iwate, journal, network

4/9/2011 journal

4/9/2011 journal, on a plane to hanamaki airport in iwate prefecture

yesterday, we had a planning meeting at the office of K. with professors/researchers and students.

2 professors will take a group of students at the end of april, to do a survey and also volunteer ashiyu if they have time.

K sensei just back from a trip to sendai–ishinomaki is most severe, he reports.

maps clipped from newspapers taped to the wall show the affected area. these experts of disaster recovery talk about who knows who, where there are connections at which university and with which professors. names exchanged, copies of business cards exchanged.

the most local university, tohoku u has been destroyed, so it is assumed that it can’t function in an official capacity for a while, probably teachers and graduate students are working as individuals. miyagi pref. U in sendai is seen as a better bet. but they aren’t familiar with iwate (the analogy of Kobe u working in Osaka–everyone laughs).

names of towns in the affected area are shared, pronunciations explained (no one was familiar with the small towns in this area before the quake).

timing is discussed–now is still the period in which search and rescue continues, although it is acknowledged that this is for emotional reasons–it’s impossible that there are still survivors. so now, debris is being picked up carefully, in case there are bodies. it is predicted that in a few weeks time, large scale debris removal will begin, using bulldozers. at that time, it will be difficult for researchers to enter the area and move around freely, so it can be said that now is a window in which to enter the area and understand the conditions.

aid distribution methods are discussed, including the ‘analog’ system in tono town, started with funding by mont bell, the Japanese outdoor equipment company. volunteers have made hand drawn maps of the area, and are supporting people who are still living in their houses or other ‘non-official’ evacuation centers. some discussion of the correct term for these in Japanese–‘secret’ or ‘unknown to officials’ seems to be the consensus. volunteers in this area use a system of paper cards to track information about what the residents need. for example, when they make their rounds to visit people staying in their own houses, etc. (of course these people have no electricity, way to get daily goods, etc.) maybe once a week to each resident, they write down what they need, milk, or fruit, etc. then back at the distribution center they organize goods into areas near plastic cones–marking where they will be distributed the following week. although it seems low tech to my japanese colleagues, it seems really organized to me! and I have now experience of this stage of disaster relief work…

for the students who will go at the end of april, the research plan has yet to be decided; the first step is to go and see the situation. they (and the 3 of us going now) will see the area, not the evacuees (by which I mean the focus right now is to understand the physical condition of the disaster area, not to interview disaster victims about their current situation).

the foot bath, called ashiyu in Japanese (literal translation) was started after the kobe EQ by the group C.O.D.E. there will be an upcoming training at kobe u. the students at this meeting are urged to attend, as they will do ashiyu if there is time. there’s also a bus of kobe u. students who are going as volunteers for the golden week holiday–the training is mainly for them, and others who main join later trips. the university is paying for this bus, and the 20 spots for this trip were filled very quickly. there’s a plan to send more buses during summer vacation.

we look at some images from a previous trip to tokohu. the effect of the tsunami is different than the kobe earthquake–in tohoku, scenes of fire are few, and household objects can survive the tsunami.

K sensei tells the students, now university seniors and 1st year masters students that they are the right age–they can study this for 10 or 20 years. there is a comment that you can’t really know what you are doing until you are about 40, that’s when you become most useful. i don’t know about ages, but I feel like this disaster, happening now, and me being here now…this is my work from now on. I cant think about 10 years from now, but I can’t imagine doing anything not related to tohoku for a long time. this feels like the beginning, the 1st meeting. I didn’t take a photo, but A san did. I’ve heard so many stories of people involved with the kobe earthquake recovery, and seen photos and albums, of people in meetings at that time…except now i’m in the story, will be telling it in the future. I have no idea what will happen during this recovery process, but I know from my experience interviewing people about Kobe, that I had better write it all down, as it happens.

we will land in hanamaki airport soon. I know that the things we will see this weekend are sights that you can’t prepare for–and that seeing photos doesn’t ever fully prepare you for the real thing. I’m glad to be here with K and M senseis, to be the junior of such senior experts. I want someone else to tell me what do in this situation–and this is the benefit of the japanese system.
and the fact that this network exists- is it special to kobe? maybe, but in any case it’s very practical and useful. these folks have dealt with disaster and how to support disaster in other places–how to make connections.

during the meeting yesterday, there was some discussion about how the situation will change, and the need for information from the middle of this month. M sensei will visit during that time, go to fukushima. another S sensei has done a survey about evacuation centers that worked–a very practical survey–can do just by looking.

several other teams of researchers are on this plane, as well as kobe city employees–their jackets say Kobe on the back. I heard that they are up in shifts, a week at a time.

I feel a little nervous. I can’t quite remember the first time I went to New Orleans after Katrina, maybe similar. but this time the disaster is bigger and much more recent. I really want to go back as a volunteer.

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About liz

from the u.s., recently moved from kobe to sendai, japan, researching community-based housing recovery after disaster.

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