Category Archives: Jason Bartashius

Minna no Café: 3.11 Evacuees Plant Roots in Kyoto

Here’s the latest guest post from our friend Jason Bartashius…

Before relocating to Kyoto, Ikuko Wagatsuma worked in the clothing department of a supermarket in Minami-Soma, a city devastated by both the tsunami and nuclear crisis. The tsunami wreaked havoc washing away homes and causing hundreds of deaths. Located near to the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, parts of Minami-Soma were inside the initial 20km evacuation zone. Though this was lifted in the spring of 2012, Wagatsuma explains to me with tears in her eyes that radiation is still a concern.

IMG_0031-1In Kyoto she is now working part-time at Minna no Café in Momoyama, Fushimi. The café is owned and managed by Minna no Te, a support group for 3.11 evacuees in Kyoto. Situated in a renovated machiya, a traditional Kyoto town house, the café employs evacuees and local Kyoto residents. It also hosts relaxation workshops, computer courses and health consultations for evacuees. “A representative from The France Foundation, who gave us funding, talked me into opening this place so we could give evacuees sustainable support,” said Minna no Te president, Yuko Nishiyama.

The café is tucked in a quiet street conveniently just a few minutes walk from the Keihan Fushimi-Momoyama station and the Otesuji shopping arcade. Though the area is slightly off the beaten path, a fair number of tourists visit the famed sake breweries as well as Fushimi Castle.

Bustling with a steady stream of customers, lunch-goers seem to appreciate the addition of the café to the neighborhood. Included on the menu are Fukushima specialties such as Ikaninjin, carrot and dried squid marinated with soy sauce and sake, which is a traditional dish in Fukushima. Zunda, another northern delicacy is served for dessert. Zunda is a rice flour dumpling topped with a paste made from grounded edamame and sugar.

An (International) Hub

In the old days land and water travel through Momoyama made the area a connecting point for Nara, Osaka and Kyoto. Similarly Minna no Café is functioning as a hub- connecting the people of Kyoto and beyond with those affected directly by the nuclear crisis.

“Many people come to eat and relax with friends. But also there are a lot of people who come because they want to connect to evacuees or me,” said Nishiyama.


Soon after its grand opening in May, a group of students and professors from Saint Michael’s College in Vermont visited the café. The visit was part of the group’s two-week study abroad trip to Japan. At that time Minna no Café was usually closed on Sundays, but Nishiyama opened its doors so the students could come and learn about the realities of the ongoing nuclear crisis.

Lauren Gillick, a Saint Michael’s graduate who joined the group, was particularly impressed by Nishiyama’s presentation. Holding a Masters degree in TESOL, Gillick hopes to teach in Japan sometime in the near future. “It seems that the most we can do for Yuko-san’s organization is to help spread the word and make this issue more well-known to the rest of the world. As I enter new schools as a teacher for this year, I will make sure to do my best to see how I can make this issue better known to my students as I think awareness is key,”said Gillick.

Customers, undoubtedly, also have chances to learn about Minna no Te and some of the organization’s other projects. Information pamphlets are displayed in the genkan. One can also find T-shirts for sale in the entrance. The shirts are printed with a bus graphic and the words “Fukushima” and “Kyoto.” Sales will help fund the Yume no Natsu project to reunite classmates and families torn apart by the 3.11 catastrophes.

This summer vacation buses will shuttle affected people to and from Kyoto. Fukushima children will visit their classmates who have relocated to Kyoto. From August 3rd to the 8th, the children will spend time with friends at a summerhouse in Otsu City provided by Notre Dame Elementary School.

The buses will quickly gear back up to transport and reunite separated family members during the Obon holiday. Many families have been split up by the nuclear crisis. Mothers and children evacuated while fathers stayed behind to work. Though temporary housing is rent free, daily expenses quickly add up and travel costs to visit relatives are forbidding. Obon is a time when many Japanese return to their hometowns to spend time with family and visit ancestral graves. Minna no Te is working to afford Fukushima families a similar opportunity.

Unarguably, the crisis has disrupted and brought injury to many lives. The future for many evacuees remains uncertain. A contentious debate over the dangers of radiation rages on making it difficult for many to decide whether or not to return home. They are at a crossroads. And so is Japan, for it remains unclear as to what degree the country will continue to rely on nuclear energy.

Minna no Café welcomes, attracts and invites people to join in community action and discussion. Such places are needed to empower and unite people in community.

Minna no Café:
Tues-Sat: 9:00 a.m -9:00 p.m; Sun: 9:00 a.m – 5:00 p.mIMG_0020

A 3 minute walk from Kintetsu Momoyama Goryomae or Keihan Fushimi-Momoyama. From either station walk WESTWARD on Otesuji Street, turn left at SoftBank onto Ryogaemachi Dori, walk straight again and you will see it on the left. Here is a map.

Tel: 075-632-9352
Address: 伏見区両替町4-319 (4-319 Ryogaemachi Fushimiku Kyoto-shi)
Links (Japanese):
Minna no Te:
Yume no Natsu on Facebook:
Jason Bartashius moved to Kyoto in 2011. He is a lecturer of Japanese Religions and an English instructor. Jason also manages the volunteer project After School Lessons For Tohoku Children that helps kids affected by the tsunami. As a writer he works to bring attention to the ongoing issues surrounding the March 11th disasters. He has made contributions to Deep Kyoto that focus on Kyoto’s efforts to support Tohoku and evacuees who have relocated to Kyoto. You can read his previous articles here.

University Students Help Fukushima Evacuees in Kyoto

Osaka Gakuin University’s Service Learning students hail from Japan, Taiwan, China , Canada and the United States. The yarn they hold symbolizes the connections and mutual trust they have formed over the semester.

This article is by Jason Bartashius and Jessica Caparini.

Wearing Santa hats and full of holiday cheer, university students sang Christmas carols and handed out presents to Fukushima evacuee children at a Christmas party in Fushimi.  The children’s faces lit up when a Japanese Santa and a Canadian Mrs. Claus began handing out presents. Joining hands with community volunteers, the students had helped to organize this event for children who have relocated to Kyoto.

These students were not part of a campus volunteer group.  Nor did they assemble as a group of friends.  This was an optional assignment for the Service Learning course taught by Stephen Dalton at Osaka Gakuin University.

In the course students first learn about social problems via guest speakers and lectures.  Upon gaining a well-rounded understanding of a given issue, the students then engage with the problem through volunteering.   Finally, they do reflection exercises in a journal so that the experience becomes “part of the student.”

The most unique aspect of the course is that its doors are open to both Japanese and international students.  Students work in pairs when they volunteer, and each pair consists of one Japanese and one international student. As a result every student must struggle to overcome language and cultural barriers.  As they overcome those obstacles, students gain insight into what it means to be a global citizen working for the betterment of society.

“Service learning is a win, win, win situation.  The community benefits from the students’ volunteer efforts.  The students also benefit.  In the classroom they see the larger context of the problems they are trying to ameliorate.  And there is a positive effect on the university.  Working with evacuees inspired students to start their own book drive for Tohoku.  They wanted to let the campus community know they can help Tohoku without going there,” said Dalton.

Two motifs running throughout the course are Japan’s ongoing demographic problems and the current energy dilemma. The class discussed Japan’s aging population problem and the ongoing nuclear crisis.  Students then spent time assisting the elderly at nursing homes and meeting Tohoku children living in temporary housing in Kyoto.

Yuko Nishiyama, a Fukushima mother and activist, visited the class to discuss her experiences and the struggles evacuees face. She then arranged for the university students to visit the temporary housing.

The students made their first visit to the temporary housing in November.  For that occasion each pair of students organized either an educational activity or game to play with the kids.  Children learned how to play patty-cake and sing familiar nursery songs in different languages like Chinese and English. These children were not simply on the receiving end though.  They were giving the students a deeper, more intimate understanding of the situation evacuees are in.

“By spending time together I want students to have a new image of evacuees. Because information from the news is not a real picture of people,” says Nishiyama.  Herein lies one of the main goals of Service Learning, connecting students with real life situations to broaden their perspectives in ways not likely possible in the classroom.

Kizuna From Kyoto: Supporting the Victims of the Tohoku Disaster

Jason Bartashius writes,

Tonghwi Soh is no stranger to earthquakes.  The Great Hanshin Earthquake destroyed the jewelry store his father worked at.  It left him jobless and with no choice but to take another position for a lower salary.  Although Soh was only four years old, he vividly remembers the day and the struggles that followed.

Six years later Soh and his parents attended a symposium of Koreans who had been wronged by Japanese military aggression and lawyers fighting for redress.  Soh, a Korean, was so inspired by this fight for justice that he later enrolled at Kyoto University to study law.

In 2010 Soh took time off from his studies to go to New Zealand to improve his English.  He was sightseeing with friends in South Island when the Canterbury earthquake struck.  In the early morning they felt the quake; unscathed they walked out of their youth hostel astonished by the panic in the air.   Soh was to later revisit New Zealand to check on friends and see the recovery progress.

Soh was to make an even narrower escape when the March 11th quake hit.  On March 9, 2011 he was skiing with friends in Iwate Prefecture when a 7.2 magnitude quake struck triggering a small tsunami that never reached Japan’s shores.  In the nick of time, they left Tohoku before the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred two days later.  “I don’t believe in God. But if God exists He let me live,” said Soh.

His experiences with earthquakes led to his resolve to respond to the tragedies of March 11th.  He first volunteered in Miyagi Prefecture.  Surprisingly he was shown an outsized amount of gratitude by people in Tohoku, because of his Korean ethnicity.  Despite being born and raised in Japan, he was treated as part of the massive international volunteer effort that pleasantly surprised many suffering Japanese.  Inspired by his experiences he returned to Kyoto and formed a student volunteer group called Kizuna Thank You From Kyoto.  The group organized two symposiums for students to discuss the triple tragedies.  Showing appreciation to the international community was a central theme of the meetings.

Currently Kizuna has more than twenty members from Kyoto University, Ritsumeikan, Doshisha, and Kyoto University of Education.  They are all now actively assisting evacuees in Kyoto.  To reflect their shift from holding symposiums to directly aiding victims, the group recently changed their name to Kizuna From Kyoto.

Since July 2012 the Kizuna volunteers have been tutoring Tohoku children now living in Fushimi.  Elementary school students receive help with their homework while junior high and high school students get assistance in their preparation for exams.  Additionally, this past summer they helped Minna no Te, a support group for evacuees in Kyoto, collect donations for a project that reunited evacuees with family and friends.

Beyond Kyoto, Kizuna has also been lending a hand to support school children who remain in Tohoku. From June to August 2012 Kizuna gathered 2500 used books for the Hon Omoi Project, which collects and sells the books.  The proceeds are then used to buy new textbooks for affected Tohoku students.

Brimming with new ideas, Soh is about to launch another project called “Keep Telling!” a blog page where victims and volunteers can share their stories.  The intention is to raise awareness of the tragedies and ongoing relief effort.  Non- Kizuna members are welcome to submit accounts of their experiences in either Japanese or English. Kizuna volunteers will translate accounts written in English before posting.  Soh hopes to publish one story every few days.  At the time of writing he had already received forty submissions.

When asked of his future plans for Kizuna, Soh responded that he plans to keep giving aid as long as it is needed.

Tonghwi Soh can be contacted at

Visit the Kizuna From Kyoto homepage:

Follow Kizuna From Kyoto on Facebook:


Jason Bartashius moved to Kyoto in 2011. He is a lecturer of Japanese Religions and an English instructor. Jason also manages the volunteer project After School Lessons For Tohoku Children that helps kids affected by the tsunami. As a writer he works to bring attention to the ongoing issues surrounding the March 11th disasters. He has made contributions to Deep Kyoto that focus on Kyoto’s efforts to support Tohoku and evacuees who have relocated to Kyoto. You can read his previous articles here.

The Kyoto YWCA Home Stay Program for Fukushima Children

A new article from our friend Jason Bartashius.

The Kyoto YWCA has offered a home stay program for Fukushima children on four occasions since March 11th each lasting for varying durations ranging from five days to nearly two weeks. To prevent radiation exposure playtime outside for many children has been greatly restricted in Fukushima. To let them to be able to enjoy the outdoors again the children are invited to Kyoto where they can go camping and learn about the historic city and its culture. “It was so fun. I want to come back to Kyoto,” said one child. [ref]Kyoto YWCA Newsletter.  No. 510 (September 1, 2012)[/ref]
The YWCA has provided outreach to Japanese Filipino children by making efforts to invite them to participate in this program. Unable to read Japanese, many Filipino women have not had full access to information about support services and aid in the wake of 3/11. With the help of Hawak Kamay Fukushima, the YWCA invited their children to Kyoto. Another session will be held again next summer. “Next year we’d like to invite children from families who are struggling economically,” said Chie Yoshimura, a part-time staff member.
Below I give a brief summary of some aspects of the current situation in Fukushima to elucidate why the program is important even as the government is re-opening parts of the evacuation zone. I then present the details of the program and summarize the other types of aid the YWCA has given immediately after 3/11 as well as the support they continue to provide to Fukushima families. Continue reading

Tohoku to Kyoto: Yuko Nishiyama and the Plight of the Fukushima Evacuees

Jason Bartashius writes,

On March 18, 2011 Yuko Nishiyama and her three-year old daughter, Mariko, left Fukushima City, 60 km from the Daiichi plant, to live in Tokyo. In June 2011, Yuko her parents and Mariko relocated to Kyoto. In total around 800 Tohoku evacuees have come to Kyoto and about 600 of them are from Fukushima Prefecture. Fukushima evacuees are choosing to come to Kyoto because it is one of the prefectures that has offered aid to people living outside the evacuation zone.

I sat down with Nishiyama to talk about the struggles and concerns evacuees face as well as the support projects she has been organizing. Nishiyama is an evacuee, a Fukushima mother, a volunteer, and an activist. In February she did a Greenpeace sponsored speaking tour in Switzerland for which she spoke about her experiences to raise awareness. Here in Kyoto she manages two support groups for evacuees, often gives public talks and has been appearing in the local media. Continue reading

After School Lessons For Tohoku Children on Skype

A message from Jason Bartashius….

Volunteers Needed!

Starting this spring we will be matching volunteer English instructors with junior high and high school students from the Tohoku region. The lessons will be done online using Skype and will be free of charge. We wish to have volunteers with the following experience and credentials:

  • A four -year university degree
  • A teaching license or certificate
  • One year experience teaching English in Japan to junior high or high school students
  • Volunteers do not necessarily need to live in Japan. However, we hope all volunteers have at least one-year of experience living in Japan and are familiar with Japanese customs and culture.

If you would like to volunteer please email us your resume and a cover letter. The cover letter should include a detailed description of your experience teaching in Japan and reasons for wanting to volunteer. Mail to:

After School Lessons For Tohoku Children:

Thank you Jason!

After School Lessons for Tohoku Children

Jason Bartashius says,

The triple disaster of March 11th, the 9.0 magnitude earthquake, 10-meter tsunami and the continuing Fukushima nuclear crisis has undoubtedly left a permanent mark on the Japanese memory and impacted the global community. Thousands have died and many survivors have been forced to relocate. Others are participating in home stays inside and outside of Japan to recover emotionally and/or temporarily escape the fear of exposure to radiation.

After School Lessons for Tohoku Children
is a directory page created to put those who have been forced to relocate due to the tragedies of March 11th in touch with schools and organizations willing to offer assistance. The schools listed on this page have expressed a desire to give lessons to affected children for free or at a discounted rate. These charitable offers may seem small. But it is hoped that these efforts will help those in need and raise awareness.

It is also hoped that participation will help reinvigorate the volunteer spirit and compassion will flow freely to those who have suffered from the tragedies. The immediate outpouring of goodwill after any tragedy typically fades as people feel separated from it by time. However, many are still struggling as they resettle in new locations. The devastation to their lives and the emotional and psychological pain they experience will not likely disappear overnight and thus continued support is necessary.


Thank you Jason!