Thursday, March 31, 2011

A hairbreadth escape from tsunami--35 children raised their handmade flag at the makeshift graduation

Akahama Elementary School in Otsuchicho of Iwate Prefecture held a graduation ceremony on March 29.  When the earthquake hit the town, 35 students of the school had fled to higher ground with the assistance of their teachers and parents and had a narrow escape from the tsunami. On Graduation Day, the children with a bright smile on their face headed in debris and rubble to the school’s gymnasium which is now used as a makeshift shelter and where the ceremony was held.
The children were at school when the earthquake struck. Hirofumi Iwakiri, the Vice Principal of Akahama Elementary School, tried to announce the evacuation over the school’s public address system, but the system broke down. Immediately he rushed around all four classrooms in the two-storied building and urged the students to flee to the schoolyard. The schoolyard is 150 meters away from the ocean but tsunami was the furthest thing from his mind.
A student's father, who had come to help children evacuate from the school building, shouted “Run,” when Mr. Iwakiri was on the way to the gymnasium. At that very moment, he saw huge tsunami leaping over the coastal levees in front of him. The children ran up a narrow street by the front gate of the school to higher ground. Principal Keiko Sasaki ran knee-deep in water behind all the others. The father who had urged Mr. Iwakiri to run was engulfed by tsunami, but he scrambled on a floating car and fled the tsunami from roof to roof.
(By Asahi Shimbun, March 29, 2011

No phone, don't remember parents' number, no way to contact my family

( Mr. Fukutaro Furukawa, an evacuee at Watari High School, Watari-Cho, Miyagi Pref.)

To my nephews, Nobuo and Nobuko in Aomori. My parents’ home is in Rokkasho-village, Aomori and I cannot reach anybody there because I don’t have a telephone. I left my cell phone at home and it was washed away by tsunami.  So I can’t call them.  I don’t remember their phone number, either. 

Nobuo and Nobuko, I am well, working hard under difficult circumstances at the shelter. 

From NHK website "Those Affected by the Disaster: What I want to tell you now" on March 29, 2011
The sixth photo from the top on the site is Mr. Furukawa.

Isolated for two nights, draw "SOS" on the rooftop and rescued arrived

(By Mr. Yoshiharu Watanabe, an evacuee at the Watari High School, Watari-Cho, Miyagi Pref.)
I evacuated to a middle school and spent two nights.  There were about 400 to
500 people and this place was isolated without water and foodstuff, of course no power.  We decided to take action and went up to the rooftop.  We wrote the messages on the floor with chalk; words such as 

and SOS.

I was so relieved when I landed in the field of the stadium in Iwanuma after being rescued by a helicopter with the thought that I was able to stand on the ground.

From NHK website "Those Affected by the Disaster: What I want to tell you now" on March 29, 2011

The fourth photo from the top on the site is Mr. Watanabe.

Hundreds of corpses believed irradiated, inaccessible (Article by Japan Times)

Elementary grads hold ceremony (Article by Japan Times)

Best of the luck to these kids. Congratulations!

Japan Searches for Its Missing (Article by WSJ)

Not sure if I could restore my seaweed farm, which costs lots of money

(By Mr. Manemon Kikuchi, an evacuee at Watari High School, Watari-Cho, Miyagi Pref.)

I was operating seaweed farm.  When I went back to the shop after the tsunami, there was nothing left: seaweed factory and my house.  One of the workers at the factory is still missing. I am overwhelmed and don’t know if I can restore the business; it would require a big money.

From NHK website "Those Affected by the Disaster: What I want to tell you now" on March 29, 2011

The third photo from the top on the site is Mr. Kikuchi.

We underestimated the tsunami, now everything is washed away

We never experienced a big tsunami in this Arahama district.  We had some small ones, and even when Sanriku Coast was hit by the massive tsunami caused by Chili Earthquake long time ago, we had very minor damages. We never learned the lesson; when we heard of the tsunami warning, we underestimated it.  Now everything was washed away and nothing is left, even a column of the house.
(By Mr. Toshio Shirai, an evacuee at Watari High School, Watari-Cho, Miyagi Pref.)

From NHK website "Those Affected by the Disaster: What I want to tell you now" on March 29, 2011
The photo on the top on the site is Mr. Shirai.

Bodhisattva statue washed away by tsunami recovered and restored by locals (Article by Mainichi Shimbun)

Illustrator of beloved Miffy character honors quake children (Article by Asahi Shimbun)

Workers Give Glimpse of Japan’s Nuclear Crisis (Article by NYT)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Though washed away, I will open "recovery #1" dry cleaning store where my store used to stand

My dry cleaning shop near the city office stood there for 80 years until it was swept away by tsunami.  Still, I really love the nature that you can enjoy in Rikuzentakata city.  I have no intention of moving to any other place.  Once roads are rebuilt and safe evacuation center is put in place, people will start to feel like living near the sea again.  I’d like to build my “recovery #1” shop in that empty area where my shop used to be.  
(Translation of "What the Disaster Victims Want to Tell You Now," Asahi Shimbun, March 30,  2011)

Japan must not overlook mental health of children in disaster zone (Article by Mainichi Shimbun)

Sendai struggles to regain footing (Article by Japan Times)

Workers face incredible risk with little food (Article by Yomiuri Shimbun)

Miracle in Iwate: Mother prepared for death, then saw the light (Article by Asahi Shimbun)

Survivors share single copy of latest 'One Piece' episode (Article by Asahi Shimbun)

Letters From Fukushima: Tepco Worker Emails (NYT article)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A seaman's life is on the sea, though everything was gone

(By Mr. Koji Akiyama, an evacuee at the Mizuhama Nursery School, Ogatsu-district, Ishinomaki-Chity, Miyagi Pref.)
I am dumbfounded. There is nothing left. I shed tears actually. After all, most of the people in this area are fishermen; therefore only hobby they enjoy after their retirement is fishing or going offshore in the fishing boat. A seaman’s life is on the sea.

From NHK website "Those Affected by the Disaster: What I want to tell you now" on March 28, 2011
The photo on the bottom on the site is Mr. Akiyama.

“It’s All Over!” Fukushima Farmer Commits Suicide After Government Bans Produce Consumption (Article by Asahi Shimbun)

On the morning of March 24, in Sukagawa City, Fukushima Prefecture, a 64 year-old farmer hung himself in is own home. Just one day after the Japanese government announced a ban on the consumption of all produce grown in parts of Fukushima Prefecture due to the continuing crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power facility.

While discouraged by damage wrought by the quake and tsunami, the man was left utterly distraught by the thought of not being able to harvest the cabbage in his fields. The deceased man’s family says they now must live with the fear of “being killed by nuclear power.”

The quake damaged the farm’s main building and barn, however, some 7,500 heads of cabbage, unscathed by the disaster, were ready to be harvested and sent to market. Even after the government banned spinach, bereaved relatives recall that the farmer remained hopeful, saying, “Depending on how things go, I’ll start harvesting the cabbage.” In preparation, the farmer had already set about repairing the damaged barn.

However, on March 23, upon hearing of the government ban on cabbage, the farmer is reported to have appeared distressed, repeatedly mumbling “It’s all over for Fukushima produce.” The man’s eldest son (35) recalls his father’s mumbling voice: “He probably felt like he just lost everything he had ever worked for during his life.”

The farmer had turned to organic farming some 30 years ago. It took him about ten years to perfect his own special combination of seeding, mulch and soil. He succeeded in growing high-quality produce unprecedented in the region. Very popular with the agricultural association, his cabbage was selected for local elementary school meal programs. Locals say he took pride in growing safe produce: “Food for children demands extra care.”

No formal will was found. The last entry in the farm’s journal is dated March 23. The man’s eldest daughter (41) said, “We have no idea how long this situation will continue. What will become of us? I think everyone involved in agriculture is worried. I pray there will be no more victims like my father.” 

(Translation of the article posted on on March 29, 2011.

Photos from the disaster area (by Asahi Shimbun)

Teaching Karate to let kids have some fun

(By Mr. Masayuki Itoh, an evacuee at the Mizuhama Nursery School, Ogatsu-district, Ishinomaki-Chity, Miyagi Pref.)
I am teaching Taido, the basic of Karate, to the children in order to save them from boredom and let them have fun.

(To the teacher of Taido Association)
Although I was hit by the disaster, I am fine.  Please support us as I try my best with the firm philosophy of Taido that teaches us the contribution to the society.

From NHK website "Those Affected by the Disaster: What I want to tell you now" on March 28, 2011
The second photo from the bottom on the site is Mr. Itoh.

As Food Is Rationed, Resolve Is Plentiful (Article by NYT)

Over 100,000 SDF on front lines (Article by Yomiuri Shimbun)

Local wisdom a lifesaver for kids (Article by Yomiuri Shimbun)

Embassies need concrete info on aid supplies (Article by Yomiuri Shimbun)

Delays plague distribution of overseas aid (Article by Yomiuri Shimbun)

Islanders cut off from mainland due to tsunami (Article by Asahi Shimbun)

For oyster farmer, the sea giveth--and taketh away (Article by Asahi Shimbun)

Pets suffer in aftermath of disaster (Article by Asahi Shimbun)

Humans are not the only one that suffer....

Tsunami-flooded rice paddies to hinder harvest (Article by Asahi Shimbun)

Back in business to serve the community without any thought of making profit

an evacuee at the Mizuhama Nursery School, Ogatsu, Ishinomaki-City, Miyagi Pref.) I’ve resumed my business at the gas station by using manual pumping system. I provide the gas to the emergency vehicle only because there is not enough gas for everyone.  I am not thinking about the profit at all. I have been doing this business for so long in this community.  It is unforgivable to sell the gas at higher price according to the demand under this circumstances. I cannot even think about it.
(By Mr. Yoshikatsu Ito, 

From NHK website "Those Affected by the Disaster: What I want to tell you now" on March 28, 2011
The fourth photo from the top on the site is Mr. Ito.

Cannot sit back and depressed, beach will come alive again

(By Mr. Susumu Ito, an evacuee at the Mizuhama Nursery School, Ogatsu, Ishinomaki-City, Miyagi Pref.)
I’d like the clean-up operation to start as soon as possible at the sea. Also the investigation of the seabed needs immediate attention to bring back the vigorous ocean life. I’d like to start fishing even tomorrow! The beach will come alive, I’m sure.  This area is a treasure-trove for marine products. We need to restore the energy and the vigor of the coastal area so that we can pass it on to the younger generations.  I cannot just sit back and feel depressed.
From NHK website "Those Affected by the Disaster: What I want to tell you now" on March 28, 2011

The third photo from the top on the site is Mr. Ito.

Overwhelmed as a nurse at evacuation center, unable to take care of her own family

(By Ms. Kazumi Kondo, nurse at an evacuation site, the Mizuhama Nursery School, Ogatsu, Ishinomaki-City, Miyagi Pref.)
I am overseeing about 250 people at this evacuation center as a nurse.  It is overwhelming and I cannot give enough attention to my own family. I have three children, but left them at my brother’s.

From NHK website "Those Affected by the Disaster: What I want to tell you now" on March 28, 2011
The second photo from the top on the site is Ms. Kondo.

Picked up foodstuff washed ashore until relief supply arrived

(By Ms. Katsuko Akiyama, an evacuee at the Mizuhama Nursery School, Ogatsu, Ishinomaki-City, Miyagi Pref.)
We picked up the foodstuff washed ashore and shared them with everyone until the relief supplies got here. Scallops are special products in this area and were plentiful. The young people go to the sea and catch them; you might say that it is luxury, but they saved us. We appreciated and enjoyed them.

From NHK website "Those Affected by the Disaster: What I want to tell you now" on March 28, 2011
The top photo on the site is Ms. Akiyama.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Tohoku's recovery is long and difficult

(By Noriko Tashiro, an evacuee  at the Akasaki Fishing Village Center, a makeshift evacuation center, in Ofunato, Iwate Pref.) 
Women preparing the food in the kitchen plan menus to utilize all ingredients without wasting them. Canned beans and pickled cucumbers from abroad, delivered by helicopter, taste good.  We think Tohoku’s recovery will be long and difficult, which will not make our life any easier even when we move to a temporary housing six months or a year later.  We consume rationed ready-made meals, like rice balls, now and we save anything which keeps long for later.

From NHK website "Those Affected by the Disaster: What I want to tell you now" on March 25, 2011
The bottom on the site is Ms. Tashiro.

Everybody is bearing the cold with disposable pocket warmer and three sheets of blanket

(By Ms. Shoko Komukai, an evacuee at the Shiroyama Gymnastic Center & Chuo Community Center, Kamiheigun, Otsuchi-cho, Iwate Pref.)  
Everyone is bearing the cold weather with disposable type pocket body warmer and three sheets of blanket.  As the cold has been relaxing a little, the life becomes easier, yet we are still facing the shortage of the fuel.  Since there is no gas available, I am experiencing the problem of not being able to go to the hospital. 

From NHK website "Those Affected by the Disaster: What I want to tell you now" on March 27, 2011

The fifth from the top on the site is Ms. Komukai.

Elementary school principal's message to the graduating students: we retrieved your certificates of graduation

(By Ms. Mieko Onodera, Principal at Otsuchi Elementary School, at the Shiroyama Gymnastic Hall & Central Community Center,  Kamihei-gun, Otsuchi-cho, Iwate Pref.)  

(To the students at Otsuchi Elememtary School) 
I  hope everyone at the evacuation center are well. We managed to retrieve the certificates of graduation, and I’d like to deliver them to the sixth graders. We decided to hold the graduation ceremony at the Central Community Center on March 29, 2011. The ceremony will start at 1 PM.  I heard that other schools would start at 10 AM, but ours will be at 1PM considering the time to get there. Whoever will be able to come, please come to the ceremony.

From NHK website "Those Affected by the Disaster: What I want to tell you now" on March 27, 2011
The third from the bottom on the site is Ms. Onodera.

Giving kids something to smile about / Teachers bring some joy to children at the disaster zone (Article by Yomiuri Shimbun)

Dog saves owner from tsunami (Article by Yomiuri Shimbun)

Animals are smarter than us.....

In Makeshift Morgues, a New Ritual (Article by WSJ)

NYT Photos: The Aftermath in Japan

Hunting for Permanent Homes (Article by WSJ)

Have wheels, will travel; especially after a major earthquake (Article by Asahi Shimbun)

Triple disaster leaves families with missing loved ones in agony (Article by Mainichi Shimbun)

Relief goods still not reaching isolated evacuees (Article by Mainichi Shimbun)

Blind man struggles to lead life in unfamiliar environment of evacuation shelter (Article by Mainichi Shimbun)

Reporter at sea when quake hit describes encounter with disaster (article by Mainichi Shimbun)

The reporter was my boss when I used to work for Mainichi. I am so glad he was safe. I also praise him for his spirit as a journalist.

Quake Area Residents Turn to Old Means of Communication to Keep Informed (NYT article)

A Japanese Actor's Message (part 3):Think and Imagine the Truth Behind the Scenes

Following is the translation of the text from Tatsumi Takuro, Japanese actor's blog (
"Good News!"

My friend in Ishinomaki finally called; his first since that initial satphone call. “I finally made it home. I’m okay. Thank you!” The knot in my stomach released as my eyes teared up uncontrollably.
Something of a technophobe, I never considered writing a blog. Pressure from friends inspired me to begin my “Michikusa Nikki” (Dawdling Diary), which over a five-day period garnered some 2.5 million hits. Along with a sense of gratitude, I feel a heavy responsibility. I’m filled with the urge to reply to everyone who left comments, but it’s just not possible. I will however endeavor to post updates.

There is an error that I must correct here: In my previous blog, “Jigoku” (Hell…), I mentioned “evacuation centers.” However, it seems these places were not “designated evacuation areas,” but more aptly described as “places to which people evacuated.” In other words, as the first choices for evacuation were swallowed up by the tsunami, survivors waded to buildings poking up through the waters like a patchwork of tiny islands. As these locations were confirmed, it seems a few relief goods began to trickle in.  However, from the perspective of these survivors, viewing the horrible spectacle around them, they must have felt relatively safe. When the water finally receded, those who still had them, returned to their homes; the remaining folks seemed to have made their way safely to evacuation centers. 

I speculate that reasons they didn’t make their whereabouts known include thoughts that many more folks were probably far worse off, and not wanting to be bombarded by media types.

Word that “children are starving” carried such a sense of dread it quickly echoed through the web, spreading over the world like another tsunami. He regrets making the statement now. However, bear his situation in mind. With no medical personnel on hand to determine actual cause of death, he described the death of children with nothing to eat as “starvation.”

Unable to stop myself from playing the role of reporter, I selected this particularly impressive phrase from the many things he told me.
“Even if you come here, there is really nothing you can do. Perhaps it would be better if you lent us a hand once we’re back on our feet.”

It’s been ten days since the initial quake. Search and rescue operations are still underway. Amid growing concerns about damaged nuclear power facilities, and continuing after shocks, the number of victims remains unclear. A rosy path forward (the mission of television I think), and myriad video images are being beamed into our homes, however, actual recovery, especially in coastal communities, still seems a long way off.

I must store up my energy until that day. Yes, I will continue doing all that I can here, while looking forward to the earliest opportunity to go to the disaster zone to see what I can do there.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Philippines' fund-raiser to repay Japan

"The amount of money collected from our poor township residents may be so small for the Japanese, but we would like to possibly help the people who had saved us," said Mayor Rico Rentuza of Saint Bernard township on Leyte Island in the Central Philippines where the massive landslide had killed 1,000 residents in 2006.  He started a fund-raiser to give something back to Japan, which had contributed to Saint Bernard's reconstruction and rehabilitation to build temporary housing.

(translation from the article by Asahi Shimbun on March 27, 2010:

A volunteer's voice: we are brothers and sisters, that's the teaching of Islam

(By a volunteer who came from Aichi Prefecture. Interviewed at the Shiroyama Gymnastic Hall & Central Community Center,  Ohtsuchi Cho, Kamihei Gun, Iwate Prefecture)
We Musulim think that we are all brothers and sisters. Regardless of language or religion, when disaster like this happens, we go where it happens and help each other. That is the teaching of Islam.

from NHK website "Those Affected by the Disaster: What I want to tell you now" on March 24, 2011
His name cannot be put into English. His photo is the second from the bottom

I would rather travel back in time before tsunami hit us

(by Mr. Kazuki Saito, an evacuee at the Shiroyama Gymnastic Hall & Central Community Center,  Ohtsuchi Cho, Kamihei Gun, Iwate Prefecture)
Before the quake hit, we took it for granted eating rice, hamburg, etc. and and I used to eat plateful of rice. But here, we can only get small portions of food. Besides, we only get small side dishes and miso soup. I do not want to live like this every again. I would rather travel back in time before the tsunami hit us by time machine. I want to go further back.

from NHK website "Those Affected by the Disaster: What I want to tell you now" on March 24, 2011
The third from the top on the site is Kazuki.

Doctor's note from the evacuation center: diabetic patients in need of insulin

3days after the quake hit, I went to Iwate for relief activity but all the medicine I brought with me was quickly gone. Especially, those diabetic patient was suffering without sufficient insulin supply.

(posted on

Doctor's note from the evacuation center: majority of victims died of drowning

I have participated in medical volunteer organized by Miyagi Prefectural Medical Association. My task was to create postmortem certificates and I could not manage doing my job without shedding tears. The condition of the disaster-affected area is way beyond what is being shown on TV or written in the newspapers. Predominant cause of deaths is drowning and suffocation. More damage was done by tsunami than by earthquake itself.  Since tsunami was involved, it was a matter of death or life, no room for in-between. Not many scene of being saved from underneath the rubble. I was moved to see the member of Self-Defence Forces and firefighters quietly do their jobs in a brisk pace. I set up a donation box at my clinic and many patients gave contribution in a short period of time. I am going to get involved  with rebuilding effort of the disaster-affected area in various ways. I would hope that many med school students volunteer to participate in the relief activity during their spring break. It is going to be a true life lesson. Personally, I think it should be a compulsory subject.  Hang in there, Japan! (Gambare, Nippon!)

What a volunteer nurse witnessed during a week after the quake

Ms. Toshiko Mitake, a nurse working for a hospital in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, volunteered to go to Otsuchi, Iwate prefecture, severely hit area as well as Ms. Mitake's hometown. She could not believe the image on TV--her hometown completely destroyed and devastated. She tried to contact her parents in Otsuchi but could not reach them.

"They must have been dead..." she thought and cried that day.

3 days after the quake, she found herself on the way to Tohoku region, to provide medical relief as a volunteer member of the Association of Medical Doctors of Asia (AMDA). She first got to Sendai for relief activity. Afterwards, she moved to Otsuchi and Kamaishi, where the medical rescue was hard to deliver. On the 15th, she got her parents'. Two-floor house was damaged by tsunami on the 1st floor, but she found that her parents evacuated to a nearby house and were safe, to her great relief.

Ms. Mitake witnessed dismal state of evacuees in her hometown. People got bladder inflammation because they tried to frequent less to the bathroom (to avoid waiting in cold and long line). Others were suffering from allergy not being able to change their clothes. Many people are so traumatized by the quake and they got so scared every time afterquake came.

"It was so cold at the evacuation center," she recalled the first seven days since the quake. She could not stay longer and now she is back to work in Kawasaki. But she is willing to volunteer again in the future.

(summary of the article by Jiji Press on March 24, 2011)