the BIG CLEAN – Miyako Field Report

Working in the park

I hope all of you who live in Japan had a great Golden Week, and for those overseas we hope you are all doing very well. All of us here at volunteerAKITA really appreciate your support, be it from volunteering with us, donating money for the Fruit Tree Project, providing encouragement to keep things moving, and for spreading the word about this website and what it is we do here. Your support is the reason we are where we are now. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Golden week here in Japan is basically several national holidays that almost line up to provide a weeklong holiday at the start of May. It is a very popular time of the year for travel and cherry blossom viewing. This year many people decided to give up their time and volunteer on the east coast. Here at volunteerAKITA we took groups to two locations: Miyako and Kessennuma.

On Saturday 30th April we arrived in Miyako bright and early and our 5 volunteers, including volunteers from Shizuoka, Iwate and Akita, merged into the volunteer community which was organised by the main Fukushi Center in Miyako City(宮古市総合福祉センター). We were set to work in Fureai Park (ふれあい公園)which is right next to the Center.   This park is on the banks of the Heigawa River (閉伊川)and is about 2-3 km long. Our first job was spreading lime (some form of calcium) on the ground which helps neutralise the damage done to the soil by the salt water. Later in the day we moved on to removing the 5cm layer of mud that covered the entire park. This is a very slow and manual labour job. We used shovels, hoes and wheelbarrows to take up and move the mud to piles on the side. It will take months, maybe a full year, to finish removing the mud from the park!

Day 2 in Miyako we had 11 volunteers which included volunteers who came from Kyoto and Shiga prefectures! We spent the day cleaning drains that ran beside streets. This was easily the most difficult day in terms of labour. First we removed the heavy cement slabs (about 50kgs) that covered the drains, and then removed the sludge before returning the cement slabs again. The force of the tsunami rushed through the drains and actually washed many of these slabs up and down a train line. These had to be located, dug out, and carried back. The work tough, but the local people who we were working with were all working with smiles on their faces, joking and laughing with us, all happy to be fixing what had been destroyed. And that encouraged all of us to work more, and I think it’s fair to say that it even allowed people to enjoy the work they were doing.

May 2ndwas actually a work day here in Japan, so if many of the volunteers took time off work to participate with us.  Today we had a lovely girl come all the way from Kyushu to join our group! It was an incredibly windy day in Miyako. So windy in fact that many of the jobs could not be done and many of the volunteers were left without jobs for the day. The

Group shot

volunteerAKITA group of 7 was sent to a shop for the day. We removed tables, chairs, boxes etc. to the street and washed the mud off, as well as chasing the boxes down the street when they blew away!! We also mopped the floor, cleaned the walls, repaired the shutters and boarded up the broken windows. The lady who owned the shop was absolutely delighted with our help. And during our break in the morning she gave us all coffee and snacks and shared her stories from the tsunami with us.

Outside Fukushi

Day 4 was a huge day for volunteerAKITA. We greeted 9 new volunteers from Shizuoka who drove all through the night, to arrive safely in Miyako! We also had 2 new guys from Akita arrive, and a girl from Niigata which in total brought our group to a very impressive 19 members! We were split into 3 groups, 1 went to the park to remove mud like we had done on the first day, and the 2 other groups went to elderly people homes to help clean up gardens.

On May 4th we were 15 volunteers strong. And at the park there was a large event going on as part of the Miyako Children’s Spring Festival (みやこ春のこどもまつり). We helped out with setting up tents, directing traffic, serving food, and also helped with entertaining kids. It was great to see all the children running around and laughing in (a small area of) the park that we had been cleaning in previous days. The main event was Pro Wrestling. A full size wrestling ring was erected and for an hour and a half various fights took place. Various sponsors provided free food and drinks to all who attended the event!

Day 6, our last day in Miyako, saw the number of volunteers return to 6 members. The morning started with us walking through the park, and forming piles from the debris the scattered the park. We collected all sorts of debris, fishing nets, chairs, car bumpers, tree branches, all sorts of plastic, and we removed many things from the streams flowing through the park too, including a huge cement filled roller! Then another event started as it was Children’s Day in Japan. This event was much smaller and more relaxed than the previous day’s event. And we all participated in making the event run smoothly while entertaining the kids. We were in charge of the long skipping rope 😀

So that is a brief outline of the actual work we did in Miyako. Of course much more than that happened. We met many amazing people, both Japanese and foreigners, who came from all over Japan, and formed many new friendships. We saw and met many amazingly courageous people who are working tirelessly to restore their city, businesses and homes to what they were like on March 10th.We saw a level of destruction that we hope never happens anywhere again. We spent much time together in the evening, sharing stories, laughs, drinks, soccer games, juggling sticks, contact information, etc. All the volunteers seemed to form a connection with Miyako and all expressed their interest in returning again in the near future, and many wished they could have stayed for longer. It’s definitely easy to become emotionally connected with an area that has been so affected by the tsunami.

We  would like to thank all of the volunteers who joined us; Kimry, Tomoe, Jeff, Malcome, Cesar, Louise, Molly, Kenji, Dean, Bryan, David, Keliko, John, Dereck, Valarut, Michael, Nicholas, James, Adam, Karen, Toby,  Rebecca, Emi, Chu, Cesar.  We had a total of 25 volunteers participate on this visit and between us we provided about 65 days of volunteer work!! Which is AMAZING!!!!!!!!!

During the week we were usually partnered with a small, but very helpful, Japanese group from Tokyo; Mami our mammy, Ken the juggler and Katu.

We also would like to thank the people who made this all happen; Mark took care of the admin side of things, and Minami was instrumental in setting up the connection with our main contact in Miyako. Chieko Sugawara was our main contact who was helpful in every way possible. Reiko from the Miyako Fukushi Center ! Thanks to the Fukushi Center in Kamikoani who sponsored all the insurance cards for everyone! And during the week we had the Japanese people and fluent speakers in our group provide exceptional help; Jeff helped us find the actual meeting location in Miyako! Tomoe provided all the translations on the first day! Mami we all LOVE you, thank you for everything! Kenji you rock! Emi thank you so much!!!

Let’s do it again!



One Comment on “the BIG CLEAN – Miyako Field Report”

  1. Seth Ford says:

    Yeah I was there to helping wifes town… It was nice meeting you all. Thanks for coming to Miyako.

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