Japan: Reading Picture Books to Kindergarteners in Fukushima Prefecture

"Due to radiation concerns, the children have only been allowed to play outside 5 times.”

February 23rd, 2012- The children at Tachibana Kindergarten listen intently as Miyo ITO (left) of AAR JAPAN reads the picture book, “Not Mines, but Flowers.” (Koriyama City, Fukushima Prefecture)

On February 23rd, 2012, Association for Aid and Relief, Japan (AAR JAPAN) visited Tachibana Kindergarten in Koriyama City, Fukushima Prefecture. In addition to reading the picture book “Not Mines, but Flowers”, AAR JAPAN delivered 90 hand-made tote bags that were collected from supporters all over Japan, as well as delivering 90 boxes of chocolate with messages collected through AAR JAPAN’s Heart-Warming Chocolate Delivery Campaign.

There were once 100 children at Tachibana Kindergarten, but after the March 11th earthquake, 30 children evacuated outside of Fukushima Prefecture. At the same time, 15 new children entered the school from Kawauchi Village, Tomioka Town, Namie Town, and Minami-Soma City, all of which are located within the 20-km evacuation zone around Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station.

Koriyama City is located far from the nuclear plant, but some areas of the city continue to record high levels of radiation. Ms. Yuko TANIZU, director of the kindergarten, told us of the three dosimeters that have been set up in the kindergarten. “We allow the children to play outside only when the dosimeters record less than 0.5 micro Sieverts per hour. Unfortunately, the children have only been able to play outside five times since the earthquake. We tried to decontaminate the yard, replaced the sand in the sandbox, and cut down our hiba trees (a kind of cypress), which are believed to absorb radiation. We are trying our best to create a safe environment for the children.” Ms. TANIZU asked for our support in holding a social event where the children could enjoy playing indoors in order to relieve the stress of being contained inside for so long.

“Their eyes were shining. It was different from usual.”

When we arrived at the kindergarten, all the children sat in the hall in anticipation. Published by AAR JAPAN, the picture book “Not Mines, but Flowers” features Sunny-chan, AAR JAPAN’s rabbit mascot, in a story about the victims of landmines in recovering war-torn nations. The content seemed difficult for kindergarteners, but they all listened intently. While listening they made enthusiastic comments such as, “I went to foreign countries, too,” or “I’ve heard of Sunny-chan!

When the book was done, the children were very excited to have Sunny-chan appear right in front of them! They lined up to receive chocolate from Sunny-chan, saying “Thank you” and shaking hands, exchanging high fives, and hugging her. The children also received hand-made tote bags with Sunny-chan key chains, which they brought back home with care. “They look really happy,” Ms. TANIZU told us. “Their eyes are shining. It’s totally different from usual. We also really appreciate the messages that accompanied the chocolate and bags.”

A child gives Sunny-chan a high five as she receives her chocolate. 

Children receive hand-made tote bags sent from all over the country. Some played with the stuffed toys on the Sunny-chan key chains. 

Radiation, Unemployment, Health: Concerns Never Seem to End

When the children’s parents came to pick them up after the event, we spoke to two mothers living in subsidized apartments in Koriyama City. They had both relocated from towns within the evacuation zone, having drifted for months from one temporary shelter to another. The first, from Namie Town, had two boys aged 6 and 4. Her concerns never seemed to end. “We used to live in a big family of 10, three generations of us together,” she said. “But now we all live separately. My husband quit his job at the Fukushima nuclear power station, but he couldn’t find any other work. We’re worried about our parents’ health, but we’re seldom able to see them. We want them to see our boys.”

Children and parents keep a dosimeter with them at all times. If only they could remove it and play outside freely…

The other mother had two girls, one 5 and the other 18 months. Her husband is currently working at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station, handling the aftermath of the accident at the 3rd reactor. “I can only see my husband once every two weeks. My children cry more often since we evacuated. My grandparents survived the tsunami, but they died at the nursing home where they were evacuated. We moved to a subsidized apartment, and sometimes I don’t talk to anyone at all because we don’t know the neighbors. We don’t get information from anyone. I want to find someone to take care of my second girl so I can go work, but there is nowhere to go. I want the children to play outside, but they can’t because of the radiation. Since the disaster, my first child hasn’t been able to practice riding the bicycle, so I worry that she’ll never learn how.” She had so many worries and concerns. However, when she received the hand-made tote bag and chocolate, she smiled and looked happy. “I really appreciate everyone’s warm support. It’s really nice of them to send us these bags and hand-written messages.”

One year has passed since the earthquake. AAR JAPAN will continue providing support to the disaster-affected people of Fukushima Prefecture, as well as linking our supporters to people in the disaster zone.

Children carefully cling to their chocolates and messages. “Where did Sunny-chan come from?” “He floated down on a dandelion puff to bring chocolate for everyone.” “Wow!” 

See the following link for more on Sunny-chan and the picture book “Not Mines, but Flowers”, published by AAR JAPAN: 

Miyo ITO, PR Department, Tokyo Office