Japan: AAR Japan Holds a Nature Experience Workshops for Children

For the Children of Fukushima, Who Cannot Play Outside Freely

Because of the impact of the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, children of Fukushima Prefecture seldom have the opportunity to play outside. Furthermore, outdoor play areas for children are limited around the temporary housing complexes. Not being able to play outside not only leads to psychological stress for the children, but constant lack of exercise, which causes obesity and the weakening of the immune system, is also a concerning matter.

The city of Sukagawa located in central Fukushima, is no exception. According to a research conducted by the city, approximately 1,000 houses and 3,400 houses were completely destroyed and partially destroyed respectively, and more than 14,500 houses had been affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake (as of January 4th, 2012). Even now, more than 1,800 people are living in the city’s temporary or subsidized housing complexes as disaster evacuees.

In response, AAR Japan held the “Nishi-Aizu Waku-Waku Kids’ School” (waku-waku describes a state of excitement in Japanese) to help reduce the stress that the children experience from living in temporary housing and to combat the problem of lack of exercise. We also hoped that this event would be a good opportunity for the children to create unforgettable summer memories during such tough times. For two days from July 22nd to July 23rd, the event was held in the town of Nishi-Aizu in Fukushima Prefecture’s Yama County. Twenty families from Sukagawa City were invited to Lotus Inn and the International Art Village to take part in nature experience workshops. With a population of about 7,000, Nishi-Aizu Town is a remarkably nature-rich area with a beautiful landscape that is located in western Fukushima. The amount of aerial radiation is relatively low at about 0.8 micro-sievert per hour, which is about the same level as that of the Kanto region.

A Challenge for the Whole Family: Making Soba Noodles and Building a Fire on Your Own!
At noon of the opening day, local soba-making expert Mr. Tadashi HASEGAWA was invited to give the participants an opportunity to experience making of soba-noodles. Under the expert’s guidance, children and their parents kneaded and stretched the soba dough together. Even though the shapes weren’t always perfect, the participants were able to make shiny soba noodles with a nice fragrance. While some said, “The noodles feel a bit tough…the chewiness might actually wear your jaws out!”, many still asked for seconds saying, “It’s delicious!”. Eventually, the soba noodles that everyone had put all their effort into making was gone in no time.

July 22nd, 2012 – “It’s difficult to cut it thinly!” The children carefully cut the soba dough that they had kneaded on their own. Pictured in the center is AAR Japan staff member, Sawako MIYAZAKI. (Nishi-Aizu Town, Fukushima Prefecture)

Afterwards, Mr. Hideki SEKINE, a researcher of ancient crafts and folk customs from Ishikawa County, Fukushima Prefecture, was invited as a lecturer for bamboo-crafting and fire-making. Mr. SEKINE teaches at Wako University, Kuwasawa Design School, and Tama Art University, among other institutions, and furthermore holds the title of “Fire-Making World Champion”.
First, he put on a bamboo-crafting workshop. After cutting the bamboo and making holes, the children crafted original percussion instruments, flutes, cups, and water guns. Then, under Mr. SEKINE’s careful guidance, everyone took part in the challenge of making fire the primeval way. Using a simple piece of wood and a string, frictional heat created on a plate is used to start a fire. This was a totally new experience, not only for the kids, but also for their parents! Even after several failed attempts, no one gave up. When the fire was finally lit, everyone burst out cheering.

July 22nd, 2012 – “It’s difficult to use a saw” Pictured second from the right is Atsushi NAOE from AAR Japan. (Nishi-Aizu Town, Fukushima Prefecture)

July 22nd, 2012 – A family working together to start a fire. “Hey, I see smoke coming out!” (Nishi-Aizu Town, Fukushima Prefecture)

“It’s been a really long time since I last let them play outside this freely”

In order to let the children play outside as much as they wanted, they were given plenty of free time during breaks between the workshops.
“Look, I found a big grasshopper! Oh, it escaped... where did it go?” “I want to go on the swing!” The children caught insects and played in the tree house at the Lotus Inn. In the evening, everyone enjoyed the barbecue and played a watermelon-smashing game and even got to enjoy fireworks.

July 22nd, 2012 – “Look, I caught a big grasshopper!” (Nishi-Aizu Town, Fukushima Prefecture)
Mrs. Hiromi KOBAYASHI (age 37), who participated in the event with her whole family including her three children, said, “It has really been a long time since I last let my kids play outside this freely.”

Ms. Hiromi IWASAKI (age 66), who participated with her two grandchildren, lives in a temporary housing complex far away from the family of her grandsons. With a big smile, she said, “It’s usually very hard to take the kids outside. Thanks to this event, I was able to let them play as much as they wanted.”

The “Nishi-Aizu Waku-Waku Kids’ School” was made possible with the support from and cooperation with Global Giving, the Social Contribution Club of Ricoh Co. Ltd., FreeWill, PEACE PROJECT, Kikkoman Corporation and Okada Metal Industries Co., Ltd.
AAR Japan will continue to reach out to Fukushima Prefecture in the future.

The dinner on July 22nd was prepared by PEACE PROJECT members. Everyone enjoyed the barbecue! (Nishi-Aizu Town, Fukushima Prefecture)

July 23rd, 2012 – The children made hand-prints with paint made from powder of natural materials. (Nishi-Aizu Town, Fukushima Prefecture)
July 22nd, 2012 – With a proud grin, “I made cups with my family’s name on them!” (Nishi-Aizu Town, Fukushima Prefecture)

July 22nd, 2012 – Children cheerfully playing in the tree house. (ishi-Aizu Town, Fukushima Prefecture)

Atsushi NAOE, Tokyo Office
After working for a private company, he studied abroad in the USA. After that, he worked as a JOCV member in Zambia for two years. He joined AAR Japan with the hopes of assisting the disaster victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake, which happened while he was stationed in Zambia. He has been working at the Tokyo Office since October 2011, in charge of both domestic and overseas projects.