Tag Archives: relief

The Washington Post Reports from Miyagi Prefecture

Washington Post correspondent Chico Harlan wrote a piece for Tuesday’s paper chronicling the rebuilding efforts in a tsunami-struck town. Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture has been the subject of many media reports and, thankfully, many donations and relief missions. This article pays special attention to individuals working in Minamisanriku, including local government employee Jinichi Sasaki:

He writes “OK” several dozen times each day, and Jinichi Sasaki figures he’ll scribble the word for years before anything about his town feels right again.

In this tsunami-obliterated fishing port, rebuilding begins with one word, which Sasaki, a municipal employee, writes — in English — on every invoice and delivery form. He uses it in lieu of a signature, in part because he likes its simple utility — an antidote for a place that was destroyed. A truckload of rubber boots: OK. A fresh crate of rubbish bags: OK. Forty thousand 500-milliliter bottles of water: OK.

Minamisanriku needs all of these things, and after Sasaki stamps his approval on the paperwork, volunteers stack the just-unloaded items in the sports arena that, eight weeks after the tsunami, keeps this town on life support. This is where Sasaki works, carrying three cellphones to keep pace with calls from donors, reminding them of the town’s ever-changing wish list. Inside the arena, boxes of clothing and canned food reach the rafters. Outside, rubble extends for 3.5 square miles.

A sequence of natural disasters March 11 reduced Minamisanriku to a place of profound grief and need. With rebuilding efforts in their infancy, officials such as Sasaki are realizing that the town’s shortages — too few supplies, too few jobs, too little safe land for new homes — could persist as long as the bad memories.

Sasaki’s worrying about the town’s needs prevents him from dwelling on his own. On March 11 he lost his car, his childhood home and his mother. At one point he was swallowed by the tsunami wave, long enough to think about his family and resign himself to death.

Since then, he has worked 60 days straight, and he has come to think that he’ll spend the last 12 years of his career — until retirement, at 60 — procuring and OK’ing the items necessary for an epic rebuilding project. Sasaki often updates the town’s Web site, maintaining a list of Minamisanriku’s top priorities. One month ago, the town had no sugar, no soy sauce, no nail clippers and no masking tape. Now it needs vegetables, cooking oil, sandals and toilet paper.

“Sasaki-san,” one town employee in a pink vest tells him, “there are six trucks outside waiting to unload.”


“Sasaki-san, the Shizugawa High School evacuation center wants 2,000 plastic bowls,” a co-worker calls to tell him. “Can you help us?”


“Are you Sasaki-san?” asks a man in a windbreaker, walking into the arena. The man says that he has come from Oita Prefecture, the opposite corner of the country, because he has the skills to do electrical repair work and wants to volunteer.

“OK,” Sasaki says, directing the man to a volunteer help desk.

The rest of the article, titled “After Japan’s tsunami, a town climbs back,” can be found on the Washington Post’s website here.


The JCIE Reports From Japan

Japanese Defense Forces look on as a water tank fills in a "temporary hot spring"

The Japan Center for International Exchange (JCIE) is a think-tank based in both the US and Japan. Their American branch has been accepting donations which, similar to the USJC fund, will be given in part to the Center for Public Resource Development (CPRD). The CPRD is an umbrella organization which serves over 100 NGOs and NPOs in Japan.

The JCIE has been doing a wonderful job of providing an English-language update of how their fund is being used at their website, http://www.jcie.org/earthquakeupdate.html. Their staff is keeping track of where and how the organizations within the CPRD are distributing aid to the people of Japan, and we are grateful to share some of their stories with you.

First is an update of how one of the CPRD’s agencies figured out a way to bring traditional Japanese hot springs to people living in evacuation shelters. This effort provided more than a sense of escapism; it served a practical purpose, as many shelters have not been able to provide adequate bathing facilities:

The Association for Aid and Relief (AAR) Japan is taking part in a project to “bring the hot springs to the earthquake-stricken region.” Japan’s hot spring spas (onsen), found throughout the country, are a favorite destination for travelers looking to relax and unwind. Having seen the images of the stressful conditions at the evacuation centers, an employee at Ascendia, a Tokyo-based IT firm, had the idea of bringing the hot springs to them. Through the cooperation of various companies, organizations, and individuals, the project was able to secure a tanker truck, a driver, and water from a hot spring, which was delivered to four evacuation centers in Matsushima (Miyagi Prefecture). The water was used to fill a pool at a nearby kindergarten, baths at a community center, and so on. They next headed to five locations in the towns of Higashi Matsushima and Ishinomaki, where each day 500–600 people were able to enjoy the spas. Many of these people noted that this was only the second time they had been able to take a bath since the earthquake struck over a month ago, so the project was greatly appreciated. It will continue through early May.

Another update details a heartwarming effort to provide an entertaining respite to children (and the young at heart) in shelters in Miyagi Prefecture:

Peace Winds Japan (PWJ) has started a movie caravan to help break up the monotony at the evacuation centers. PWJ appealed to Studio Ghibli, one of Japan’s leading animation studios, which provided projectors, screens, and DVDs to entertain the children. As of April 9, the movies “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Kiki’s Delivery Service” had been shown in 5 locations in Kesennuma (Miyagi Prefecture). On the 8th, for example, a 100-inch screen was set up at the Kesennuma High School gymnasium, and the curtains were closed to create a movie theater. The previous night, a strong aftershock had knocked out the electricity again, so a generator was used to show the movie, much to the delight of children and adults alike. The caravan will be heading to Rikuzentakata, Minamisanriku, and Ofunato as well.

The fund also helped organize a field trip for children in Iwate Prefecture to visit the local Japan Defense Force garrison. This helped by allowing the children to get out of the shelter for a while. Perhaps more importantly, it built ties between the survivors and the JDF, which has done much to gain in public opinion during the recovery effort.

In order to break up the monotony for the children in Otsuchi evacuation centers, an Association of Medical Doctors of Japan (AMDA) volunteer organized a “Field Trip to the Self-Defense Forces Garrison,” where they met members of the SDF who came from Hokkaido to help in the relief efforts, providing meals for the evacuees in Otsuchi. The children had a fun time touring the grounds, and it brought smiles to their faces for the first time in a long time. At the initiative of AMDA volunteers, a playroom was also set up for children at the Otsuchi evacuation center.

For these stories and more, be sure to add the regularly-updated JCIE blog to your daily reading list.

Institute of Cultural Affairs Provides Relief to Disaster Area

Today, the USJC announced that its relief fund has received over 1.6 million dollars. We wish to thank all of our generous donors, as well as continue to update people on how their money is being used. As our fund website says, we send money directly to two NGO umbrella organizations in Japan, including Japan Platform, which oversees 33 organizations in the country.

One of Japan Platform’s many component NGO’s is the Tokyo-based Institute of Cultural Affairs Japan (ICA). ICA Japan was established in 1970 as a branch of the US-based Institute of Cultural Affairs, and works on development education and environmental awareness in Japan. When the earthquake struck, however, ICA Japan directed its efforts toward immediate disaster relief. Within days of the disaster, ICA was delivering goods and services to many areas around the Tōhoku area. Their English-language report, from March 19th, can be found here. Their English website is located at http://www.icajapan.org/icajapane/indexe.html.

American Designer Tory Burch

Also from USJC Member Linda Toyota, news that fashion designer Tory Burch has created a T-shirt to raise money for relief efforts:

By Clifford Pugh:

Proceeds from this shirt will go to American Red Cross efforts in Japan

Over the past few years, I’ve watched Tory Burch grow more popular with each subsequent collection for one simple reason: She designs clothes women love.

Burch and her team also recently designed a Japan Relief T-shirt dotted with hearts that retails for $29, with all net proceeds donated to The American Red Cross to benefit and earthquake relief in Japan. “That’s just the beginning of what we want to do,” she said. “Having a company is such a great vehicle for that. We’re already sold 15,000 T-shirts. It’s so devastating what’s happening there.”

Yoshie Ibarra, a native of Japan who formed the Japanese Wives Club (a group of Japanese women married to Houston men), agrees that Burch is extremely popular in her home country. “But her clothes are very expensive in Tokyo, so friends often ask me buy for them here and send it to them,” Ibarra said.

For the full story on Tory Burch from CultureSmart Houston, click here.

Houston Community Comes Together to Celebrate Japan

Photo Credit: Japan Festival Houston

The Japan-America Society of Houston, with support from other local organizations and corporate sponsors, put on their 18th annual Japanese Festival in Hermann Park, Houston this past weekend. The event drew about 28,000 people over two days, and many groups, including the Japan Business Association of Houston, Japanese Association of Greater Houston, and Japanese American Citizens League Houston Chapter were collecting donations for earthquake and tsunami relief. Many vendors at the festival were also donating proceeds to various relief efforts.

Houston is the sister city of Chiba, a seaport located about 25 miles from Tokyo.

USJC Member Linda Toyota attended the event and sends her reflections on the festival:

“The four Japanese organizations work well together to make this event happen every year. I was there with the Japanese American Citizens League and the numbers of people attending was even greater than last year. People were generous – children were dropping off money to our booth. The weather was warm and breezy. The entrance to Hermann Park (where you enter the Zoo and Natural Science Museum) was so backed up that they had to close the entrance on Saturday around lunch time since there was too much traffic.

Unbelievable. Young people were wearing anime outfits and traditional Japanese clothing. Houston is a warm and caring city with so much diversity. It does not make any difference that there are few Japanese Americans in Houston, people want to help.”

Mercy Corps: Helping the Japan Tsunami’s Littlest Survivors

From Joy Portella, a Mercy Corps employee formerly stationed in Japan:

MARCH 26 – The youngest survivors of disasters are often the most resilient, but also the most fragile. While earthquakes and tsunamis rob children of the same things that most adults hold dear — homes, families, friends — kids lack adult coping mechanisms. The emotional toll can be devastating.

Today in Kesennuma, a city of about 70,000 people in northeast Japan’s Miyagi Prefecture, I witnessed both the resiliency and fragility of children. In the city’s main evacuation center — a converted sports complex — a play room has been set aside for small children. Today was the first day it’s been staffed by certified childcare providers who are creating activities to make life a little more normal and pleasant under the current, difficult circumstances.

That’s where I met Hidayuki Suzuki, age 40, his wife Miho, age 24, and their three-year-old daughter Rin. The Suzuki family had been living in the evacuation center for two weeks since their apartment was severely damaged by flooding. Hidayuki tells me that Rin is too young to understand the earthquake and the family has been together the whole time, so she’s doesn’t seem troubled.

Dad was more worried about contagious illnesses like colds and the flu, which despite best efforts to practice good hygiene like hand washing and the omnipresence of medical masks, are running rampant in the overcrowded living conditions. Rin, he explains, became very ill when they first arrived at the center. Despite her current cheerful appearance, she’s still on the mend.

In the main auditorium, I met a family with a different story. Hiromi Ito, age 33, had brought her two young children Soma and Kokowa to visit their grandparents, who are living in the center. Hiromi and her children are also evacuees but they have been taken in by her husband’s family. Hiromi’s mother, Masako, had not seen her grandchildren since the quake.

The story continues on the Mercy Corps Blog.