community, health, temporary housing, yomiuri shinbun

Evacuees face serious noise dilemma / Mothers worried thin walls at temporary housing units create stress for children, yomiuri, 12/27/11

Yuko Shiojima and Shinichiro Matsuda / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writers

Children play at a temporary housing unit in Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, on top of futons laid on the floor in an effort to reduce noise.

KAMAISHI, Iwate–Thin walls and a lack of soundproofing have led to noise problems for people living in temporary housing units built after the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Residents, particularly families with children, have struggled to find ways to reduce noise coming from their units.

The units, which were built in a very short time, do not have appropriate soundproofing. However, officials say additional soundproofing measures would be difficult to implement.

“I’m most worried about making noise. I tell my kids not to jump inside the house,” said Eiko Sasaki, 43, a resident of a temporary housing unit in Kamaishi.

Sasaki lives with her husband and three daughters aged 6, 3 and 2. Her daughters easily become wild and unruly if Sasaki takes her eye off them, hitting walls and crying during quarrels. As she often hears noises from other units, Sasaki said, “Our neighbors definitely notice noise from our unit.”

To reduce noise, Sasaki puts a futon on the floor at around 5 p.m. every day and has her children to play on it.

The March 11 earthquake and tsunami has cast a shadow over her children’s minds. Remembering the disaster, Sasaki says her daughters sometimes cry during the night. The next day, Sasaki visits her neighbors to apologize for the noise.

Recently, Sasaki’s eldest daughter has also started sucking her fingers.

“Children relieve stress in their daily life through physical activity,” Sasaki said.

“Since there are fewer outdoor play areas during the winter, their stress increases,” Sasaki said.

Meanwhile, families with disabled children have even deeper problems.

“If my son stops singing, what should I do?” asks another Kamaishi resident, Sachie Numari, 40.

Numari worries over the implications of limiting her 7-year-old son Rui’s ability to sing and speak freely.

Rui, who was diagnosed with autism, did not say anything until he entered primary school. Recently, Rui has started counting out numbers.

When Rui starts singing songs loudly late at night, Numari asks him to lower his volume, saying, “Be quiet, my boy.” However, Numari actually loves listening to Rui’s songs.

“In November, Rui finally called me as ‘okaasan’ [mother]. His song is a sign of his growth. I’ve waited for this for a long time. It’s very sad for me to stop his singing.”

Before the disaster, Rui often stomped his feet on the floor in their detached house, as if he enjoyed moving his body. He also hit walls with his hands.

After relocating to the temporary housing unit, Numari bought tatami mats to reduce noise. She also padded the mats with a kotatsu futon and carpet in addition to covering their walls with sponge mats. Despite these efforts, Numari still received complaints from her neighbors.

Now, she becomes very nervous when Rui makes noise, to the point where she has trouble sleeping.

Numari wavers between apologizing to her neighbors for making noise and her concern that frequently cautioning her son may negatively influence Rui’s growth.

Masayoshi Tsuge, 53, research director of the education information department at the National Institute of Special Needs Education in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, said, “If a child actually enjoys what they’re doing, stopping them is not good for the child’s growth.”

Tsuge, an autism expert, said, “To avoid isolating families with autistic children from society, municipalities and educational organization should be required to ask neighboring families to understand the needs of families with autistic children.”

In a survey conducted in August and September by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry on the living conditions for about 2,000 households in temporary housing units in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, 118 families said they could easily hear noise from neighboring units and that soundproofing measures were insufficient.

Thirty-three households said they could hear footsteps (especially those of children), objects falling or things being thrown.

An official at the health ministry’s Social Welfare and War Victims’ Relief Bureau General Affairs Division said, “Full-fledged measures [of the noise problem] require big-scale renovation. It’s almost the same as building [them over] again.”

“We’re considering what measures are possible and are consulting with related industries,” the official added.
(Dec. 27, 2011)

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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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