It’s been an incredible experience

Four years ago, volunteerAKITA opened its doors in order to help bring relief to the Tohoku area devestated by the March 11 disasters. We’ve had an unbelievable time doing whatever we could to assist those in need. With our directors moving on to another country this coming April, it is time to officially close the book on volunteerAKITA.

From our initial initiatives, The Fruit Tree Project and The Big Clean, volunteerAKITA was proud to provide a way for people in the Tohoku area to support each other. The buzzword of that year was “kizuna” (絆) which means “bonds” and while we helped promote that idea, we truly felt it in our hearts. The volunteerAKITA Scholarship Fund and FAIR Takata continued our mission to provide assistance in the recovery process. As an organization, volunteerAKITA has touched the lives of both the people we have helped and the volunteers who selflessly gave up their time, money, and energy to give back to the Japanese community that we have called our home. KK and I could not be happier or prouder of what we accomplished during the last four years, and we want to thank everyone who has lent us their help in anyway.

We’d especially like to thank the founders of volunteerAKITA, Paul Yoo and Minami Ishikawa. Without their “can do” spirit, volunteerAKITA would not have existed at all. We’d also like to thank Andy Anderson and the Taylor Anderson Memorial Fund for all of their support and strength despite such tragic circumstances. To Smile Kids Japan and Michael Maher-King we owe a great deal of gratitude for connecting us with orphanages in need around the Tohoku area. To Amya Miller and the city staff at Rikuzentakata, we are so happy that you invited us to your city to put on such a fun event. We hope the good memories and feelings from that day continue to spread throughout the city. Finally, to all the wonderful volunteers that helped make volunteerAKITA happen, we can’t thank you enough. Todd, Owen, Michiko, Randy, Melissa, Jeff, Anne, Alicia, Ryan and everyone else who volunteered their time or came out to our events, KK and I truly appreciate what you have done, we will never forget, and the people of Tohoku will never forget you, thank you.

The relief efforts are not over yet for Tohoku, thousands of people are still dealing with the disaster and we won’t stop supporting them even though we are leaving Japan. Please continue to think of Tohoku and those who were affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011. Our hearts go out to each of you and we will always be looking for ways to help Tohoku and Japan in the future.

Thank you again.

KK Miller and Jon Hui
Co-Directors of volunteerAKITA


volunteerAKITA Transition Update

After over a year of volunteering and relief efforts with support from people all around the world, volunteerAKITA, under the outstanding leadership and direction of Paul and Minami, is pleased to welcome two new directors, Jon and KK.  They hope to drive volunteerAKITA to the next level building upon the ideas and foundations achieved by Paul and Minami.  Jon has been working in the background for volunteerAKITA, responsible for the website and media logistics. KK joined immediately after beginning work in Japan and has not stopped in her endeavors to make volunteerAKITA even greater. Under their direction, volunteerAKITA will continue to provide both volunteer opportunities and donations to affected areas of the Great Tohoku Earthquake of 2011 as well as creating new projects to foster greater internationalism between Japan and the world. All of us at volunteerAKITA would like to thank Paul and Minami for setting the right tone and energy when starting volunteerAKITA and for the absolutely amazing things they have done for anyone affected by the disasters.  We wish them the very best, and hope that their new adventures are the most fantastic yet.

Now a word from the two new directors, Jon and KK.

From the beginning volunteerAKITA has seen an amazing amount of support, volunteering and donations from the people in Akita and also from people living around the world. With the conclusion of the Fruit Tree Project and non-specialized volunteer opportunities dwindling, volunteerAKITA looked to provided a scholarship to an orphan living in Sendai, Japan. With the generous donations from people around the world, we successfully raised enough money to support this orphan in going to university. Again, to everyone who has helped us thus far, we send to you a heart-felt and greatly deserved thank you!

Now, volunteerAKITA is pleased to announce its newest project for the future. The first is to create a permanent scholarship fund for orphans in Tohoku wishing to attend university. The scholarship would be of varying amounts from as low as 100,000 with the potential for renewal of the scholarship upon successful completion of the previous academic year. We will be looking to reach out to more orphanages in the Tohoku area to spread the word of a bursary they can apply for.  Look for our proposal in the near future.

VolunteerAKITA was born from the desire to “get out and volunteer”. In order to continue these goals our second project is to establish a routine, monthly visitation opportunity to orphanages in Akita. We, along with other JETs in Akita, spent a fantastic morning making crafts and capes for a dozen children at an orphanage in early July. The director’s eyes sparkled when we asked if we could come again and happily suggested that maybe next time we could sing English songs. More detailed information about the date of the next visit will be made shortly.

Again, thank you to everyone who has helped volunteerAKITA thus far and we look forward to all our opportunities together in the future!

– Jon and KK

JETAAi Volunteer Day – Rikuzentakata, Iwate

OTSUKARE! and a BIG thanks to Il son for all the pics!

October 23, 2011 – I wasn’t in Japan when the earthquake and subsequent tsunami hit. Even so, the loss, the pain, and the grieving, I sympathized whole-heartedly with the country that I had grown to love when I had studied abroad less than a year before. While in America, I helped anyway I could through relief efforts and donations, but I knew, especially after being accepted into the JET program that I wanted to volunteer, however I could, in the affected areas. I was always asking people, “What can I do to help?”

My first chance at this came this past weekend when JET alumni that are part of JETAAi, partnered with current JET’s teaching in Akita and Iwate, came together and slipped and splattered around in Rikuzentakata. Most of us had to be awake at 4am so that we could meet with our fellow volunteers in Kita-Kami at 6am.  There we loaded onto a bus and headed over to Rikuzentakata. Even at 6am, not generally a human-favored hour, the drive was beautiful. Fall is at its peak right now and the colors on the trees are some of the best I have ever seen. Tohoku is truly beautiful.

Then you turn a corner.

Images prepare you for what you will see.  Television provides firsthand accounts of the sadness and pain of the people living there.  Nothing can prepare you though for what you’ll actually feel when you are there.  Only a few buildings remain, and they are empty carcasses that remind you of the tragedy.  There is no noise but the occasional car that is zipping by, rushing to be free of the silence.  Even smell, the odor of fish that many seaside towns possess has disappeared.

The Rikuzentakata Volunteer Center outfitted our group with equipment, which included: shovels, wheelbarrows, boots and rubber gloves.  Then it was go time. Time to help, time to do our part.  For several hours, we trudged through the muck, sticking our gloved hands into it and then trying to figure out if what we pulled out was burnable or not.  We found everything: tires, teacups, bed posts, clothes, rope, photo negatives, lamps, cards, puzzles, an entire house.  While going through the items, developing a profile as to what kind of people lived in this house, I kept thinking, “I wonder if they’re alive…I really hope that they’re alive.”
Being there is sad.  Seeing the ruins of a once very populated city is hard.  Yet even amongst such destruction and disaster, there is a very prominent feeling of hope.  I felt this when we were digging through grime, sweating from our efforts and getting so frustrated at these green sheets of metal that were intertwined with the dirt and wood, making them almost impossible to get out.  Even through the frustration and emptiness, we were still smiling.  It was pretty funny to get splattered with mud and exciting when we finally separated something from the grips of the earth.  Being together, working towards a goal, doing our part to help this city, and seeing the progress that has already been made in the cleanup and recovery is something to smile and feel hopeful about. We also looked and smelled fantastic!

Our day ended after we met Futoshi Toba-san, the mayor of Rikuzentakata.  In all honesty, I expected him to be sad, old and weighed down by the magnitude of everything that has happened to him and his city.  He couldn’t be more opposite of this.  He is young and vibrant, a leader and believer that his city will recover from the destruction. Best of all though is that he smiles and he laughs.  He wholeheartedly appreciated our efforts of the day, thanking us over and over again.

After meeting the Toba-san and working together with the other JET’s and JETAAi members, I know that my part in volunteering is far from over, because Rikuzentakata is not an empty wasteland. It is a blank canvass where we brought ourselves to fill the void of emptiness, our laughter to break the silence and the smell of our sweat to remind us that Rikuzentakata is alive and ready to be rebuilt.  It’s not a question of  “What can I do to help Rikuzentakata?” but a statement. “The next time you go there, you call me.”

(A special thank you VolunteerAKITA, JETAAi, the Rikuzentakata Volunteer Center, Toba-san and all the current JETs that went with me to Rikuzentakata. You rock!)


the BIG CLEAN – Kamaishi field report

September 23, 2011 – Our crew was off to an early start on Friday September 23rd. Nikki (our dedicated driver), Ben, Ali and I set off just after 5am in the morning. Our destination: Kamaishi, Iwate-Ken. What a beautiful drive! We enjoyed the sweeping, majestic mountains and lovely rural landscapes the whole way there.

The small city of Kamaishi is located on the Sanriku rias coast of Iwate.  Much of this area was devastated by the tsunami on March 11th.  We were early for our registration and orientation at the Kamaishi City Volunteer Centre.  Our crew decided to do a little exploring in the area. It didn’t take long before we came across buildings that had been toppled by the tsunami. The remaining buildings had suffered from severe damage to the first storey.  We can only imagine that these buildings will all have to be completely torn down and rebuilt.  The most shocking site for us was a massive cargo ship called Asia Symphony that was beached on the Kamaishi pier. The 175, 000 tonne ship left us breathless and in awe of the power of the tsunami. We were reminded of just how lucky we had been in our areas of Akita-Ken where some food shortages and fuel shortages were our main concerns after the great earthquake and tsunami. It was humbling to see the amount of damage and loss suffered in Kamaishi.

A few days before our journey to Iwate, we had signed up over the phone to volunteer.  At the moment, the nature of the volunteer positions available are changing and slowing down but by no means stopping.  There is so much to do! We were picked up at the volunteer centre by a man called Ebihara-san.  He works for a volunteer association called Let’s Walk Together! which will stay open for two years to help with various tasks related to clean-up and relief. Several Christian denominations are working in cooperation to run this organization.  That day we worked alongside Deacon Yoshino from Chiba and Miyuka-san from Hokkaido.

We were put to work cleaning photographs that had been salvaged from the
wreckage. The photographs were cleaned using wet wipes, cotton ear buds, water and tissue. Some of the photographs had been so drenched by seawater that much of the picture just wiped away. We were told to concentrate on preserving the faces.  The faces in the photographs would be important to the owner of the photograph or possibly family members. After the photographs were repaired, they were dried and then put in photo albums. Amazingly, though many of the photographs had been badly damaged, they were made beautiful again as a collection of memories.  We were told that the albums would be displayed and members of the community would search through them to find their missing treasures. During the day we cleaned many photos that included the same cute and fun-loving woman. Through her rescued album, we were privy to her adventures and friendships over the years.  We nicknamed her Keiko-san. Miyuka-san and I had a touching conversation in mixed Japanese and English. I explained that I hoped that Keiko-san would find her charming photos again someday. Miuka-san agreed but explained that Keiko-san could be ‘sleeping’. It’s a heartbreaking possibility, and so, we hoped that the photos would end up with someone who cares/cared about Keiko.  For someone they will be memories well worth the rescue.

Cleaning photos is not a very physically demanding task but we felt that it was an
amazing experience and an important task in a very personal way. That day we got to play a part in saving something very special for people who have lost so much.  We were moved by the long-term efforts of the volunteers in Kamaishi, some of who were long ways from home. Our crew was inspired to work in the community again. Maybe next time we will spend a couple of days in Kamaishi. Not only will we most certainly have another rewarding volunteering experience but we’ll also get a chance to check out the exquisite Dai Kannon statue holding a fish and looking out over Kamaishi Bay. She is an incarnation of Bosatsu and symbolizes maritime safety and good fishing. Hopefully she also stands as a symbol of hope for a community that is in the midst of rebuilding.


*UPDATE* July 27, 2011

The Fruit Tree Project reaches the $20,000 mark!  A big thanks to all of our supporters and donors.  To date, we have raised ¥1,610,560 ($20,533) and delivered ~37,002 items of fruit!!! while the BIG CLEAN initiative has logged ~818 hours of volunteering!

As always you can take a closer look at our numbers right here.


There are still thousands of people living in shelters across Tohoku, and many are still eating the same food provided by the government on a daily basis.  The need for fresh fruit is still very apparent in many of these cities and towns, therefore we plan to continue The Fruit Tree Project for as long as we can.

Besides our on going activities, we are now in full swing with the “Smiles & Dreams” project lead by LivingDreams/SmileKidsJapan.  We are currently Home Communication Managers (HCMs) for 2 orphanages in the Sendai area, which means we will be in close contact with them to help provide any requests or needs they may have now or in the future.  volunteerAKITA is excited to be involved in this project and a BIG THANKS to LivingDreams and SmileKidsJapan for giving us this opportunity and for doing such amazing things for orphans in Japan. Much Love.


the BIG CLEAN – Ishinomaki Field Report

Group shot!

July 4, 2011-This weekend we were doing two projects, The Fruit Tree Project on Saturday and the Big Clean on Sunday. In the morning, after breakfast and saying  goodbye to our wonderful hosts, we arrived at the volunteer center at Senshu University. Driving in, tents were scattered over the campus grounds and we had no doubts as to whether or not we were in the right place. We changed, gathered our shovels and headed to the working site with another team of 30 or so Japanese volunteers. The site was in a pretty clean and well off neighborhood, so I was definitely curious as to what we would be cleaning.

Our job was to lift the cement lids of “gaijin traps” and shovel out the sediment inside. The sediment was black as ink, smelly and glistening with gasoline – gloves, goggles and face masks were a must. We got to work, two people to a team, and started shoveling it in to bags. We got pretty close to finishing around 2pm when our friends from NBC showed up.  The day before, the crew had been following us and taking footage during our fruit deliveries. They told us to ignore them like flies on the wall, but it’s really hard not to laugh when there is a giant camera in your face. We finished our cleaning, chatted with the camera crew and then said our goodbyes to the Japanese team.

At first, the impact of our cleaning wasn’t outwardly apparent, we were not cleaning rubble from the streets or repairing shrines. But as the families came out of their houses to thank us, we could really see the appreciation for the work that we had done.  It was a great day and I think everyone felt that what they accomplished that day was worthwhile.

– Margaret

*UPDATE* July 4, 2011

Group shot!

Just got back from a BIG weekend down in Ishinomaki, Miyagi this past weekend!  We delivered ~4,474 items of fruit to 21 shelters and a small community of about 200 people.  A BIG THANKS to our 25 awesome volunteers (10 vehicles) who helped us deliver on Saturday!  Some shelters are receiving fruit once in awhile, but definitely aren’t getting it regularly.  We have now established a great fruit source in Ishinomaki, so we look forward to getting back down there and reaching out to more shelters in the area.  To date, The Fruit Tree Project has raised 1,538,752 yen ($19,048) and delivered ~35,518 items of fruit!  A BIG THANKS TO EVERYONE FOR ALL THE SUPPORT!!!

As always, you can take a closer look at our numbers right here.


And a very special shout out to everyone who helped out this past weekend! Ya’ll ROCK!

Jane, Kat, Henry, Karissa, Aaron, Mike, Jake, Jess, Minami, Anne, Masato, Alicia, Jon, Steph, Margs, Liyen, Maka, Ashley, Rye, Wil, Dave, Zikon, Melissa, and Mel!!!!