Great East Japan Earthquake: Share and Reflect the Disaster with Survivors – as Four Year Anniversary of the Disaster Approaches

We will soon pass the four-year anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake. Yet many survivors are still forced to live in temporary housing complexes. AAR Japan continues to provide tailored aid by visiting temporary housing complexes every week with industrial counselors and physiotherapists to provide counseling and massage, as well as supporting collaborative projects with social welfare facilities for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs). Akiko KATO, Representative of the Tohoku Office, reports our current aid activities carried out in the disaster-stricken areas.

After a prolonged period of living in a temporary housing, many complain of poor health. Mariko ESAWA(left), a physiotherapist and a volunteer member of AAR Japan, gives advice on the do-it-yourself massage, after giving a massage to the residents of the temporary housing. (Watari Town, Miyagi Prefecture, December 13th, 2014)


The Ideal Form of Future International Cooperation: The Commemorative Symposium for the 35th Anniversary of AAR Japan

AAR Japan (Association for Aid and Relief, Japan) hosted a symposium on the theme of “The world we are in now: envisioning the future of international cooperation” at U Thant International Conference Hall of the United Nations University on November 27th, 2014. The two-part symposium started with opening remarks delivered by Fusako YANASE, the chairperson of AAR Japan. In the first part of the symposium, Mr. Akira IKEGAMI, a journalist who has covered news from around the world gave a lecture. In the second part, a panel comprised of speakers from the Foreign Ministry, the United Nations, and other related areas who have been engaged in international cooperation debated about kinds of international cooperation Japan should address.
Mr. Akira Ikegami, at U Thant International Conference Hall of the United Nations University, November 27th, 2014

Realities seen in the field

During Mr. Akira IKEGAMI's lecture, entitled “The world we are in now: truly-needed international cooperation” he emphasized the vital importance of “respect for locals” whilst providing international cooperation. This lecture was based on Mr. IKEGAMI's experience from his field work as a journalist at Somali refugee camp in the Republic of Djibouti, a country that lies in northeast Africa, and at Syrian refugee camps in Jordan. During the lecture, he stated that “there are realities which you can see in the field only after you get there.” In the field Mr. IKEGAMI saw resilient people who somehow managed to obtain food from somewhere, installed electricity and opened vegetable shops or butcher shops in the camp by themselves. They did not just rely on external aid. Mr. IKEGAMI came to believe that we should not see refugees as subject of assistance but self-supporting humans with a desire to work and earn their bread, leaving their pride intact. Another key example was that of a Japanese aid organization, which helped locals in a Laotian village. This organization set up a place for discussion on “What is necessary for their village?” instead of just “building them facilities.” The locals concluded that what they needed was a school, and built their school with locally available materials on their own. He stressed that we must have a mindset “not to give aid but to work cooperatively.” What we should do is to encourage their initiative and give them skills and know-how when necessary.
The audience listened closely to Mr. Akira IKEGAMI speak based on his own experiences (November 27th, 2014).

During the lecture, Mr. IKEGAMI also stressed the importance of hygiene education, with reference to the Ebola fever that is currently prevalent in Africa. He said “being correctly informed can be the best vaccination”. He then went on to discuss the sanitation movement conducted in Japan during the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, including a personal anecdote of how during the movement, he himself was taught to rinse his hands at school. Pointing out that even common knowledge we now take for granted is a result of decades of education, he continued to stress the critical role of education. Finally, referring to AAR Japan's foundation that it was established in order to support Indochinese refugees in Japan, he talked about an interpreter he met in Cambodia. When the interpreter was a child, he fled to Japan as a refugee, fleeing from mass-killing in Cambodia. He graduated from university in Japan and obtained Japanese nationality. He said to Mr. IKEGAMI, “I was born in Cambodia and raised in Japan. I’d like to work as a bridge between Japan and Cambodia.” Mr. IKEGAMI said we should welcome people from developing countries to Japan, instead of just providing on-site cooperation. By doing this, we could create more "bridges" between Japan and other countries, which could aid Japan’s national security in the long run.

Anyone can join in international cooperation.

During the second part of the symposium, Yukie OSA, the president of AAR, chaired a panel including Ms. Mari MIYOSHI (The director of the Foreign Ministry’s Consular Affairs Bureau), Mr. Masao SEKI (Steering Committee Chairman at CBCC [Council for Better Corporate Citizenship] and Senior CSR Adviser at Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Insurance Inc.), and Mr. Kenji ISEZAKI (AAR Vice President and Professor at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies) discussing “Unique role of Japanese people in current and future international cooperation”.
In the second half of the symposium, the panelists who have engaged in international cooperation at private companies, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the United Nations conducted a panel discussion (December 27th, 2014).

Ms. MIYOSHI has been involved in refugee assistance at the Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations and is now taking charge of providing overseas travel information as the director of the Foreign Ministry’s Consular Affairs Bureau. She stressed, “Sustainability is key for international cooperation.” Taking Japan’s fishing assistance to Indonesia (Fisheries Livelihood Recovery Program) as an example, she emphasized the importance of Japanese assistance; it helps people learn skills to catch fish instead of just receiving fish. In addition, she explained Japanese social systems are helpful to solve problems in developing countries. For example “Police Box” (“Koban” in Japanese) helps improve public safety and “Maternity Health Record Book” (“Boshitecho” in Japanese) helped reduce infant and maternal mortality rates respectively. She is keen to continue sharing these Japanese social systems with developing countries.
Ms. Mari MIYOSHI, Director General for Consular Affairs at Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (December 27th, 2014)

Mr. SEKI has promoted corporate social responsibility programs. He discussed the frameworks that Japanese corporations use to implement CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) activities, and stressed that CSR activities should be mainstreamed, rather than an “add-on”. He added many Japanese companies adopt “escalator system”, where employees work at a single company from entrance just after school graduation until retirement. This system ensures that employees are well informed about their own companies, but often lack an understanding of social affairs. He concluded companies and NGOs should work together on revitalizing people-to-people exchanges and reaching solutions.
Steering Committee Chairman at CBCC (Council for Better Corporate Citizenship) and Senior CSR Adviser at Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Insurance Inc,. (December 27th, 2014).

Mr. ISEZAKI pointed out that the poverty has remained a major problem in Africa for thirty years, drawing on his visit to Sierra Leone in his twenties. However, one major change that has occurred is the expansion of international cooperation. Mr. ISEZAKI stated that the time has come to review the fundamental role of international cooperation. Finally, he touched on so-called “Conflict Diamonds”, illegally traded to fund arms purchase in war-torn areas, and warned that the mindless consumption of goods could potentially afflict people in other countries.
Mr. Kenji ISEZAKI serves as the vice president of AAR Japan and a professor at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies (December 27th, 2014)

In relation to Mr. IKEZAKI’s warning, Yukie OSA said international cooperation doesn’t just mean working for the organizations that provide international cooperation such as the United Nations or NGOs. She explained that choosing what to buy and knowing what’s happening in the world is “international cooperation that anyone can do”.
Yukie OSA, the president of AAR, served as a coordinator at the panel discussion (December 27th, 2014).

“Is international cooperation necessary in the first place?”

In the panel discussion, OSA proposed a discussion topic. When the public mindset in Japan is becoming inward-looking, how do you respond to the question, “Why is it necessary for Japan to provide international cooperation despite of its internal challenges?”. Ms. MIYOSHI pointed out Japan’s ties with overseas countries are becoming much stronger and said “although Japan is an island country, it cannot survie without its relationships with other countries.” OSA went on to say, “Japan is not isolated by ocean, but connected globally by ocean.” Mr. IKEGAMI, citing the fact that Japan received support from an unprecedented number of countries all over the world when it was struck by the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, said “an adage ‘charity brings its own reward’ is the true nature of assistance.” A student in the audience raised a question to Mr. IKEGAMI, “What kind of abilities should one develop at school?” He answered that he wanted students to develop “capacity to analyze” who are in need at where, and what kind of problems they face, and encouraged the student saying “Imagination saves the world, I want you to have imagination.”
Natsuki MATSUMOTO, AAR Tokyo Office
Since April 2012, MATSUMOTO has been in charge of the public relations and public awareness activities at AAR Tokyo Office. MATSUMOTO worked as an intern at the UN human rights agency while in graduate school, and joined AAR Japan since graduation. (Profile as of the date of the article)

Japanese-English translation by Mr. Masaharu Sato
English editing by Ms. Rachel McPhail

The article on this page has been translated by volunteers as part of the AAR Japan's Volunteer Programme. Their generous contributions allow us to spread our activities and ideas globally, through an ever-growing selection of our reports from the field.