4/22/11 ashiyu meeting

today I went to a meeting at kobe u, where they explained about ‘ashiyu’, which literally means footbath in japanese. whereas ashiyu is a non uncommon thing in japan, land of onsens and hot springs, this ashiyu is a bit more specific.

the idea of providing ashiyu to disaster victims started after the kobe earthquake in 1995. while it does indeed involve hot water for soaking feet, it includes a lot more of an idea and in application.

the basic idea is to give a foot bath for 10-15 minutes, in the evening before sleep. it helps people sleep better, improves circulation, and warm the bodies core temperature (in evacuation shelters, people often have problems sleeping, especially the elderly don’t move around very much, and feel cold). the ashiyu volunteer gives the person a hand massage while they are soaking their feet, and the volunteer listens. the listening is the key point.

the process of creating ashiyu came from an attempt to make better communication with disaster victims–when volunteers provide meals, people usually come and get the food, and then leave. during ashiyu, they talk, and the volunteer will later write it down.

the girl giving the presentation explains to us how volunteers should take notes. did they talk one on one? or in a group? do you feel they opened up because you are girls? boys? students?
maybe everyone is feeling the same, so they don’t talk about it. and while it’s too hard to have the same conversation over and over again, actually they would like to talk.

after the 2004 chuetsu earthquake (niigata) students from Osaka university did ashiyu, after the 2007 chuetsu earthquake, Kobe university students did ashiyu. now it’s done in many places, but tono city is one main one. tono is inland and so didn’t suffer tsunami damage. but people there want to help.

the girl tells about bringing ashiyu into an evacuation center for the first time:

there were about 70 people staying there, and local people, about 300, come for meals. after the meal, they do ashiyu, mostly for people staying.

when they entered, it felt a little awkward. people there maybe were thinking “who are they and what are they doing?” volunteers wonder “will anyone come and take an ashiyu?”

the first to come over were the kids. they said “what is it?” we want to do it!”

then, a mom with tired feet.

exactly 3 people came (we had 3 foot baths), and we thought, “oh, today it will be only them.”

but then those people returned to the area where they sleep, and they told the people nearby “so comfortable” “oh, I feel so good.”

suddenly there were people lined up, 10 deep! with their socks already off, rocking back and forth eagerly. we told them, “why don’t you sit down?” they said, “oh! ok”

with our 3 tubs of hot water, in 2 hours, we gave ashiyu to more than 20 people. we lost track of the things they told us!

the japan self defense force (army) provides a bath, but only 1. people from far away come by bus; it gets full fast. they can take a bath once a week.


About liz

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


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