Y San is local man who is great friends all hands. he works in real estate in tokyo, but has come back to ofunato to help his parents, who are now staying in temporary housing. today, i was on a team working nearby on a floor for Mr. C’s house, and Y san wanted to use some power tools to take down a cmu block wall. which was accomplished, with a lot of swinging of hammers, and concrete dust!
i had arrived at all hands right in time for dinner, which is a yummy spread that local ladies cook for the volunteers every night. along with a free place to stay, all hands provides food for volunteers, which includes dinner and bentos that are delivered for lunch everyday. i was glad to see that they had this system in place, as supporting local businesses instead of having volunteers bring their own instant cup ramen is something that i had been thinking about before. also, breakfast was bread and peanut butter, and as an american living in japan, the thrill of seeing a giant jar of peanut butter never wore off, at least not in the 10 days i was there!
every night there is a meeting where the current jobs and future jobs are discussed, at then people sign up for the work they want to do the next day. my first night, there was a new job on the board, a gutting job for the Y. family. i signed up for the bilingual slot on that team. in the morning, our team of 5 gathered up our tools and were dropped off at our site.
mrs Y is the grandma of the family. she remembers the tsunami that came here in 1960, after the Chile earthquake. she had just moved to her house near the sea to join her husband several months before. she had been processing oysters with other local women when the alarm rang. since no one had felt the Chile earthquake, they didn’t expect the tsunami. but they evacuated to the top floor of the oyster processing building, and were safe. this time, not everyone in the neighborhood was so lucky. mrs Y’s house is above the road that runs along the long narrow port that is the center of Ofunato. we mentioned that there is a beautiful few of the ocean and the port, and were told that it is strange for them to be able to see the sea. there used to be a row of houses below the road as well, but they were destroyed and now there is only a row of empty lots, with low concrete walls marking their boundaries. mrs. Y tells me this story during a break on one of the later working days, resting her arms on the fence looking towards the ocean. she points to the lot below and to the left of the house: that neighbor, who has 1 grown daughter, went back to her house to save some important things, and she was there when the wave came. as the water came in to the house she thought it was the end, but survived. now this woman is living in a temporary housing unit nearby–people moved in last sunday, 4 months after the disaster. the neighbor from the lot on the right is still ‘missing’. which means that her body hasn’t been recovered.
there were about 2 meters of water in the house, the water lines are still visible on the walls and the windows. we remove the floorboards, take them outside and wash them. mrs Y had broken her foot in the days before the tsunami, so she was in a wheelchair at that time, and was driven to the city office to evacuate. in the days and weeks that followed, she got around on crutches, and couldn’t clean out her house. her four granddaughters, from elementary school to high school age, helped to this work–carrying out the heavy waterlogged tatami mats. on the first day, a neighbor lady stops by to see what’s happening. she seems old, but very tough! she’s recently done the similar process in her house-removing the floor boards and cleaning the space underneath. she takes one look at what we are doing and jumps into the middle of our work to show use how to remove the boards whole, without cutting them. she is tiny, but powerful, and uses a crowbar easily, demonstrating upper arm strength that probably exceeds mine. later on, mr. Y tells us that she rides around on a motorcycle, and that her boat landed in the Y’s garden after the tsunami.
mrs Y, who grew up in a farm family, has replanted the small garden between her house and her daughters house. she says the garden was an ‘experiment’ and that she had no idea if the plants would grow. but they are, and one day early this summer, her granddaughter came to her and said “grandma, the plants came up!” mrs. Y brings us fresh corn on the cob that was picked that morning from a farm that belongs to someone in her family.
mrs. Y’s daughter is a science teacher at a school that was destroyed and has been holding classes in a gymnasium more than an hour away. because of tsunami, and the fact that students are living in evacuation centers and temporary housing, this year many schools had a very short summer vacation and are now continuing to hold classes. on the last day i was at their house, we finished cleaning under the floor a little early, and i volunteered that we could help with anything else they needed help with, so we pulled some weeds that had grown in the open spaces. i felt bad leaving them, and i wished i could have continued the next phase of their work, but unfortunately it was postponed until after i left.
several months earlier, i had hear about the temporary housing in the town of Sumita cho from my sensei. the mayor of Sumita had already had a plan (before the earthquake) that if there was a disaster and need for housing reconstruction, they would use the local timber industry. and after march 11, they did. the temporary housing in Sumita is made of wood, which makes it much more comfortable than the steel or pre-fab housing, which is hot in summer and cold in winter. i’m also pretty sure that it’s a more pleasant living environment both inside and outside these small houses.
temporary housing is the second step of the process of Japanese disaster recovery housing, and are built using money from the national government, with the local municipality contracting out the construction to private companies. they are usually modular, may be reusable, often steel or prefabricated. they cost a lot of money to build, and a lot of money to dismantled. they are designed to be lived in for up to 5 years, which allows them to be built without following the building code requirements for permanent housing. in the case of tohoku, the scale of the housing loss and the unknown factors in permanent housing reconstruction mean that it’s impossible to know how long people will live in these units, which are still being built 5 months after the tsunami in an attempt to meet demand. however it’s almost certain that people will be living in them for more than 5 years.
temporary housing units are small, less than 30 square meters or 830 square feet. the cheapest and lowest quality ones built of steel are especially hot in summer and cold in winter. after the 1995 Kobe earthquake, temporary housing was built in large numbers in remote and locations outside the city, and people were awarded a unit based on a lottery system, which prioritized older or vulnerable people. the result was that community connections were destroyed, as old neighborhoods scattered and people were randomly assigned to new temporary houses. this was later compounded by a similar process for those who entered the new disaster recovery public housing in high-rise apartment buildings. the loss of community connections was especially severe for the older generation; many elderly lost all connections to friends and neighbors, and died a solitary death without anyone noticing their absence.
on the individual house scale, the design and implementation of temporary housing can also give residents more control over their own rehousing process. the temporary houses in Sumita are small but detached single family units, grouped in clusters at each of 5 sites located around the town. the houses are arranged in several rows, with a main path and space to grow flowers in containers. these little wooden houses can be moved and reused later, or they could be expanded to be part of a larger more permanent house.
on tuesday, which is all hands’ day off, i went on an little excursion to try to see these wooden temporary houses. i successfully found out which bus to take and where, and after a 30 minute bus ride up into the mountain (towards tono) i got off in sumita, which is a basically a 1 street town. however, as i had heard before, it’s very true that weather can quickly change, and be completely opposite at the coast and up in the mountain. so whereas when i left ofunato, it had been bright and sunny, when i arrived in sumita, it was thundering and in the middle of a downpour. and it a completely brilliant move, i had brought neither my umbrella or rain coat. the wonderful old lady at the little tabacco shop by the bus stop didn’t sell umbrellas, but she very kindly loaned me a umbrella, and after dashing into a number of tiny shops on the shopping street, i would up with a rain poncho as well. i set off for the city office (across the river), where they obliged my request for a map of temporary housing. although i got a little damp, i was able to visit the 2 sights that were in walking distance, and catch the bus back to ofunato. and even chat with some local folks on the street, who wanted to know what i was doing. i think if i had stayed in town another hour, i might have been invited to someone’s home for dinner.
The second supplementary budget for fiscal 2011 contains funds for the Forestry Agency to research using the massive amount of wooden debris generated by the March 11 disaster as fuel for biomass power generation, it has been learned.
Passed in the Diet on Monday, the budget includes about 100 million yen for examining the possibilities of biomass energy production. Using debris would kill two birds with one stone–clearing away wreckage and generating electricity.
In the third supplementary budget, which will contain significant spending for disaster reconstruction, the agency is seeking about 10 billion yen in subsidies for building power plants, and aims to establish five or six in disaster areas.
However, a number of issues remain, including the unstable supply of raw materials.
The agency predicts that of the about 19 million tons of wooden debris believed generated by the Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing tsunami, about 5 million tons could be used as fuel.
However, Fusao Nishizawa, head of the Biopower Katsuta biomass power plant in Hitachinaka, Ibaraki Prefecture, predicted all the wooden debris created by the disaster would be used up in two to three years.
Tokyo Institute of Technology Prof. Takao Kashiwagi said that in addition to using debris, “timber from forest-thinning should be collected and supplied to woodchip producers, thereby linking [biomass power generation] to the rejuvenation of forestry as well.”
Woodchips can be used as biomass fuel.
(Jul. 26, 2011)
after an overnight bus from kyoto to sendai, in the morning i went to finally visit the sendai mediateque (designed by toyo ito, who was part of my undergrad thesis and the path that lead me to japan). then i took a 4 hour bus ride to ofunato to join up with all hands, a u.s. based volunteer organization who has been there for several months. it was my first time to volunteer with all hands, and after 3 trips with gakuvo/international students it felt a little strange to be going to tohoku to work with another group. actually, i had almost gone to join all hands at the beginning of may, in the week of consecutive holidays known as golden week in japan. but at that time, when i was pretty sure that all volunteer organizations would be swamped, nikkei youth network (with gakuvo, the japanese student volunteer program) had confirmed my place in their international student group immediately, and as an international student in japan, i was very excited to join them. i love going to tohoku as part of a student group, and i have meet some wonderful people on these trips. but i was also interested in staying a little longer, and experiencing other volunteer organizations and systems, especially those who have a longer established local presence. also, ever since my experience volunteering in new orleans after hurricane katrina, i’m pretty sensitive to issues related to situations when outside volunteer groups are coming in to local communities, and i was both concerned and curious about how this relationship was playing out in ofunato. i had been trying to follow the activities of all hands online (along with other organizations–to include on this website), and i had seen a presentation by ryo, a former volunteer who gave a talk at google (it’s a great video, and describes the experience of the first few months very well: http://youtu.be/AwU–meig7k), which gave me the impression that there was definitely a need for more japanese speakers with all hands. basically, i was just hoping that as a japanese speaker, i would be able to be useful.
the bus to ofunato passed near rikuzentaka, from the mountain side, and i recognized a view i had seen in early april-looking down from a road to the complete devastation of the city below. as we passed by temporary housing and views of destruction, i wanted to take a few photographs, but it didn’t feel right on this bus, full of local people for whom this area is their home. in april i had also passed through ofunato, whose narrow and deep port area had been completely destroyed. coming into the city on july 24th, i saw areas where the clean up process was evident, but then followed by areas that seemed untouched, with huge areas with piles of debris.
RIKUZENTAKATA, Iwate — Residents in temporary housing built after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami are struggling to care for elderly family members with dementia and other symptoms, highlighting the need for better support measures.
Fusako Kanno, a 73-year-old resident of Rikuzentakata, is trying to decide whether to bring her 77-year-old husband to her temporary housing unit to care for him. He has dementia and is in hospital.
The two initially took refuge at an evacuation shelter set up at a junior high school, but the husband began shouting at times, announcing that he was “going home.” Not wanting to bother the others in the shelter, the wife had her husband moved into a hospital with his own room, but he escaped from the hospital several times, and his condition worsened to the point where he can now barely stand.
“I’m worried about trying to care for him on my own, and if I take him into the temporary housing facility then he might bother those around us by yelling about going home,” Kanno says.
Also worried about care is Kazue Konno, 42. Her 81-year-old mother-in-law had cataracts and light dementia before the disaster, but she was able to use a toilet by herself and it was not much work to care for her. After March 11, however, her condition worsened and she frequently raised her voice in terror. She had to start wearing diapers, but she sometimes took them off and soiled her bed. Walking became very difficult for her, and her vision deteriorated to the point where she could no longer see.
Perhaps because of her lost vision, she has calmed down since moving into temporary housing at the end of June. However, Konno says, “It’s impossible to care for an elderly person with heavy dementia in a temporary housing facility, where you have to be careful even when hanging laundry not to bother those around you.”
After the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, the government enacted a special measure allowing care facilities to exceed their official capacities so they could take in elderly people who had lost family care providers or couldn’t fit in at evacuation centers. If that special measure ends, more families may be forced to care for elderly members at home.
Yasuhiro Yuki, an associate professor of social welfare at Shukutoku University, says temporary housing facilities don’t have the same level of community spirit as that found at evacuation centers, where people live close together.
“In temporary housing the community of mutual support has collapsed, and we will likely see more cases in which people cannot care for elderly family members. We need new ideas that exceed the current framework for at-home care services and are based on the situation in the disaster area,” he said.
Click here for the original Japanese story
(Mainichi Japan) July 23, 2011
OTSUCHI, Iwate — The municipal government here has been hit with dozens of complaints about temporary housing units for evacuees, logging over 50 requests from people wanting to move to other housing units.
The requests coincide with a recent apology from Prime Minister Naoto Kan for failing to keep his promise to make temporary housing available by the Obon holiday season in mid-August for all evacuees affected by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
“I wish my home were situated near the end of the roadside,” Hiroko Kumagai, who lives in a temporary housing unit in the town’s Kozuchi district, said with a sigh.
Kumagai, 61, lives in the unit with her 64-year-old husband and 88-year-old mother, who uses a wheelchair. Her mother has to move about 30 meters from the unit to get in a car, but the graveled path makes it difficult for her to walk or use her wheelchair.
The temporary housing unit is equipped with two small rooms and a kitchen. One of the rooms is filled with a nursing bed for Kumagai’s mother.
Kumagai has repeatedly asked the town and Iwate Prefecture to find another temporary housing unit for her family, to no avail.
“We want to switch to another temporary house but it is probably not possible,” she said.
Many of the town’s temporary housing units were built on private land in an inland area several kilometers from submerged districts. Some evacuees living in temporary housing want to be near the center of the town while others complain that they cannot go anywhere without a car.
The town is allowing evacuees to switch houses through mutual consent and about 10 families have done so purely via personal connections.
An association of residents to rebuild the town advocates swapping information among residents of temporary housing units with the help of the town itself.
The town’s regional management section is not enthusiastic about directly brokering deals between residents, but says it is studying measures to meet the needs of evacuees.
Click here for the original Japanese story
(Mainichi Japan) July 23, 2011
TOKYO (Kyodo) — The Japanese government will need to spend at least 23 trillion yen ($291 billion) on reconstruction projects over the next decade following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, and is planning to expend around 80 percent of the funds during the first half of the period, officials said Thursday.
In order to secure necessary funds, the government is considering spending cuts of around 500 billion yen every fiscal year to be achieved by revising key policies, selling some state-owned assets such as housing for government officials and newly issuing “reconstruction bonds” that would be serviced with the proceeds from tax hikes worth 10 trillion yen.
The plans are expected to be included in basic guidelines that the government is aiming to complete within this month. Prime Minister Naoto Kan and members of his Cabinet met and outlined the guidelines but fell short of finalizing the figures.
Tatsuo Hirano, minister in charge of reconstruction, told reporters after the meeting that he wants to get the numbers finalized through talks between relevant ministers before setting the guidelines.
In the wake of the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, the government spent a total of 11.6 trillion yen on reconstruction projects in the following decade, with around 80 percent of the funds used up in the first five years.
Earlier in the day, the ministers agreed on the scope and length of reconstruction projects.
The spending over the next five years, totaling around 19 trillion yen, would cover projects such as demarcating land affected by the March 11 disaster, relocating people who used to live in devastated areas as well as infrastructure development related to the farming and fisheries industries.
Workers construct temporary housing for people whose homes were destroyed by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in the grounds of a school acting as a shelter in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, Japan, Sunday, March 20, 2011. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
The government has already drawn up two extra budgets for fiscal 2011, totaling around 6 trillion yen, and the focus is shifting to how it will secure another 13 trillion yen at a time when the country’s public finances are the worst among major developed economies.
Unlike the two supplementary budgets, the government is expected to rely on debt in the form of reconstruction bonds to create a third budget. But amid the need for fiscal discipline, it is aiming to secure funds for servicing the bonds through such measures as temporary tax hikes.
Details have yet to be worked out on possible tax increases, but it is widely expected that income and corporate taxes will be raised.
(Mainichi Japan) July 22, 2011
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Cases have surfaced in which municipalities in Tohoku have stopped welfare payments to victims of the March 11 earthquake-tsunami and subsequent nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
The reason given for removing these people from the list of recipients of seikatsu hogo (livelihood assistance) is that they have received relief money from the Japan Red Cross or compensation for the nuclear accidents from Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
In view of these people’s sufferings and unstable conditions, the municipalities’ decision seems harsh and callous. They should dispense with a uniform application of formulas when deciding whether disaster victims are eligible for welfare payments. Instead they should look at the specific conditions of disaster victims.
Municipal workers should remember the purpose of seikatsu hogo — literally, life protection — to guarantee the minimum standard of living to people and help them become self-supporting.
The Minami Soma city government in Fukushima Prefecture stopped welfare payments for June to some 150 households because they had received compensation from Tepco or relief money from the Japan Red Cross. The city of Iwaki, also in Fukushima Prefecture, also stopped welfare payments for June to two households for similar reasons.
The bar associations of Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures have found cases in which municipalities removed evacuees staying at temporary shelters from the list of welfare recipients on the grounds that because they receive meals and other items at the shelters, they do not need welfare money for living.
Under the seikatsu hogo system, municipalities shoulder one-quarters of the welfare payments while the central government shoulders three-quarters.
According to the rules for the distribution of donations sent to the Japan Red Cross, ¥350,000 is to be paid for one dead or missing person, ¥350,000 for a family whose house was destroyed, ¥180,000 for a family whose house was half-destroyed and ¥350,000 for a family within 30 km of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Tepco made a provisional payment of ¥1 million in compensation to a family within 30 km from the power plant or in special evacuation zones. The compensation for a single-person household is ¥750,000.
The health and welfare ministry has sent a notice to municipalities concerning how to judge the eligibility for the livelihood assistance of disaster victims who have received the relief money from the Japan Red Cross or the compensation from Tepco.
The notice tells municipalities not to regard as income the part of the relief money or the compensation that is used for purchase of living necessities or set aside for rebuilding their lives or financial self- support.
Municipalities examine what portion of the relief money. compensation or other funds is used by disaster victims for such purposes as the purchase of living necessities and the repair of their houses.
If they judge that cash in hand (those funds minus the costs for living, repairs, etc.) is enough for disaster victims to live six or more months, they stop welfare payments to them. They tell these people that if they run out of money for living, they can again apply for livelihood assistance.
It is clear that municipalities basically regard the relief money and the compensation as income.
But one wonders whether the relief money, which people from various parts of Japan and the world donated in the hope that disaster victims will use it to rebuild their lives destroyed by the natural disasters or the nuclear accidents, falls in the category of income in the livelihood assistance system.
Municipalities should pay attention to the benevolent spirit of people who have donated money for assistance and allow disaster victims to save the relief money for stabilization of their future lives. They should not regard such savings as income under the livelihood assistance system.
Municipalities should remember that disaster victims were hit by unprecedented disasters or accidents and that many of them lost their houses or employment. Among disaster victims are elderly people who have chronic diseases. Some people from Fukushima Prefecture are living a migratory life, moving from one shelter to another. It must not be forgotten that disaster victims have no clear prospect of succeeding in rebuilding their lives.
The increasing financial burden of paying for livelihood assistance under the prolonged economic downturn is apparently behind municipalities’ move to stop welfare payments to disaster victims.
Throughout Japan, in March, more than 2.02 million people were on welfare, coming close to the record of the monthly average of 2.04 million in fiscal 1951. The number of households on welfare hit an all-time high of 1.46 million.
Municipalities in the disaster-hit Tohoku region may fear that the March 11 earthquake and tsunami and the nuclear crisis will add to their welfare payment burdens.
At least the central government should consider increasing its portion of welfare payments in the devastated areas.
Most of the deaths are likely so-called disaster-related deaths brought about by a drastic change in their living environments.
In the month of March alone there were almost three times the number of deaths compared with the same period of 2010 at the care facilities in 42 municipalities in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures that were either hit by the tsunami or where residents were forced to evacuate due to the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
The Asahi Shimbun sent questionnaires in June to 219 special nursing homes for the elderly or health services facilities for the aged in those 42 municipalities. Responses were received from 159 facilities.
Between mid-March and the end of May last year, about 300 people died in those 159 facilities. However, the number of deaths more than doubled in the same period this year.
Of the 616 people who died this year, 80 percent were either in their 80s or 90s. About half were certified with having a need for the most extensive level of long-term care.
About 30 percent of the deaths were due to respiratory diseases, such as pneumonia. There were also many cases of senior citizens falling ill due to the cold or from concerns about the aftermath of the disaster.
In cities where more than 1,000 people died due to the tsunami, there was an increase of about 3.5 times in the number of deaths at the long-term care facilities, excluding deaths directly caused by the disasters, over the same period last year.
In mid to late March, when the effects from the disasters were higher, there were 224 deaths due to old age or disease at the care facilities, an increase of 2.8 times over last year. The comparison was made with two-thirds of the number of deaths in the entire month of March 2010.
In Fukushima Prefecture, the number of dead gradually increased, with the number in May reaching 59, the highest figure. There were many facilities in Fukushima that had to evacuate residents to separate facilities in other prefectures due to the nuclear accident. Among facilities that evacuated residents, the number of deaths between mid-March and the end of May was 2.4 times the number from the same period in 2010.
The experiences at individual facilities point to the negative effects of placing the elderly in unfamiliar surroundings.
The Chojuso, a special nursing home in Minami-Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, that was about 25 kilometers north of the Fukushima No. 1 plant, had 56 residents when the disasters struck. The evacuation of the residents to 13 different facilities in Tochigi Prefecture began nine days after the quake.
About 80 percent of the residents were close to bed-ridden. Some elderly had to be hospitalized after their conditions worsened following a bus ride of about six hours.
Masakatsu Nakagawa, 66, the head of the facility, said, “There is a very high risk to moving the residents.”
While facility officials sought an evacuation location closer to the Chojuso, they were forced to move the residents to different facilities because there was a large overall demand for evacuation.
Soon after the evacuation, the 51-year-old counselor at the Chojuso began receiving phone calls from the facilities that had taken in the residents.
One resident would not eat, while another developed a fever.
On April 4, an 85-year-old man who used a wheelchair died of aspiration pneumonia. On April 27, a 91-year-old man died. By the end of May, 16 residents had died. Because only about one resident died every month at the Chojuso under normal circumstances, facility workers were shocked at the large increase.
“The facilities who took in our residents did their best to provide care,” the counselor said. “I believe the burden of the move and the loneliness of evacuation life had an influence.”
At the Keishinryo special nursing home in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, the 50 residents were evacuated to the second floor when the tsunami struck and they were all saved.
Problems only began to develop on the night of March 12 after residents were evacuated to a gymnasium. An 88-year-old woman died amid the frigid conditions at the evacuation center.
The residents moved to another facility two days later, but without electricity, the health of a number of residents also deteriorated.
In the month after the quake and tsunami, nine residents, ranging in age from 64 to 102, died, a figure that was triple the number for March 2010.
While the actual cause of death is not known, none of the residents were in a terminal stage of an illness. The head of the facility said, “This is unthinkable under normal circumstances. I believe the disasters had an effect.”
With vital lines of infrastructure cut off due to the disasters, workers at care facilities had to secure food and fuel for facility residents.
One facility in Miyagi Prefecture collected light oil in order to keep a generator going.
At another facility, workers formed a bicycle brigade for their shopping expeditions.
One major negative factor was the long period in which electricity was lost.
At one facility in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, residents came down with hypothermia and pneumonia because there was insufficient heat. In March alone, five residents in their 80s and 90s died.
At other facilities, feeding tubes became in short supply, while workers at another facility said a liquid diet could not be provided based on the relief supplies distributed, such as rice balls.
Some facilities were able to minimize the negative effects through efforts made by the local government.
In Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, vehicles used at care facilities were given certificates recognizing the vehicles as for emergency use. That allowed those vehicles to receive preferential treatment at gasoline stations.
A city official said, “We felt it would be necessary to obtain water and food. Care facilities have the same risks that hospitals face so we did not discriminate between such facilities.”
(This article was written by Yusuke Ishimura, Kenjiro Takahashi and Chikako Numata.)