Japan: Seasonal Events for Victims in Fukushima Prefecture

In the disaster affected areas, there are many people who are struggling physically or are feeling much stress from having to live in temporary housing for so long. When AAR Japan’s staff visited temporary housing complexes in Sukagawa City in Fukushima Prefecture, the president of the residents’ association came to us and asked, “Do you think we can organize something that’ll be enjoyable for everyone, that’ll just lift everyone’s spirits?” After some planning, we decided to hold Japanese traditional and seasonal festivals such as “Hanami (cherry blossom viewing)” and “Koinobori (carp streamers)”

CHORUS in the Bus while Cherry Blossom Viewing

On April 15th and 22nd, we organized an event that we called “Singing Bus Tour.” The plan was to go around the city of Sukagawa with its residents on a bus rented out from the social welfare committee. The bus went around to all the cherry blossom viewing sites in Sukugawa, while the passengers continued to sing in a chorus while on route.  
Many people living in temporary housing participated in the tour: 35 on the 15th, and 30 people on the 22nd. An electric keyboard was set up inside the bus, and the pianist Tomoko YAMAZAKI was there to play popular songs and nursery rhymes for us to sing along to.

Because the cherry blossoms blossomed late this year, we unfortunately could not visit many sites. However, the participants enjoyed going to famous sites such as Iwase Farm, and eating lunch boxes out in Fukushima Airport Park. Both the participants and the members of the social welfare committee were very happy at the end of the day, and asked us, “Please make this an annual event!”
April, 22nd, 2012 – The bus rolls along as its passengers sing traditional Japanese songs in chorus (Sukagawa City, Fukushima Prefecture)
April, 22nd, 2012 – We were able to see cherry blossoms almost in full bloom in the downtown area of Sukagawa City. (The woman in the center is the pianist Tomoko YAMAZAKI (Sukagawa City, Fukushima Prefecture)

170 Carps Swimming in the Sky

In April 29th, as a part of its “Building Healthy Communities Project,” AAR Japan held an event at the Elderly Support Center of Yunuki Town in Soma City, Fukushima Prefecture, hawse have been implementing this same project in Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures since July, 2011. Specifically, we have been holding regional community events such as massage sessions, health exercise sessions, and counseling, with the goal that those affected by the disaster can regain their health, both physically and psychologically, as soon as possible. This was the first time an event was held in Fukushima Prefecture. Since Children’s Day (May 5th) was very near, we decided to hold an event where the participants can make their own carps to fly as carp streamers on this national holiday.

April 29th, 2012 – The “Koinobori” that everyone made are swimming in the sky (Soma City, Fukushima Prefecture)

The carp streamers, or “Koinobori” in Japanese, are made by drawing an image of the fish, with its characteristically prominent scales, on a piece of white cloth. The participants also wrote messages on the carp to make them very original works of art. Many participants came, from elementary school students, users of welfare facilities serving persons with disabilities, and Afghan staff members from AAR Japan’s Afghanistan office. In the end we had 170 carps swimming in the spring sky.

April 29th, 2012 – The children made “Koinobori” using many colors. On the left is Atsushi NAOE, an AAR Japan staff member from the Tokyo Office.

The children actually came at 10  in the morning to start drawing pictures fn the carps on white cloth. They all seemed absorbed in the task, and some didn’t seem to want to let go of their magic markers even after having finished one carp. There were children that drew up to five “Koinobori.” The colorfully drawn “Koinobori” were attached to a rope by the children themselves, albeit with some help from AAR Japan’s staff members.
An elderly woman that came with her grandchild shared with us, “We couldn’t put up “Koinobori” last year because of the disaster, but I’m so glad we were able to this year. Our children are very happy.”

April 29th, 2012 – Children absorbed in making “Koinobori”.

April 29th, 2012 – A large catch of “Koinobori”

Pleasure from Singing Together

AAR Japan also distributed handmade tote bags collected from all over the country to the people living in Yunuki Temporary Housing Complex. The recipients were moved by the messages inside the tote bags, saying “How thoughtful to include a personal message inside each bag. We are very thankful for these messages from the heart.” There is a large public bath at the community center of the temporary housing complex, so some people said, “These bags are just the right size for me to take to the bath!” All the bags are made with much care, and the pockets are attached in very useful places, so the bags should be very sturdy and practical.

April 29th, 2012 – The handmade tote bags were received with big smiles.

In the evening, we held a small concert with performances by opera singers Yumiko SAKANO and Takao ASAHARA, and the pianist Tomoko YAMAZAKI who performed earlier with the bus tour. After the concert we also had a interactive session where the audience was invited to participate in the singing. The 60 or so people in the audience seemed a little nervous at first, but soon they were up and singing along to Japanese traditional children’s songs such as “Chatsumi” (meaning picking tea leaves) and “Furusato” (meaning hometown) , lead by the two professional singer. After the concert, the participants joyfully shared with us “We usually don’t get to sing so loudly, so it was a really fun experience.”

April 29th, 2012 – Everyone sang along, following the lyrics printed on a pamphlet.
Tomoko YAMAZAKI (left back), Yumiko SAKANO (center back) and Takao ASAHARA (right back) are pictured with the participants

April 29th, 2012 – Parents received massages while listening to the voices of their children playing outside.

April 29th, 2012 – The “Koinobori” were placed in front of the public space of the temporary housing complex. (On the left is Takeji ASANO, a staff member of AAR JAPAN from Tokyo office.

As lots of people asked us to hold both of the events again, we think we were able to bring some happiness back into their lives. As requested, AAR Japan will continue these activities in Fukusima Prefecture.

Tokyo Office: Takeji ASANO
He has been involved with our efforts in the  disaster affected area since November 2011, managing organization of events at the Tokyo Office. He is an experienced chef and stage manager. His involvement with the event “Kokyou” was a driver in his decision to join AAR Japan.