Last week I posted about the big “Tsunami Aid” fund-raiser to be held at Tadg’s bar this Friday (April 22nd). At that time I had assumed that the money raised would be going to one of the big established charities, like the Red Cross for example. However, just last night I learned that the event is in aid of a much smaller (and newer!) local initiative. A group of Kyoto residents are putting together their own NPO to bring aid north, and not content with simply donating money or supplies they want to get their hands dirty too! Currently focussed on meeting the refugees immediate needs, distributing food and other necessary goods, in the near future they plan to help provide temporary housing and later on lend assistance to the greater reconstruction effort. Two weeks ago long-term Kyoto residents Rob Mangold and Mike Barr drove north to deliver much needed supplies and check out what might be necessary for future relief efforts. I read Rob’s report last night and it makes for powerful reading. As Rob says, “We are moving quite a bit ahead of where we were when that was written, preparing the documents to start the NPO and preparing a web page and all kinds of other technical stuff…”. You can read more details about the housing project at the Japan Earthquake Relief in KYOTO Wiki. Anyway Rob has given me permission to publish his report here. It is a remarkable testament to this fine group effort. Please read it and consider donating. Because this is a small scale operation none of the money you donate will be wasted on bureaucratic administration costs and there’ll be no time wasted getting the help where it’s needed either. And even if you can’t attend on Friday night, you can still donate at Tadg’s either before or after the event. I shall post a link to the new NPO’s website once it is ready. Here’s Rob’s report (details of the event here).
To move from Kyoto to Sendai, and from there enter the affected area in order to:
1. distribute food, clothing and toiletries.
2. gather information for future relief efforts
3. be self sufficient
4. NOT get in the way or otherwise hamper the efforts of others
Despite many difficulties we were finally on the highway at about 2 AM.
We drove nonstop, arriving in Sendai about 1 pm the following day. By this point we were seeing mostly convoys of military and civil authorities, and trucks transporting fuel and relief supplies into the area.
After a brief stop in Sendai where we purchased maps and obtained some information on the area, we drove to Ichinoseki, and from there to the coast South of Rikuzen Takata.
For my own impression, very surprising was the minimal amount of earthquake damage visible. The roads showed some damage, and many bridges had already had their approaches repaired due to liquefaction and sinking of the overall terrain height.
We arrived South of Rikuzen Takata late in the afternoon. The roads into that city were still blocked, and we decided to go to the peninsulas, surmising that supplies would be less prevalent the further we drove from prefectural route 45.
With the assistance of some Self Defense Force directions, after a lot of driving in circles (many roads were out or impassable) we arrived at the relief center of Hirota on the Hirota peninsula housing some 300 persons after dusk. We made camp there, and divided and broke the supplies up into various packages.
The following morning we proceeded to drive up the coast, circumnavigating every peninsula looking for the relief centers of towns and fishing villages and doing what we could along the way, distributing rice balls and other necessary goods to those we met along the roads and the packages mentioned above as well as clothing and children’s books and toys to the various relief centers up the coast. We continued in this way until all the supplies were given out.
Bottles of sake were a big hit with the men, and feminine supplies were a certain hit with the women.
Most places seemed to be weary of outsiders, especially in the smaller towns. This did make things a bit difficult for gathering information, but everyone was gracious and thankful. We also heard stories of others on such solo missions who had helped as they passed through the areas.
At the same time we did what we could to help those we found working in the areas doing such tasks as gathering in nets and fishing supplies washed down to the beaches and into culverts along the way, clearing wood and debris etc.
Supplies had been exhausted by the time we reached Shirahama on the peninsula north of Kamaishi city. We took some orders from people there for things they wanted, and then went into Kamaishi to work in the volunteer center. The next two days were spent loading and unloading supplies from trucks into the main distribution center set up at Sea Plaza in Kamaishi. Evenings we drove out to the peninsulas delivering the supplies which had been requested.
It was very cold and snowed most days. One night in Hakozaki four people holed up in a washed out hotel offered us a room with real futons which was a very nice break from the car. Another night we were able to get a bath at a facility set up by the self defense forces.
After hooking up with another group bringing supplies into the area, we decided to leave Kamaishi and headed down the coast once again, and worked the peninsulas from Rikuzen Takata South, once again going for the needed supplies in the villages we passed. By this time we were seeing a lot of supplies being delivered into the areas, and decided that our mission as it was had been completed.
After a week of looking at it, every time you drive up away from the coast, and return to it the sight is shocking, no words to describe it. Rikuzen Takata, one city on the coast, is completely gone, only the shells of a few concrete or steel structures left. I was at Kobe 16 years ago after the Hanshin Earthquake, and that was bad, huge sections of the city gutted by fire, but there was the shape of a city left, roads, traffic lights attesting at least to where roads were under the rubble, the shells of or listing sides of buildings etc. What is appalling is that in the aftermath of this tsunami, there is nothing left, not even the shape of the city, just tunnels cut through the mixture of muck and debris, rising up above the height of the car on both sides. Kessen Numa, Rikuzen Takata, Hakozaki, Ryoishi, all towns that are completely erased.
I’m thinking of starting a fund, a non profit to help the victims in a direct way, (the government is offering a maximum of three million yen, which could probably buy a used winnebago). Something that would offer some assistance to those who stay and rebuild. From one old Japanese saying, “One rain drop soon evaporates, but a thousand rain drops can fill a bucket”.
As a former carpenter my idea is to build small homes funded through donations on the land of survivors, that would allow them a comfortable place to live until they can reach a point where rebuilding on a large scale becomes possible.
What we learned:
There is a time of necessity, where all hands are needed for rescue efforts immediately following the disaster. This is followed by a time of accounting and preparing for life in the disaster area, gathering food and supplies, clothing and blankets. It is at this time that supplies need be brought in. Starting with water, blankets, and basic foods such as rice or bread. Followed by clothing (especially the often forgotten underwear and socks) bedding, fuel and cooking supplies. Between 10 and 20 days following people have created shelter, and begin receiving foods, and are in a Limbo, surviving but not ready to begin the task of cleaning up. That is where things stand today.
The next major step will be clean up and temporary housing.
For us the most difficult part of the next step will be finding some trust with the local population so that they will allow us to help, as at the moment they are untrusting of outsiders. Despite no large scale looting, there are a great many thieves who have gravitated to the area, some dressed as military personnel, who are taking advantage of the situation to enter unprotected houses. It is in fact so rampant that the locals are banding together at nights to watch their villages and closing down roads to block access. And they say that no house has been safe. One heart breaking story we heard from a family we had helped was that the first floor of their house, which was mostly destroyed, had contained a collection of Korean ceramics the husband had spent his life collecting. As they could not remove them due to the house being partially collapsed, (and if they did there was no place to keep them), the husband went into the wreckage with a hammer and broke them all, as he would rather that than give them to the thieves.
A nicer story was when we were driving through the ruins of Ryoishi Town, a man was standing along the road, and it was snowing quite hard. We took the liberty of giving him Mr. Goto’s umbrella (sorry Gotosan!) and continued on.
Two days later helping a family near Kamaishi Station, a man walked up to Mike and said “You are the guy with the umbrella!”
Shocked and not quite sure what to make of it, he explained, “I had come from Nagoya by bus and was searching for my father’s body in the wreckage when it began snowing. I did not know what to do, when you came and gave me that umbrella. That evening his body was found. Even though it was a sad day, your kindness buoyed my spirit, and I am happy to be able to bury my father when so many are still missing”.
Having been to Kobe after that earthquake, I was prepared for the damage or so I thought. But this is unlike anything I have experienced. The destruction is so complete that nothing remains. A family’s possessions could be anywhere, and mud and a rancid stench covers all. It is like taking a town, adding in a few hundred boats, mixing them up in a blender, then pouring it all back out in a thick soup 3 meters deep. The only thing I have ever seen to compare are photographs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Places like Hakozaki which were completely erased, without a single building or house remaining. It will take many years to rebuild the area, and the nuclear situation will assure that it likely remain in poverty for some time to come after that.
Thanks go to:
Mike Barr of the Sakara Ryokan for his excellent navigational skills and company on this journey.
Mr. Goto of Goto Antiques who was gracious in providing his own vehicle for the transport and his umbrella.
The owner of Cosmo Sekiyu (Kitaoji-Kamokaido) Mr. Tachibana who provided the fuel tanks free of charge.
Donations came from a number of sources, with cases of water from artist Daniel Kelly, clothing, blankets, food and sake from a local cameraman John Wells (including his own blanket, thank you!) Sheila Campbell who provided hard to find stove gas for both our own cooking and to donate to centers. Quentin Durning and Angus who spearheaded an effort to gather children’s clothes, shoes, blankets and books from local schools and wide number of friends.
A number of others who remain unnamed donated in response to this call and also Paul Whitford of Edo Arts (Australia) who helped fund the trip with a monetary donation which covered the cost of transport and fuel.
Gordon Brodfuerher also provided a sizeable donation which helped to buy cases of baby formula, toiletries, food, feminine supplies, and a whole lot of snickers bars for the children.
And of course thanks go to our wives, who, despite their personal objections to husbands and fathers going into a possibly nuclear contaminated area, put their backs behind this project.
Many thanks to Rob Mangold for permission to post his report. Rob headed back up to Tohoku today.
Update: Here’s the site for the new NPO: IDRO.JP