journal, news, research

4/11/11 journal, iwate visit

It’s exactly 1 month after the earthquake, and I am on an airplane back to kansai, from hanamaki airport in iwate prefecture.

I haven’t had a chance to think about anything really. There are a lot of half formed ideas and thoughts swirling around in my head. I’m pretty sure that it’s a good idea to write it all down–and on paper–for 2 reasons. 1, as a way for me to process what I’ve seen and heard, and 2, because I know if I don’t, I will forget something. And I want to remember all of it.

The thing that sticks in my mind is the story told by R chan, the young volunteer in Taro evacuation center, about the kids studying English.

The volunteers all wear makeshift name tags, names written with sharpie on packing tape. This is a really good idea–I don’t think I ever saw that in N.O.L.A–to help make communication easier, be more friendly, and of course the work go more smoothly. (Later, I would experience this again as a participant. It’s a small thing, but i think it helps make everyone feel more friendly, and makes it easier to talk to people. plus, it seems really respectful to the local residents, like you are taking the time to introduce yourself. I found myself missing it a little after returning to real life.)

The tono volunteer center ( which I think is the center of all support activities in iwate prefecture?) is really organized. We sat in on a meeting on Saturday night. It started at 7 pm and went until 8:20. some people trickled in partway through–everyone obviously came from a day of volunteer work. there were detailed handouts, typed and photocopied, distributed to everyone, about 50-60 people? about that day’s activities and the following days activities. the meeting was very japanese, and quiet. people took turn making announcements about different activities. I.e. for the buses that are used to pick people up and take them to the bath, they should take the same people back. Some people are still getting only cold rice balls for food. They are doing surveys about people’s needs, asking (both to the folks in shelters and those evacuated independently) if they are sleeping, what they are eating. they discuss the need to do these surveys more carefully, giving the respondent time to answer, to press gently for information if at first they just say everything is fine. tono volunteer center is organized well thanks to M san, who is an expert at disaster support, and mr. k, who was already a local community leader.

In tono city hall they also had a planning meeting about temporary housing. This is amazing to me. housing experts brought in, M San organized I’m guessing, he is there too, along with city employees, of course. Local government is really involved, and fast. (its been only a month). The question of where to build the temporary housing is more complicated. Tono will house the residents of kamaishi, maybe. (tono is inland, which helps explain the logic of this, it’s resilience because of not having damage, and it’s ability to function as a base). There is an idea of a kind of ‘twinning’, with the seaside towns’ residents relocating to the partner town inland. I.e. Kamaishi to tono. Another part of this story is that these 2 towns at least, have a long and reciprocal relationship–the people of kamaishi are fishermen, and tono, farmers. So they have been trading with each other for generations, and there’s already a strong relationship between the 2. Possibly this is a common condition in other places in the region as well?

The idea of keeping community ties is hard to implement. As temporary housing is built and becomes available, people move into it. Or, as recently in rikuzentakata, there is a lottery. In these systems, there’s no way to keep communities together when they are moving into temporary housing. Even if everyone knows it would be better to do that.

In the Taro evacuation center, people entered randomly, coming from other shelters, and soon, they will have to be reorganized into groups based on original village. This is hard on evacuees.

Last night, the nurse kept talking about how the pizza place was destroyed. I wish I could make pizza for her and evacuees!



About liz

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


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