volunteerAKITA has established contacts in Kesennuma, Miyagi – Miyako, Iwate – Rikuzentakata, Iwate – PLEASE contact us if you are interested in volunteering in these areas, and we can give you all the information you need. Please refer to the “Contacts” page and contact the specified Project Co-ordinator for the area you are interested in heading to. Tohoku needs us right now! We hope you can find time to volunteer!
– volunteerAKITA crew
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
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.
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!
It all started out last Saturday evening in Shizukuishi (just outside Morioka), Iwate, when 12 eager volunteers turned up at Minshuku Nakagawa to rest up for the night. We enjoyed the legendary dinner and small amount of doburoku. Bright Dark and early the next morning we all arose at 5am for breakfast before headed to Morioka to meet the rest of our volunteer group who had departed much earlier, coming directly to Morioka on Sunday morning.
Our group of 21 was both international and interprefectural. We had Canadians, Americans, Irish, English, Filipinos, South Africans, and Japanese and although the volunteers came mainly from Akita we had a very enthusiastic individual come from Tsuruoka, Yamagata and two more come from Tokyo!! Taihen otsukaresama deshita!!
We joined up with Yuicco in Morioka, and after checking in we received our insurance cards (good for 1 full year!!), as well as name tags, maps of the local area and general information. And at 7:30 we departed Morioka and headed east for about 2 hours before arriving in Miyako.
On entering the town things appeared to be pretty normal, but as we approached the coastline the damage quickly became apparent. At first it was easy to notice the remains of the mud that had been cleaned from the streets. Then building which had the ground floor destroyed, but were now boarded up. Next we passed boats lying on the side of streets, and then completely destroyed buildings! Many buildings were spray painted with dates and Japanese writing, presumably indicating that they had been searched for bodies.
We continued to our meeting point near Miyako-shi Shimin Bunka Kaikan (宮古市市民文化会館) where we met some local people who were there to coordinate the volunteers. The first group to depart consisted of 4 Akita volunteers, 6 Morioka volunteers and some local residents and departed to a Temple called Kabusan Kousanji (神峯山 江山寺). The rest of the people went to a nearby park.
The group at the temple was busy replacing fallen grave stones, retrieving buried statues from under the rubble, and clearing all the debris that surrounded the temple. This was all done manually as machines couldn’t possibly clear the debris without causing further damage to the temple itself. All the debris was piled for machines to remove at a later time.
Over at the park the volunteers were busy removing a 2-3cm layer of mud that covered the park. They used shovels and other equipment to scrape and remove the mud. Once the mud was removed calcium was spread on the soil to dissolve the excess salt that was absorbed into the ground from the seawater.
It was interesting to note that at both sites there wasn’t a bad smell. Perhaps it was due to the rain that had fallen the previous day, or how open and vented both areas were. On Sunday the weather in Miyako was AMAZING! It rained all the previous day, and even on the way to Miyako it rained slightly too. But by the time we had arrived the sun was out, and it made for perfect working conditions.
Our Temple group was working clearing debrib with all sorts of broken boards, glass and all sorts of things. There were many nails sticking out of boards and rusty metal was an issue too. But we were delighted to report that there were no notable injuries from any of the volunteers!
While driving back after working at the temple we passed many old people working away on their land. They were struggling with the mud and debris that was left in the wake of the worst disaster to have hit this area. And in the background was the huge 3m high tsunami breaker. The 10m high tsunami that rushed over this wall, like it wasn’t even there, was unimaginable!
Also piled up by the port was a HUGE pile of debris, presumably waiting to be shipped south where it will be burned in incinerators.
All the fellow volunteers and volunteer organizers warmly welcomed the volunteers from Akita. They were very grateful to see such a large number of people volunteer their time to help out.
Also a huge thank you to all the volunteers who participated, you helped make a huge difference in the lives of the people you helped. We all look forward to volunteering with you again in the future if possible. Thanks to Mark for pioneering this idea and making all the arrangements with Yuicco, without you help this event would not have happened.
This is the start of very good things. Let’s try to keep the ball rolling!
Yuicco organize volunteer trips to go down every Sunday from Morioka.
And we are also organizing a group to go there during Golden Week (from April 29th).
If you would like to become involved please feel free to contact us here at volunteerAKITA. We can provide you with all the information needed to participate.