Japanese Government Donates $120k to Alabama

Tragically, the events of March 11 were not the only recent natural disasters. As many know, the southern United States were hit by a tornado outbreak in late April, with 259 tornadoes being reported on April 27th alone. Alabama, the state which suffered the worst from this storm system, has been reeling from the destruction and deaths, but recently received some aid from an unlikely source.

On Thursday, May 5th, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) delivered $120,000 worth of blankets and tarps to Montgomery, Alabama for use by aid workers in the region. Birmingham NBC affiliate WVTM has the story.

The Consul-General of Japan in Atlanta (which oversees much of the American southeast) was on hand to help deliver the relief goods. According to Consul General Takuji Hanatani,  the Japanese “are very much grateful for [America’s] strong support. Not only the U.S. government assistance, but the American people. The businesses, corporations, and individuals that provided assistance, made a donation and simply offered a prayer. We will never forget this friendship.”

JICA is a governmental agency which oversees the official development assistance (ODA) programs of the country. ODA has been at the forefront of Japanese foreign policy for years, but it is a welcome surprise to see the government resuming ODA operations this soon after the triple disaster in Tōhoku. Online current affairs magazine The Diplomat recently posted an editorial on the short-term future of Japan’s foreign assistance programs, noting that:

Indeed, the effect on ODA is already being felt. The cabinet has adopted its first $49 billion supplementary budget to finance reconstruction, but instead of issuing deficit-covering bonds, the government is reallocating funds. As part of this, ODA for FY2011 will be reduced by 10 percent, meaning an about $611 million cut. Yet while this reduction is undoubtedly significant, it’s half the figure that was originally floated, a number that would have slashed Japan’s ODA to $5.37 billion—about what it was in 1982.

Japan is arguably more vulnerable than it has ever been since the dark days of its World War Two defeat, and, given the tremendous costs of recovery from last month’s disaster, it would in many ways be understandable if the country decided to turn inward. But while tempting in the short term, doing so would be a mistake in the long term. Thankfully, so far at least, Japan’s leaders don’t see reconstruction and engagement as a zero-sum game.

Perhaps the best lesson to take away from this story is that the relationship between Japan and the United States is never a one-way street. The unselfish and mutually beneficial ties between the two nations can be seen even as one faces its toughest challenge in decades. We in America thank Japan for its effort to help the people of Alabama, and will continue to work for the benefit of people on both sides of the U.S.-Japan friendship.

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Kazuhiko Saito on the Psychological Needs of Children

A recent special edition of the Sunday Mainichi included an interview with Kazuhiko Saito. Dr. Saito is from the Department of Psychiatry at Kohnodai Hospital in Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture, and specializes in child and adolescent psychiatry. Below, in a piece titled, “How Do We Protect and Support Children’s Hearts?” he discusses the upcoming challenges of dealing with young victims who may be orphaned, living with developmental disabilities, or dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Special thanks to USJC volunteer Masami Hokama for translating the article.

At the disaster area clinic, the majority of people seeking counseling and treatment are adults. At first glance, many of the children are running around and playing. However, when we asked the children how they are doing, some say they can’t sleep. Some children become clingy, and cry easily. These reactions are often seen in children with acute stress.

A defining feature of this earthquake disaster is that there are so many children who lost their parents. They are protected in a community shelter at the moment, but little by little they will need to face reality. At that time, they will require full-scale psychological care and treatment.

We should be aware that children with developmental disabilities such as autism and Asperger disorder are very sensitive to the change in the environment. One of the problems is that these children are not able to continue with their medical therapy because of the disaster.

The majority of children without developmental disabilities recover from acute stress without individual treatment. The chance of recovery without medical therapy increases with proper support and protection in the group. Therefore, we need ensure the safety of children’s play at shelters, and allow time to play with children. We’ll be able to diminish PTSD by watching over and supporting children. Also, aid workers can support parents, relatives, and staff by conveying an intention to stand by. Children need someone who can give assurance that it is normal to return to child-like behavior in this situation.

It is important to listen to children if they want to talk, but we absolutely should not pry and get deeper into the details of stress. At one time it was said that debriefing is best to cure PTSD, but it became clear that it was not only completely useless, but very harmful and deepens the wounds. The Japanese Society for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has created a guide to deal with acute stress and is distributing it to the victims and supporters of this disaster.

At the shelter, some junior and high school students are helping adults with volunteer work. It is these children’s way to fight their own anxiety and stress, in the form of preoccupation with the role. To those children, it is important that adults give them a moderate role to help and give appreciation. “Thank you very much.” “You’ve been a great help today. Those people, everyone was happy, don’t you think?” – Sharing these feelings with them has the same impact that being hugged by parents or teachers has on small children. This is a big and meaningful support to them. Those junior and high school students are also tense of course, so the supervising adults must schedule their breaks, too.

Earlier I’ve mentioned that there are many children who have lost their parents. Among them, children who truly have no place to live need to be guaranteed food, clothing and shelter with a child protection facility once people start to move out of local shelters. Also, it is necessary that the receiving facility work together with the local child welfare agency to build up a support system to deal with deep trauma caused by the disaster for those children. At some point, psychological care specialists will be needed.

Some children may go to the child protection facilities far away from where they grew up. Therefore, it is necessary to build a system that protects and helps children bounce back not only locally, but also at a national level. It is an important mission this country must bear.


Updates from the Association for Aid and Relief, Japan

Mr. Hiyama, who bikes to the AAR-run baths every day from his house in Miyagi Prefecture.

The Association for Aid and Relief (AAR) Japan is one of many NGOs supported in part by contributions to the U.S.-Japan Council’s Earthquake Relief Fund. They have been doing a great job working in Japan, particularly in helping those with disabilities who may be otherwise overlooked by other relief operations. Their website is updated frequently in both Japanese and English, but we would like to share a few of their reports directly with our audience.

First is an update from Emergency Relief Team member Ayumi Yasuda on April 30. She writes:

We received a phone call from Ms. Miyako SAITO in Ishinomaki City, whom we had previously visited to provide relief supplies. She told us of three families that had children with disabilities staying at an evacuation center nearby, and they needed supplies. The next day, on April 22nd, we visited the families with food and daily necessities at a house on the premises of Hitakami-en, a rehabilitation facility for people with mental disabilities.
All three families lost their homes in the earthquake and moved to public evacuation centers. When their children had difficulty living with other evacuees, the families were introduced to this house by the Ishinomaki Shoshinkai Social Welfare Corporation, and they have been living here in obscurity since.
Ms. Yuko SAITO (58) lives with her two sons, the younger of whom, Kazuya (21), has severe mental disabilities. After the earthquake, they initially moved into an evacuation center at a high school before moving into the present house. For a time Kazuya didn’t speak due to the stress of the moves, but recently he finally began to find his voice. When I was talking with his mother, Kazuya tried to tell me that they had lost their house, saying, “House, bye-bye.”
Kazuya requires continuous care, and Ms. SAITO can rarely go out. When we gave her not only food but also nail clippers and ear picks as requested, she looked pleased and said, “We’ve received some urgently-needed supplies, but still lack some of the little things that we always took for granted before the earthquake. I feel unsettled without these things.”
I’ve been visiting many evacuation centers over the past month, but seldom see people with disabilities in the big public evacuation centers. Finally driven out, they go back to their half-destroyed homes, or timidly shelter themselves in their relatives’ houses. Families cannot leave their children alone, so it’s difficult for them to go shopping or to get relief supplies.

I deeply feel that AAR JAPAN should provide support for these people above all. We will continue to make efforts to quickly meet the needs of people with disabilities and their families.
AAR’s blog also keeps track of efforts to provide bathing facilities in Miyagi Prefecture, and not just to those living in evacuations shelters:
Today is men’s day. Mr. Toshiaki HIYAMA comes every day the bath is open, riding 1 km from his home. He told us, “I’ll pedal as far as I have to to get into this bath!” Mr. HIYAMA lives alone, and has been living off meals at the Self-Defense Force soup kitchen or eating bento (meal boxes) that are provided for survivors. “There are no shops near my house, so I have to go a long way to buy even little things,” he said. “It’s not easy, but everyone is having a hard time. At least I can live in my own house, so I can’t complain.”
After soaking in the bath, people can receive supplies such as coffee, biscuits, and popcorn in front of the tent.
Although people in the affected areas are still experiencing significant difficulties, they seem relaxed and comforted by their time in the hot spring water. We will continue this project until the end of the Golden Week holiday in May.
We thank AAR for their efforts on the ground as well as their willingness to update their progress in English for donors and well-wishers outside of Japan. Be sure to support their efforts by regularly checking in on their blog.

Architects Join Together for Rebuilding Effort

From Hitoshi Abe, chair of the UCLA Department of Architecture & Urban Design and director of the UCLA Paul I. and Hisako Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies:

Dear Friends,

Japan today is facing an unprecedented crisis. The images coming from Japan convey unbearable scenes of a horrible calamity, as well as the bravery and composure of the Japanese.

Sendai, the city at the center of the stricken area, is my hometown where I was born and raised. My parents as well as many relatives and friends live in this beautiful city. Sendai is a university town filled with students and is referred to as the forest city because of its abundance of greenery. The numerous festivals celebrated in the region, including Sendai’s Tanabata, Kesennuma’s Tenbata Festival, and Ishinomaki’s Kawabiraki add color to the scenery of the seasons, while deepening the bonds of the people who belong to communities large and small.

All of this has been lost, or heavily damaged, in the recent disaster. The countless beautiful landscapes by the sea that I, along with many others, enjoyed since childhood exist no more. The damaged buildings of the university where I studied cannot be entered. Many are still searching for family and friends. The scope of what has been lost, what will be lost, is immeasurable.

Over 150 architects in Japan got together to form Archi-Aid, an architects’ network to support reconstruction following the East Japan earthquake and tsunami. I ask for your understanding and support…

Archi-Aid has established the Sendai Design League, based at Tohoku University. Their goals are

  • supporting regional reconstruction and development through an international network
  • the revival of architectural education
  • the accumulation and illumination of disaster knowledge

Their Japanese-language website is available at http://www.archi.tohoku.ac.jp/html/archiaid.html. Donations from the US can be made in English through Archi-Aid’s partner, Architecture for Humanity at http://architectureforhumanity.org/donate/form?program=Archi-Aid.


Yuta Hakoishi Grieves, Remembers His Father

Yuta Hakoishi, a 12 year old from Yamada, Iwate Prefecture, lost his father in the March 11 tsunami. This brave young boy was inspired to send his diary to the Mainichi Shogakusei, the edition of the Mainichi Daily News for elementary school children. Below is an excerpt from the translated diary, posted on the English-language Mainichi Daily News website:

March 11: We were practicing a song for our school graduation ceremony, when a huge earthquake hit. At first I thought it was just another earthquake. And even after an alert was issued for a major tsunami, I didn’t think there would be one. I thought that if a tsunami did arrive it would only be about 10 centimeters high. But I was completely wrong. What I saw was water and rubble being washed along National Route 45. I saw my mom and dad arrive at Osawa Elementary School before the tsunami arrived. But then I saw my dad going back out in his truck. I was worried about him. “Please don’t let him get swallowed by the tsunami while he’s driving,” I prayed.

March 18: Mom lost hope, saying dad still hadn’t been found after all this time. Granddad cried and said, “We’ll do our best and build a new home, and make sure that you can all go to school. Even if your dad doesn’t make it, we’ll do our best.”

March 23: The day of our graduation. As we sang the song “Arigato” (Thank you), I was thinking: “Dad, it’s because of you that I’ve been able to graduate. Thank you.” Then for some reason, my voice went shaky and I started crying. That night I had a dream. It was a dream about my mom and dad coming back from a supermarket in Miyako.

March 25: One of my relatives got a call on their mobile phone. They said a firefighter had found somebody who looked like my father. We rushed there, and I saw my father lying down, with his mouth open. My older sister started crying. My mom didn’t say anything and my younger brother stayed close to our relatives. When I touched my father’s face it was colder than water. In my mind I kept thinking, “Why did you go back?” Then I kept telling myself, “What good is it for me to worry?” but the more I said it, the more tears welled up in my eyes. I saw the titanium accessory that my father had worn, a good-luck ankle charm that he bought in Tokyo, and his wedding ring and mobile phone. What surprised me was that his watch was still working. When my father died and even when he was swallowed by the tsunami, it kept ticking. My dad’s watch is now mine. I don’t think I’ll ever lose it my whole life.

The rest of Yuta’s story can be read in English here, or in the original Japanese here.

Unfortunately, stories like this are not unique to the Hakoishi family. What is uncommon is for this young child to be willing to share his experiences with other children in Japan, as well as the world. Our thoughts are with Yuta, his siblings, and his mother. We are thankful for his courage and inspired by his resolve.


Small Businesses in Japan

Michihiro Kono stands in front of the remnants of his factory in Rikuzentakata. Photo Credit: Chie Kobayashi for NPR

While most news stories out of Japan revolve around major keiretsu (interlocking business groups) such as Mitsubishi, large automobile companies like Toyota or Honda, and more recently the large power company TEPCO, it is important to remember the role of smaller businesses in the country.

Small Japanese companies do not receive the same level of press in America, often because they are less export-driven than the large corporations, but they have played a vital role in the domestic economy. These businesses have also suffered in the wake of March 11, and it is perhaps their smaller scale that allows their personal stories to resonate more with a foreign audience.

National Public Radio recently reported on Michihiro Kono, the ninth-generation CEO of Yagisawa Company, a 41-person business in Iwate Prefecture, specializing in soy sauce. He was able to save enough sauce to preserve the family recipe, but the rest of his plant, and two of his employees, were lost in the tsunami.

The piece sheds light on the problems facing the minnows of the Japanese economy, who must turn to the government for recovery loans. Larger companies can also rely on large holding companies and banks (the central pieces of keiretsu), and are more likely to receive loans quickly and with favorable terms.

NPR highlights the resolve of Mr. Kono and his fellow small business owners:

Insurance will cover about 5 percent of the loss. A lawyer told him to file for bankruptcy protection.

Still, Kono is determined to help rebuild. He says without jobs, people will leave, lose hope.

“If you’ve lost family, the house where you lived and you have no hope of working with your colleagues again … then what?” he says. “I don’t want this to become the city where, six months later, survivors are committing suicide.”

Local businessmen meet at the driving school [where several small businesses have set up temporary headquarters] to discuss recovery plans. They, like Kono, are hoping to restart by asking the government for low-interest loans and other support. They track other business owners down at shelters, hoping to get them on board.

As we support and encourage Japan’s recovery from this tragedy, please take the time to think of small businesses, their owners, and their employees.


Golden Week in Japan: A Time for Service

Japan’s “Golden Week” begins  this Friday, and many Japanese are choosing to use the break to help out their countrymen in the Tōhoku region. For the uninitiated, Golden Week is a major semi-official break in the Japanese calendar and is marked by several holidays occurring in rapid succession, including Shōwa Day (commemorating the previous Emperor of Japan) on April 29, Constitution Memorial Day on May 3, and Children’s Day on May 5. Many Japanese individuals and corporations take off the few days that are not official holidays and take a week-long break each year. Golden Week is typically a time for relaxation, vacation, and fun. The mood in Japan is, however, understandably less joyous for this year’s holidays. There is a silver lining to the subdued energy of post-March 11 Golden Week: while tourism is down, volunteerism has gone up.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that evacuation shelters in some disaster areas are receiving so many volunteers asking about helping out during Golden Week, the shelters are starting to worry about turning people away. Organized volunteer tours of relief shelters are filling up quickly:

Both cities [Kesennuma and Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture] are among three scheduled stops on a volunteer-tour trip organized by the Tokyo government in coordination with the Tokyo Voluntary Action Center. Participants leave Friday for the six-night trip that will involve activities like debris removal and cleaning out buildings. The cost of the trip is 25,000 yen, or about $300, and includes breakfasts and dinners. The city will subsidize half the lodging fees for 60 of the 200 participants, triple the number who volunteered  on the inaugural trip that left April 5. The Tokyo Volunteer Action Center said all 200 spots were filled within an hour after it started accepting reservations April 20. The center said preference is given to those with prior disaster relief or volunteer experience.  Another trip set to depart Friday and organized by the Peace Boat Center, a Tokyo-based group that organizes emergency support, has sold out.

It is heartwarming to see people giving up rare opportunities to relax in order to help others. The idea of “community service” on a nation-wide level in Japan is still developing, and the enormous sense of volunteerism for this cause is exciting and welcome.