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Japan

“All had lost their homes — and all had lived in the same community their entire lives.”

  • January 19, 2012
  • A tsunami survivor volunteers at an AmeriCares distribution. Photo: Ramona Bajema.
  • Health Initiatives, Africa and Middle East, Earthquake, Tsunami, Emergency Response Blog, Japan Earthquake and Tsunami
Ramona Bajema

Ramona Bajema

Ramona’s reflections after visiting the radiation-affected communities of Shinchi-machi and Soma City on the second, third and fourth day of the January, 2012 distribution with partner, Institute for Cultural Affairs(ICA).

Early in the morning, I arrived in Shinchi-machi to meet Mr. Tomita and Mr. Yajima at a store, where big trucks were waiting for us to make our rounds. First, we went to Tomikura and dropped off boxes with masks and totes full of goods for workers.  As the men from the neighborhood association unloaded, we learned that all had lost their homes and all had lived in the same community their entire lives.

From there, we did a drop off in Mr. Yajima’s earthquake-damaged neighborhood. Everyone knew that AmeriCares and ICA were bringing goods to distribute. The distribution strategy had been planned months in advance so that the maximum number of neighborhoods and beneficiaries could be reached.

Afterward, we traveled south to Soma City in Fukushima. We met with the local NPO, Soma Haragama Asaichi, directed by two local men, Mr. Takahashi and Mr. Kikuchi. Haragama distribute goods to as many as 1,500 temporary homes on a daily basis. In addition, they hold a distribution at the Soma Sports Arena at 9 a.m. each weekend. Residents begin arriving as early as 3 a.m. to the distribution – one of the most exciting events each week for most, especially the elderly who live alone. Haragama provides entertainment and food to make the atmosphere as fun as possible.

Our last stop was a delivery of masks we had promised to the work crew we met the previous day.  I wondered to myself, why they were cleaning gutters in a contaminated, abandoned area with no rebuilding plan? But, they did their work with pride and joy. I left, relieved that we gave them something to protect their lungs just a bit.

“The glee and warm welcome was overwhelming. I felt like a rock star.”

On Saturday morning, we traveled back to the Sôma Sports Arena for the distribution. Despite heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures, the area was packed with people watching performances, eating oden stew and takoyaki (batter-fried octopus).

When Kyoko and I were introduced to the crowd, the glee and warm welcome was overwhelming. I felt like a rock star. The team assured the crowd many times that everyone present would receive at least one of each item. The eagerness of the crowd was both heart-warming and heartbreaking.

“In a so-called non-hugging culture, I have never had so many big hugs in my life.”

We met a woman in her 70s, wearing a Hard Rock Café sweatshirt. She comes to the distribution every weekend – proud to be the first to arrive each time. The woman, who lives by herself in a temporary house, held my hand for a long while and thanked me repeatedly. Another elderly man bought me a hot, sweet rice drink. Others overloaded Kyoko and me with food to take back to our office in Sendai. In my encounters with a so-called non-hugging culture, I have never received so many big hugs in my life.

We met several junior high school students, including seventh-grade Sayaka, who admitted that she was very afraid of radiation poisoning. But she told us she intended to stay in Soma for her entire life, explaining that her family was lucky – they still had their home, so they would continue to live there.