The Great East Japan Earthquake: We Hosted an Overnight Camp to Keep Kids Active

AAR Japan hosted the "Nishi-Aizu Kids Wonderland Academy" for children and their guardians from the Hamadori area in Fukushima who have not been able to play outside due to the high level of radiation. Starting from July 2011, this overnight camp event has aimed to provide the participating children and their parents with an opportunity to play outside, give them a chance to release stress and allow them to have fun, physical exercise. Junko MATSUURA from Tokyo office provided a report from the 8th camp held from November 2-3, 2013.

Day One: Tons of fun events. "Soon we became friends"

In addition to the children and their families coming from the City of Soma in Fukushima, we also invited participation from local children from the town of Nishi-Aizu to interact with them. The two-day event was attended by 12 families – 35 children and their parents in total – and filled with smiles and joys.

The first day started with a delicious soba noodle lunch served by Mr. KIMURA, a local soba master. Then the party was joined by the children from Nishi-Aizu town and together they visited a local farm to enjoy the main event of the day: shiitake mushrooms picking. They enjoyed eating char-grilled fresh-picked shiitake mushrooms at the farm. It was clear that the children had a wonderful time as we heard them shout "Yummy!" and "I've never seen such a big mushroom!", while the grown-ups wished they could enjoy beer along with their meal.

The children initially seemed to be nervous, but it didn't take long for them to open up as if they had known each other for a long time. They enjoyed BBQ dinner prepared by all the participants as well as the fireworks and hot spring bathing that followed. The children were full of energy right up until the end of the day.

Thanks to the cooperation of the "Gonei Farm", the party picked shiitake mushrooms. Children were fascinated with the new experience. The Farm adopted strict countermeasures to radiation (November 2nd, 2013)

The Town of Nishi-Aizu is rich in nature. They played a lot on the swing and in a tree house. (November 2nd, 2013)

BBQ followed by fireworks. Older kids willingly set off a firework for smaller ones. (November 2nd, 2013)

Day Two: Kids fascinated with a surprising treasure hunting game

The second day started with breakfast preparation by all the participants. Though worn out from a full first day, the children were still full of energy which made their parents surprised. As breakfast was coming to an end, AAR staff member ASANO suddenly ordered them with humor to go to the hill behind to get the eggs he laid just now, officially kicking off the treasure hunt. After a quick cleaning up, the children rushed to the hill with enthusiasm as they heard "Ready, Set, Go!!"

Children looked through the grass and roots of trees in search of eggs. The eight eggs, which had been hidden in the early morning by the staff, were soon found.  There were a lot of heartwarming moments observed throughout the hunt; a small child digging up the ground with leaves, murmuring "this may be a good place to lay an egg", and an older kid giving an egg he found to a younger one.  Those who found gold-, silver- or bronze-colored egg received a small gift of each color.

Later on in the day, the party tried a leaf weaving activity (which used leaves instead of yarns) at the International Art Village which was once used as an elementary school. Children worked diligently and they each got to make their own coaster.

An egg used for treasure hunting. Gold-, silver- or bronze-colored eggs were hidden. (November 3rd, 2013)

"I found it!" – a girl found a gold-colored egg. (November 3rd, 2013)

Even those who played energetically outside settled down to concentrated on craft making. (November 3, 2013)

"Glad to see my kid enjoying herself to the fullest"

A mother of a 10-year-old told me that "I was glad that my kid, who has not had a chance to make friends since the move after the earthquake, was able to enjoy herself to the fullest. I also benefit from exchanging information with the people who are in a similar situation so we participate in this camp every year." Her child, who did not have enough time to go to school because of the frequent hospitalization, always looked forward to participating the camp. This time, only two days after being discharged from hospital, they decided to join because her child strongly insisted on doing so.

It was the first time for me to visit the Northeastern part of Japan after the region was hit by the Earthquake. Before the camp I was worried; what can I do and say for kids who are living under tough circumstances? After playing together and laughing out loud with them, I found that my nervousness disappeared and I could just be myself around them. I really felt the amazing strength and resilience the children had: endless curiosity, finding joy in anything, and a kind heart which enables them to befriend others. The two-day camp also reminded me of the strength of mothers caring for their children.

Four volunteers from Kikkoman Corporation, which also provided us with food for the camp, kindly came to participate. Their energy and enthusiasm added to the children's experience through interacting while playing and making delicious minestrone soup (which was a hit with everyone). The local staff from its Commerce and Tourism Division of the Nishi-Aizu Town Hall also helped us for site arrangement. We sincerely appreciate everyone's cooperation.
"Say cheese!" a commemorative photo taken in front of Steam Locomotive the Banetsu Monogatari (meaning Tale of Banetsu). (November 3rd, 2013)
Junko MATSUURA, Tokyo office (reporter)
After graduating from university, Ms. Matsuura engaged in accounting, supporter management and international operations at an NGO with projects in the area of international cooperation and human rights protection. She joined the AAR team in July 2013. Originally from Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan.