Great East Japan Earthquake: Organizations that Support Voluntary Evacuees

6,000 Evacuees Live in Tokyo

Even though 6 years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake, there remain approximately 109,000 individuals requiring assistance, who evacuated their home town as a result of the impact of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident. Of these, approximately 6,000 evacuees live in Tokyo (Reconstruction Agency, April 28, 2017). AAR Japan (Association for Aid and Relief) has been providing various forms of aid since immediately after the earthquake hit, and recently partnered with Musashino Smile, to begin providing aid to the evacuees who reside in Tokyo. Musashino Smile is an organization represented by Ms. Megumi Okada (picture below), an evacuee who fled from Fukushima city to Tokyo with her children, and is supported by various Tokyo-resident volunteers. On April 28, Musashino Smile hosted a “Yoransho Salon,” an event to encourage evacuees to visit and engage in light conversations over tea (picture to the right). “Yoransho” is a word from Fukushima that means “please stop by.” 16 evacuees from Fukushima and other areas participated in the event to exchange information and share updates.

Yoransho Salon was held at Musashino city, an evacuation destination for many evacuees. Yoransho Salon occurs once a month. (April 28th, 2017)

Decreasing Opportunities/Places for Exchange

Ms. Megumi Okada is the representative of Musashino Smile. Ms. Megumi Okada recounts her hardship when she evacuated from Fukushima city to Tokyo as an expectant mother, with no relatives or friends in Tokyo and with limited information.


Ms. Megumi Okada is concerned by the fact that evacuees who felt the need to evacuate from areas with no evacuation orders are being labeled as “voluntary evacuees.” Some of these “voluntary evacuees” cannot confide in others because of a sense of shame from evacuating from areas where the “government did not issue evacuation orders.”
A man from Miyagi prefecture said that “some individuals hide the fact that they are from evacuation sites.”
He revealed that when he arrived in Tokyo, he did not have any relatives or friends, but gradually found opportunities/places to interact with other evacuees through the internet.
“Human beings lose hope when they feel alone. Perhaps in the absence of first-hand experience with large disasters, it can be challenging to understand the significance of opportunities/places that enable human interaction.”
Although evacuees may not even be able to physically visit these places, evacuees are comforted by the idea that “there is a place they can go to when in need,” according to Mr. Yusuke Umeda, the leader of Musashino Smile.
At the end of March, many of the evacuation orders within Fukushima prefecture were lifted. A few evacuees returned home, while “all others have been labelled as voluntary evacuees,” said Ms. Megumi Okada.
Six years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake and, as a result of funding shortages, the number of opportunities/places for interaction continues to decrease.

Evacuees Who Face Financial Hardship 

Voluntary evacuees who left their homes have incurred various expenses and are facing financial hardship. The Japanese government stopped its provision of housing assistance at the end of March. According to the Musashino Smile, there will be at least 200 households in Tokyo that will not have the financial means to move, and who will have no other options for places to live. Musashino Smile aims to prevent displacement of evacuees from Tokyo, offering opportunities for interaction and information exchange among evacuees, by hosting events such as Yoransho Salon. It is also planning to launch “Kataribe Tai” which is a group that raises awareness of the circumstances surrounding voluntary evacuees.

AAR Japan remains committed to providing aid by listening to the needs of evacuees who reside in temporary housing in the north-eastern part of the affected area, and evacuees who have returned to their homes after the evacuation orders were lifted. AAR Japan will also remain committed to providing aid to evacuees who are still displaced and reside in areas distant from their homes.

Sendai Office, Mr. Shinichiro Ohara

 After having worked at a manufacturing company, Mr. Shinichiro Ohara joined the Sendai office, starting August 2011. Although his office is based on Sendai, Mr. Shinichiro Ohara travels to evacuation sites in Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima on a daily basis to provide reconstruction support/aid. Mr. Shinichiro Ohara is from Sendai city, Miyagi prefecture.
Japanese-English translation by Ms.Mami Usui
English editing by Mr. Richard Whale
This article 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.