Sunday, 30 October 2011

Hisanohama Halloween

It was the 16th Team HEAL Japan volunteer trip up North yesterday and the 12th one I've been able to join. The immediate needs of debris removal are thankfully decreasing now but this trip was memorable for another reason. 

Our job was at an elementary school in Taira where the kids were having a Saturday afternoon baseball practice. Since there were 30 of us we were able to finish not long after lunch. A couple of veterans from other volounteer groups joined us for the first time along with another five or six first-timers. As usual, everyone got on like a house on fire. 

Before we left we had a photo session with the kids who were all running around, cheering, laughing and high-fiving the five foreigners in the group. It didn;t seem a good time to explain that a high-five is not something we do a lot in Wales... so of course I just went with the flow.

Lyndon and Matt, the Ishinomaki veterans, were both big fellas. Chuck's an action-movie martial artitst and stuntman so after Lyndon picked one of the kids up clean off the ground with a growl, all the kids were crowding round the three of them, begging to be next. I'm sure they got through all 20 of them... maybe four or five times each.
The early finish meant we had time to head back to Hisanohama, an area where we've volunteered five times before. We'd been invited to a kids' Halloween party at the small shopping street near the new temporary housing area.

When we got there, the festivities were in full flight with all the kids and most of the adults dressed up in fancy dress, playing party games and just running around having fun. After all our previous volunteer trips here being so focused on damage and loss, rebuilding and recovery, it was quite powerful to see all these families, especially the kids, having a chance to just have a bit of normal fun like everyone else for a change.
We'd only been there a couple of minutes when Sean brought over the mother and the grandmother who ran The Supermarket which we helped to clean up last June. It turned out that this is where they've been running a mini-mart business since September 3rd. Three THJ volunteers from that June trip were there yesterday so there was a lot of catching up to do.

They took us over to their new mini-mart where they seemed to be doing a pretty good trade. The mother reached under the desk and brought out an envelope with some 8x10's taken the first time we met.

 It wasn't long before her and her grandmother were both smiling through their tears again.

I'd called into the original supermarket for some food on a surf-trip up to the Yotsukura area in 2008 and remembered seeing the grandmother as she had quite "distinctive" dental work. To see her again last June when she'd lost everything was one thing, but to meet her and her daughter again yesterday as things are very slowly starting to come together made me feel very close to them.

They were both an incredible example of positive thinking, of not giving up. After 100 years of the family being in business at the same spot, they'd lost everything but have found a way to get back to work out of a small portacabin, and just get on with it, working towards getting back to their original site one day. They knew others had been dealt a much worse hand.

Outside, the party was showing no signs of running out of steam. Chuck once again went above and beyond by dressing up in something that looked like a too-small joker's outfit and posing for anyone who wanted a picture with him. He needs to give up the action movies and stunt-work, and get a kid's show instead.

We had to get the tools back to the volunteer centre by 4pm so after some long goodbyes and some more photos, we made our way home with a detour past the original supermarket to see the progress that had been made around there.

June 25, 2011

October 29, 2011

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Boxes and Balloons back in Yotuskura

Two weeks ago I was back up in Iwaki with THJ to help clear out a part of a property that was 2kms from the ocean, unaffected by the tsunami but damaged beyond repair by the earthquake.
It was one of the most straightforward jobs we've taken on so far with 27 of us lining up to pull out old boxes, furniture, clothers, lamps, baskets, power tools, basically anything you could ever think of finding in someone's attic or shed and piling it up outside so that the owners could safey store it somewhere else and knock down the two knackered buildings.
The first floor was simple enough but things slowed down when we got to the second floor. The roof had cracked open in the earthquake and 6 months of being open to the rain meant that the attic flooring was rotten in some parts and wouldn't hold any extra weight.

At one point, there was a box of books we needed to get out but I couldn't pick it up and pass the whole box down as the extra weight would have taken us both through the floor so I just had to pass down the books one at a time for the other 26 folks to hand to each other and pile up in another corner. A waste of time for a while but hopefully they all knew what was going on.

We got it all done early though and had some extra time to chat with the mother and two kids as the day went on. The two young girls of the family were about 6 and 10 years old I think. Luckily for them our resident entertainer Dirk Rebel was with us as always. Dirk's the guy who was so good with grandaughter of The Painter that we helped out last July. He does a mean line in balloon animals and has a real gift with kids. I don't think these llittle girls had laughed so much since the earthquake, and for me that was more important than any lifting and carrying work we'd done that day.

Mum taking a video with her mobile phone.

As we were leaving, the mother called Dirk over for her daughter to hand him a hand-written thank-you letter, all colourfully written with stars and stickers on it that just oozed with gratitude. One for the cigar-box for sure.

The father wasn't there that day but he also surfs and was a regular at my beloved Kumagawa, only 4kms South of the reactor. We doubt we'll ever be able to get near there again for many, many years, if ever. A sobering thought, and one that's made me determined to join any of the growing anti-nuclear protests that are becoming common in Tokyo. This is a pic of Kumagawa on a flat day in 2004 and you can just about see the infamous Daiichi nuclear reactor in the background. Their house was 35kms from the reactor and they were obviously worried about the radiation but had very little info from the government. We measured around there and compared to a 0.1 or 0.15 uSv/hr in Tokyo, it was up to between 0.25 and 0.4 at their house which was pretty much what they were expecting.

These areas around the reactor used to be a little piece of heaven for me and are now NO-GO areas. There are kids being brought up even further North and more worryingly North-West of the 20km and 30km zones in contaminated areas who had no say in where they were born and are just being left behind by the government who refuse to relocate them.

Fukushima used to be a coal-mining area, much like my native South Wales. Just as they did in South Wales, the Japanese government closed down all the mines when they decided to move away from the coal industry and invest in nuclear power. The locals all lost their mining jobs through the 50s and 60s, but then the government came to the "rescue" with the offer of work at the two nuclear plants they planned to open in Fukushima. Nice bit of work for 40 years or so... but it's not just jobs they've lost this time around.

We took the coast road on the way back and stopped at the Welcome to Fukushima sign on the border with Ibaraki. In days gone by, this was the spot where I'd get a first good look at the Fukushima coastline and if there were waves, get a bit of a rush knowing I'd be in the water soon far from the city life in Tokyo.

With so many problems for this area, it was a privilege to spend another day with a great team of folks, meeting a bunch of new people who really bring some much-needed relief and happiness to the people of Fukushima. Team HEAL Japan.

Thanks to Dirk, Sean and others for the photos this time.