

A large number of people need home care or medical care. It will be essential to strongly support care personnel.

There are still many people who find it hard to share or express their worries and hardship.

It will be essential to keep in contact with the same group of evacuees over a long time in order to efficiently help.

SWTJ member Watanabe listens to the leader of a temporary housing complex in Rikuzen-Takata

The amazing energy of the local people

My stay in Tohoku was only brief, but the locals greeted me with wonderful warmth and called me 'mago' or 'musume,'  (granddaughter, daughter), as if I were family.  I was deeply moved by their kindness, and by how, in spite of, or perhaps rather as a result of, all the hardship and pain that cannot be understood by any outsider, they so cordially welcomed a newcomer like me. And I felt an amazing energy and underlying strength in the people we met. I want to thank them so much for all that is beyond anything I can express here.

Preparing for future activity weeks

During each SWTJ activity week, we must also think ahead and meet the key people for our future activities which we always plan in close cooperation with local leaders. This time, we drove to Utatsu in Minami-Sanriku to discuss cooperative events during our March Activity Week which will be spent in memory of the victims of the March 2011 disaster, and during which music will be at the center of our activities, as it can better express than words what will be felt by so many during the days that brought incredibly tragic events to so many people last year. 
The people in Utatsu remembered SWTJ well from previous visits and were very glad to hear that we would organize events together soon.

Last December, Utatsu Village in Minami-Sanriku finally reopened a line of former shops inside provisional buildings in the middle of  a vast plain of destroyed land. The words on the paper boot read 'We will never cease to rescue one another.'

SWTJ Kesennuma Branch Project:  'Tsukidate Salon' 

And here finally a photo of the Tsukidate community space, an ongoing SWTJ project that will provide a much needed gathering place for temporary housing residents, locals, and volunteers in the region! While I had to return home to Hiroshima, SWTJ members Yoshikawa, Watanabe, and Koike worked hard in the biting cold to rebuild the place which will turn into a multi-purpose community building soon. The locals already call it  the TSUKIDATE SALON! More on the carpentry work in future reports. 

The future 'Tsukidate Salon'
Old Tsukidate Elementary School winter landscape

Our stay fell into the coldest season, and the area around the Old Tsukidate Elementary School was a winter wonderland, a place where one wants to come back to. 
Even if you cannot stay for long, if you haven't come yet, you will want to visit the beautiful natural scenery of Tohoku which extends over so  many regions.  

There are many different and valuable ways of providing support to disaster victims. But after this stay with SWTJ in the disaster area, I became convinced that  the perspective of SWTJ-- building close relationships with people in the disaster area, creating spaces where people can meet, and cooperating in community-building events-- is necessary not only now, but will be needed over a long period. 

The Goro statue at the Iwai coast in southern Kesennuma, with SWTJ representative Yoshikawa.
As the locals say: 'Mina de gambappe na!' (Together, we will overcome!)

                                                Text and photos: 
                                                Akane Fujimoto (licensed nurse), SWTJ Hiroshima Branch
                                                (Translated and edited for the English version by B.Y.)

Monday, January 16, 2012

SWTJ New Year Greeting

A pine tree that survived the tsunami on the southern Iwai-zaki coast of Kesennuma was named 'tatsu' or 'dragon' by the locals, and has become a symbol of defiance and new strength in the year of the Dragon. (Photo by SWTJ Kesennuma Head of Office Katsuhiko Yoshida)

January 2012

10 months have passed since the disaster.
As before, SWTJ will continue  to answer needs in the disaster zone in close cooperation with the local community.
Thank you for your continued support!

SWTJ Representative Yasuo Yoshikawa

SWTJ Program for January, February, and March:

January 21-27
SWTJ 10th Activity Week
Reforming the Tsukidate Community Space. Community events with evacuees. 

February 13-19 
SWTJ 11th Activity Week
Community events in Miyagi and Iwate Prefectures for evacuees. Valentine-themed workshops.

March 8-14
12th SWTJ Activity Week
Disaster anniversary caravan with musicians.

9th SWTJ Action Week: Report from first time volunteer Wako Kato

On December 11, five SWTJ members left Kyoto for Tohoku. Many people had entrusted us with presents for evacuees in the spirit of the upcoming holidays.

While heading north it got colder and colder...and in Sendai it began to snow.
Weather report for Tohoku: snow
Frozen roads

But once we arrived in Kesennuma in the early morning, skies were clear! We safely arrived at camp Tsukidate. Thank you, Uechi-san, for driving!
At noon, we joined forces with the locals of the Mori no Gakko in a soba buckwheat noodle community event at the Tsukidate school where evacuees from nearby temporary housing sites were invited

Mr.Yoshida from the Yasse Mori no Gakko prepares the noodles.

This is the former 'teachers and staff room' of the old school. It now serves as the dining hall for the soba events of the Mori no Gakko. Outside, the Tsukidate temporary housing site is visible.

Locals from the Mori no Gakko deep-fry tempura for the event.

SWTJ's Watanabe joins local ladies in making tempura.

Will everybody really come?
No worries. As soon as we opened the doors, people streamed in and the place became lively.

In the evening, a SWTJ-sponsored community event and meal for the evacuees in the Tsukidate temporary housing units was on the program

SWTJ representative Yoshikawa prepares a dish using wheat dumplings donated to SWTJ by Hanbey in Kyoto

Among the invited evacuees, there were some people who had just moved into Tsukidate after having moved several times from evacuation site to evacuation site. People from many backgrounds who had never met before now start living together in the temporary housing site. Fishermen, nurses, housewives...
People told us how important it was to get together, to get to know each other. And they emphasized that they were grateful to groups such as SWTJ which provide the 'glue' to build new communities.

Kazuhiro-san, a farmer from the neighborhood, sponsored today's rice from his paddies. Everybody enjoyed the delicious dinner and the delightful company.

It's time for lights out...we hand over the presents that were entrusted to us by many people in Kyoto and say goodnight..

As a first-time comer to the disaster area, I am overwhelmed by the sights

Dec 13, between Kesennuma and Rikuzen-Takata

9 months after 3/11, many places still remain untouched. 
If it wasn't for the disaster, one would believe that at Kesennuma's coast a landfill construction is taking place.
People are working toward reconstruction in the freezing wind. Destroyed buildings and cars are scattered on liquefied ground. This was a place where people used to be, live, and work.

Being a mother myself, I can't bear seeing this destroyed school. Such a sight shouldn't become an everyday sight for the local schoolchildren. I must continue thinking what I can do to alleviate the fate of the people living here.

The flag in front of this rebuilt shop says
 'We are open.' 

Proudly the shop stands, like a light in the dark. 

Slowly, one after another, the locals rebuild.

Watching the Pacific from Rikuzen-Takata

Next time, I want to come together with my child.
I really think children should have a chance to see what's happening here.

In the meantime, while being engulfed by daily chores again, I join those who keep the diaster area close at heart, trying to do what I can.

by Wako Kato, SWTJ