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Restoring relationships between and within the Japanese

2012.04.21
特に釜石でのヴォランティア活動を通して見聞したことを、日本人以外の人にも知ってもらえたらと思って英語で書いたもの。イギリス人の友人に添削してもらい、全国紙に寄稿している別の友人のツテを頼ったのだけど、だめでした。最大の理由は、友人によると、「スタイルが違いすぎる」。それを言われてしまっては、一日や二日でどうなるものではないので、自分の力量不足を受け入れ、ここに。書いているときは、イギリスの新聞の旅行セクションを念頭に置いて書いた。
 遠野まごころネットについては、ぜひ、彼らに活動のことを尋ねてください。正確な情報こそ、ヴォランティア活動参加には必須だと思います。また、外国人の友人・知人がいる方には、これをシェアしていただけると嬉しいです。言葉は足らないかもしれないけど、多くのnon-Japaneseのみなさんに、特に東北の現状を知ってもらえれば。

If you are interested in this, please feel free to use, but please inform me if you do.


Restoring relationships between and within the Japanese

Since 11th March 2011, I wanted to join earthquake/tsunami relief efforts in Tohoku which are organised by international charity organisations or Japanese Nonprofits Organisations (NPO). There have been lots of the volunteering opportunities, but it was not easy for me to take any immediate action because I live and work in London which is thousands of miles away from Tohoku. In addition, I was already involved in another volunteering role in the UK which meant that I could do nothing until it ended last December.

Despite these practical issues, I could not erase my feelings of guilt that I was not in Japan and lost an opportunity to share sadness and grief when the terrible disaster hit and many people lost their lives, family members, houses and communities. Then, when I spoke to one of my ex-workmates this January, who is an experienced journalist, I was told that the relief efforts in Tohoku area have shifted from the immediate rescue actions to the long-term plans to recover from the disaster and it would be better for me to get rid of such negative feelings and move on. This conversation encouraged me to return to Japan and join a volunteer team even if only for a short period of time.

Initially, I wanted to contribute to a form of mental care support. However, the mental support care plans now provide the medium/ long term care supports, so it is not wise to be with the victims, as a mental health professional, for a few days. So, I started to look for volunteer organisations or charity groups that support the people and communities in Tohoku continuously and that would also accept a more general volunteer. The NPO which I finally found is Tono Magokoro Net (TMN), http://tonomagokoro.net/english/, which operates and provides their own supports plans for some cities and towns in Iwate prefecture. Iwate is one of the areas which towns and villages in the sea side were devastated both by the earthquake and tsunami last year.

Before I made my registration via their web, I got a confirmation that they would accept my offer to work with them for two days. So, once I submitted my registration form, I booked my flights.

When I arrived at Tono city, I talked to Ms Maekawa, one of its board members. She told me, the reason that Tono city is an ideal base for the volunteers is that the city was not seriously damaged by the disaster in comparison with the towns and villages near the sea in Iwate. The people in the city could take immediate action to help people who were devastated by the disaster and to deliver the food, fuel and medical supplies. Before TMN officially launched their rescue and recovery plans, there was a long discussion whether TMN would accept the groups of volunteers or take both groups and individual volunteers. It would have been much easier for TMN to accept only the groups in order to reduce their administration. However, they decided to accept individuals as well as groups. The reason was; if no charity organisation was willing to accept individual volunteers, they might go to the devastated areas by themselves without any safety net. This situation would force the victims as well as the individual volunteers to be in more dangerous situation. I praise their brave and thoughtful decision:this is why I joined with them. Needless to say, they happily work with volunteers from abroad.

As a Japanese, it was not difficult to understand and prepare their requirements to join and work with them. However, there was a large obstacle difficult for me: paying and obtaining the volunteer insurance. On their website, TMN clearly says that any volunteer without this particular insurance is not allowed to join TMN activities. I could not buy the insurance before I left London for Japan, because the insurance cannot be purchased via internet. I nearly gave up joining the volunteer work, but on the day I arrived in Tokyo, I obtained the insurance at a local volunteer centre.

Although I am not going to criticise the system (the insurance is a kind of special insurance set up only in Japan), I wonder how foreign volunteers can arrange for this insurance. For those who are not Japanese but who would like to do volunteer works with TMN, it is probably better to find international organisations which have a formal relationship with TMN.

On the morning at TMN, there were many volunteers: university students, other volunteer groups from different parts of Japan, a retired CEO of a world famous company, a group of high school students and some foreigners. I met two guys from Hong Kong and an Australian couple who live in Japan. They were really keen on working for the people. On the second day, five university students from Hawaii joined the relief efforts.

At the end of March 2012, TMN mainly sent volunteers to two areas: Otsuchi and Kamaishi. Both towns were badly hit by the disaster and many people were killed by the tsunami and some of the survivors still live in temporary houses.

I was in the group working in Hakozaki ward of Kamaishi city. Although the recovery plans at the city centre progress, there are some buildings which display the deadly impact by the disaster.

Before we reached Hakozaki, our bus passed through the huge piles of debris. The piles were countless and they were really huge. Recently, there have been heated debates everywhere in Japan; which local governments should accept this debris? Only a few councils have announced that they will take them. The others cannot convince their residents. The Japanese government has had to urge them to accept. Unless these piles are taken away from Kamaishi and the other towns and villages, the recovery plans are not going to start properly.

According to the leader of Hakozaki group, this village was the last one to accept TMN’s offer to support because the first outsiders to reach the village after the earthquake and tsunami were thieves. The residents did not want any more outsiders, even if they said they were the volunteers coming to help the village. However, TMN provide its support everyday and the residents eventually accepted them and now both sides discuss recovery plans in a mature manner.

At Hakozaki, we removed small debris from the base of the ruined houses. The leader admitted that this activity was not a major work, but for some residents in Hakozaki, it is encouraging. Seeing their houses cleared up and clearly recognising where their houses used to be, the villagers can psychologically put an end to their grief and this will enable them to move on.

We worked for three hours every day. You may say, “only three hours?”: it was a hard job. Our rubber boots were immediately covered by thick mud once we started working and roof tiles covered with the mud had to be removed by two or three volunteers. The activity was well supervised by the leader of our group. If the weather is not good, TMN may cancel their relief efforts to protect volunteers.

Personally, I was overwhelmed on many levels. I had not been to Iwate before and I do not have family and friends there. However, the experience of working with the other volunteers, both Japanese and non-Japanese, for the victims who need our supports, has helped me to think about the importance of our relationships.

On the one hand, there are some people who try to restore the once-lost relationship in the devastated areas. On the other hand, there are some local councils that do not want to take the debris away from Tohoku in to their own back yard. I have been criticised by some people that I cannot understand why people do not want to accept the debris because I do not live in Japan for the moment. I cannot reply to this type of criticism. However, I strongly feel, after joining TMN, that we all need to support and help address this horrifying experience. If we fail to share this national tragedy, I am afraid that it will take longer time for Tohoku and its people and need more energy to restore their lives than they hope.

Another thing I would like to stress is the people there need more support. What TMN fears is that the others seem to start to forget. The people who struggle to re-establish their lives there are ordinary people who are not privileged to have huge resources.

Last July, on behalf of a Japanese media I interviewed Ms Sylvie Guillem who has done many charity performances to raise the fund for the victims. During our conversation, I was impressed by her thoughts for the people. She said:
“Some people say that since Japan is the wealthiest country they do not need money from other countries.
Yes, Japan is a rich country, but the people have lost their family, beloved people, houses, memories and everything. It will take incredibly long time to recover from the tragedy. Under this situation, it does not make any sense to say Japan is a rich country. People need support. This is why I want to continue my support for them.”

http://www.flickr.com/photos/89578620@N00/sets/72157629816714861/

On the 3rd of April, I flew to Naha city, the capital city of Okinawa. A big storm went through all over Japan on that day and I was lucky to catch a flight to Okinawa in the morning. Later, a friend of mine told me that I had brought a gale with me from the UK to Japan.

Hardly known outside of Japan, in May this year Okinawa is to celebrate 40 years of anniversary when it became again a part of Japan after being under the US occupation resulting from the Japan’s defeat in WW2. Since 1972, the people in Okinawa, who call themselves Uchi nan chu, an Okinawan dialect, have tried very hard to reduce the number of the US bases in Okinawa. Okinawa is the fourth smallest prefecture in Japan, but it has 70% of the US base in Japan. There have been no changes.

Again, people who do not live in Japan rarely know that Okinawa is the only place that became a battlefield just a few months before WW2 ended. Many Okinawans died and actually some Okinawans were forced to kill themselves by the then Japanese army who did not allow Okinawans to surrender to US soldiers. The Japanese army urged Okinawans to throw themselves from cliffs, and if they did not, the soldiers pushed them off the edge of the cliff.

Okinawans do not forget this, but the Japanese living in the mainland may not be familiar with this part of the Japanese history since we are not properly taught about this massacre in school. This means that non-Okinawans may not be able to empathise with the Okinawans’ emotional struggle. They do not want to bring the US base in to their back yard from Okinawa.

Because North Korea has claimed that they are to launch their satellite/missile, the Japanese government has sent the troops of Jiei-tai to Okinawa. For those who do not live in Okinawa, it is welcomed to protect Japan from North Korea. However, I wonder what Okinawans feel seeing the Jiei-tai bring the weapons onto the soil of Okinawa at the dawn of the anniversary.


Japan is my homeland and I love my country. However, it seems to me that Japan is struggling to restore relationships within and between its people and communities. The tragedy of Tohoku and Okinawa might not be connected, but in terms of relationships, people’s attitude of NIMBY-ness prevents the people both in Tohoku and Okinawa from establishing their bonds with the others. Japan and the Japanese need to challenge themselves to move on towards a promising future by considering the meaning of relationship.

How to get
To Tohoku, from Tokyo to Shin-Hanamaki by Tohoku super express, then change to Kamaishi line to Tono. It takes 4 or 5 hours. It may be convenient for those, who do not live in Japan, to use the fixed price JR Pass which allows them to use JR network without paying extra.

To Okinawa, JAL, JTA and ANA operate their flights daily from Haneda airport, Tokyo. When using any flights of One World, for instance, British Airways, to Japan, JAL offers a kind of discount tickets, called [Yokoso]. Availability depends on season and national holidays in Japan.

Both JR Pass and Yokoso need to be paid and booked before you leave your country for Japan.


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Comment

- かんとく

掲載が実現せず残念でしたね。スタイルが違うというのはどういうことなんですかね?
2017.03.12 Sun 06:54 URL [ Edit ]

- 守屋

かんとく さん

 記事の出だしの「つかみ」の部分をどれだけコンパクトに、且つ強力に読み手の興味を惹くことができるか、だそうです。判っては居るんですが、思考回路を変えるのは容易ではないです。それと、日本人からの視点と、イギリス人の視点では、興味の対象が日本人の視点では大したことないと思えることに、イギリス人は興味を惹かれることもあるだろうと。これが難しいです。
2017.03.12 Sun 07:56 URL [ Edit ]

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