Tohoku Report : Phillida Purvis

Visiting Tohoku Six Months On

- A lecture given to the Japan Society, 11 October 2011 -

The disaster

We have all heard the figures – 15,550 dead, 5344 missing, 5688 injured and around half a million people displaced with more than 100,000 houses destroyed. But it is difficult to imagine what that means in reality for the people behind the statistics. Discovering how the damage has been cleared and how homes, lives and livelihoods are being rebuilt, six months after the destruction wreaked by the tsunami of 11 March was the object of our visit to some of the devastated areas in the three affected prefectures. We went to towns in all three prefectures, whose individual losses are sufficiently shocking – Soma 448 people dead, 11 people missing: population affected by water damage, 10,436; 4,545 evacuees, 1,038 houses destroyed; Sendai  704 people dead and 43 people missing, population affected by water damage 29, 962; 16,099 houses destroyed; 100,5947 evacuees; 1,523  temporary housing units needed; Ishinomaki 3,132 people dead and 1012 missing, population affected by water damage 112,276; 18,900 houses destroyed; 50, 758 evacuees; 7,900 temporary housing units needed; Kamaishi 870 people dead and 359 missing, population affected by water damage13,164; 9883 evacuees, 2,945 houses destroyed; Rikuzentakata 1,213 people dead and 543 missing; population affected by water damage 16,640; 10,143 evacuees, 3,159 houses destroyed; Kesennuma 983 people dead and 446 missing, population affected by water damage 40,331;  28,600 evacuees, 3,279 temporary housing units needed.

Compensation and clean-up
The victims have received at least one part of the compensation due to them, mostly from money donated to the Japan Red Cross (of $3.4 billion at mid July) and the Community Chest, Red Feather appeal, under a process administered by the Ministry of Labour Health and Welfare, disbursed at national, prefectural and municipal level, according to calculations specific to them.  These are quite complicated but, in brief, an amount will be paid of about £10,500 in two or three tranches, for loss of life, and £3,000 for a missing person and about £22,500 for a totally destroyed house and £9,000 for a partially destroyed house (including amounts to be distributed amongst the household). Additional compensation is paid to children who have been orphaned and those who take over the care of orphans and other payments contribute to the cost of moving to temporary housing and support for independent living in them. The Nippon Foundation and other donors have supplemented these amounts. Most of the evacuees moved in June into the rent-free temporary housing of which the state has already built approximately 50,000 units, dotted all around the three prefectures, on any spare land and much that had other use previously, such as parks and playgrounds. The Red Cross has equipped these with a TV, fridge, washing machine, rice cooker and microwave with donations from national Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies in 117 countries (of $416 million at end June).

A typical scene - debris piled up at IshinomakiA massive effort has gone into the clearing up operation, lead by Self Defence Forces, who have now withdrawn. In the most easy-to-clear, that is most devastated areas, battered cars are piled high in neat rows and streets have been cleared of debris which has been divided into what can be burned and what must be dumped. It is estimated that there is about 25 million tons of this debris and rubble to clear and that it could take up to three years to move it. In some smaller towns the task has hardly begun. In these, houses and other buildings stand eerily shattered and empty, with upturned remains of furniture and shredded fittings swinging loose. On the walls of many such houses a red cross indicates a lost life. The government will bear the cost of tearing down a house – a red flag marks the owner’s permission, a green flag indicates that the owner wishes it to be left and a yellow flag asks for all the surrounding debris to be cleared. As was explained to us ‘it may not seem much, but everything belongs to and means something to someone’.

Where there are neither high rugged cliffs nor manmade harbours along the coastline to provide protection from the powerful waves of the tsunami, its repeated, swirling surges, swept, unhindered by fragile structures of housing, offices, shops and warehouses across the flat river plains. Here, in Rikuzen takata and Minami Sanriku, there are no houses to be marked. Only a few strongly constructed concrete buildings are left standing, such as the hospital building in Rikuzen takata and, alongside it one isolated room – the x-ray room on closer inspection. Against all odds, a single pine tree remains nearer the sea front – this ipponmatsu has become a symbol of resilience and hope.

The symbolic surviving pine tree at Rikuzentakata

Volunteering Support
Each prefecture of Japan has made a support link with a damaged town and other government authorities, the fire and police services for example, have made different links through their own networks. One massive element of support has been the despatch to the area of well over half a million volunteers, solicited through local authorities and voluntary organisations. More than half of this number has been working in Miyagi Prefecture. In some of the volunteer centres, which are mostly run by the local Social Welfare Councils, any volunteer will be accepted for general clearing work. We witnessed bus load after bus load arriving at the Rikuzen takata volunteer centre, with number plates from all parts of Japan. Over 1,000 were despatched on that day – but the numbers will surely diminish after this month, with the end of the public holiday season, and as the temperatures cool.  The systems in place are very thorough and careful support is given to the volunteers, in matching the nature of the work with their skill and ability. Medical advice is given, warning, when we were there, of severe heat, nails and glass in the rubble, infection from cuts, recommending the wearing of steel-tipped rubber boots, plastic sacks and long trousers and long-sleeved shirts and offering medical support for any injury.

In other places, such as Kesennuma, volunteers must register ahead as the space and connecting capacity is more limited, or risk being turned away, many of them there will therefore offer specific skills. Overnight stay is in temporary accommodation, such as Kanagawa Prefecture’s Kintaro House, or in private houses, Shelter Box or personal tents.  Again the latter will be more difficult to use as temperatures fall.

Rikuzentakata Volunteer Dispatch Center

The Role and Challenges of Local NPOs
We were particularly interested in the role of NPOs in recovery in the affected areas, now that the immediate post-disaster emergency rescue work has been completed, the Self Defence Forces and many major NGOs have withdrawn and the majority of evacuees are housed in temporary housing units, since their support is the focus of the Japan Society funding.  In Iwate there are 350 NPOs registered with the Prefecture, in Fukushima 580 and Miyagi 591. Per 10,000 people this is a lower number of NPOs than the national average of 3.35, working out at 2.6 for Iwate, 2.8 for Fukushima and 2.5 for Miyagi. The greatest number in all three prefectures is primarily promoting health, medical and social welfare activities. The fact that in each of the 17 categories of activity listed under the NPO law, Iwate has an average of 126 NPOs active, Miyagi 147 and Fukushima 171 demonstrates that the local NPOs tend to be dealing with a huge range of issues with the consequent sacrifice of focus.

The expertise, in almost all the NPOs we visited, was being supplemented by, if not heavily contributed to from outside, that is on secondment from major International NGOs or large NPOs from other parts of  Japan, mostly Tokyo and the Kobe area. To give some examples we found amongst the staff at the Sendai-Miyagi NPO Center, secondees from JICA and from ETIC, the Tokyo-based social enterprise incubators who had a programme of dispatching their trained leaders to the area; Kanagawa  and Shizuoka prefectural government officers coordinating their authority’s response in Tono in Iwate;  a Tokyo-based social enterprise running an innovative job restoration project in Kamaishi,; the Tokyo Voluntary Action Center helping the Rikuzen Takata Volunteer Center; a representative of Civic Force working with the Kesennuma Shotengai Recovery Organisation and from CARE working with the Life Support Project K also in Kesennuma.

Many of the NPOs did exist before March – since this, like all other rural regions of Japan, has been suffering from declining populations, unemployment and the consequent move of the youth to the cities, and diminishing support systems for the elderly.  However, the high degree of dependency on government in these remoter areas has also been a feature of the NPOs, expecting most of their funding to be provided by the state.

Since March many organisations have been born but they have limited experience and no certainty of financial support for their survival, when the initial post-crisis funding support, and help of volunteers, dries up. This emergency support, we also learned, often comes with strings attached. There is evidence that donors arrive with their own funding agenda, which has the effect in some cases of exploiting the local people for the sake of donors’ wishes – a classic development pitfall. What we felt was most in need is the expertise to empower and strengthen existing NPOs and to help others to start and to build.  The lack of intermediary, network organisations is a feature of the Japanese NPO sector nationally, but especially in this area. Those that do exist nationally are coming together to establish systems, including guidebooks, for response to natural disasters in the future.  Our partners, Sendai Miyagi NPO Center, stand out as exceptional in the area in the length of their support experience and being able to deliver capacity-building programmes –but the equivalent organisation in Iwate had already folded before March. Now a new Iwate Renkei Fukkou Center has been formed, building on its vital immediate post-disaster delivery of information, creating communication channels and matching of supplies with those who needed them.  The Center is run by Junichi Kano a Japanese sweet maker who lost his shop and home to the tsunami. He already ran a small NPO, RIAS working on machitsukuri, community strengthening. Now their task is to create communities from scratch, as they have been totally destroyed, especially in the temporary housing estates. The largest in Iwate houses 282 families. 4,500 people are still missing and, shockingly, 180 bodies are still unidentified. Kano is supported by a few staff and volunteers, and is employing people, who are themselves victims, under a prefectural cash for work programme to gather and distribute information.

A new building stands next to a destroyed fish processing plant at Ishinomaki

Much of the effort of NPOs in all the areas is focused on community building in temporary housing estates, since communities have been destroyed totally. Often temporary housing is far from town and people are physically distant from their abandoned homes, schools and places of work which makes the taking of decisions about their own futures the harder. This is exacerbated of course by uncertainty about whether destroyed communities will be rebuilt in the same area and whether insurance payouts will be sufficient.  There is also a major difficulty in finding leaders who will initiate and coordinate any activities. Symposia are arranged to elicit local people’s views that might draw out leaders – even massage, flower-arranging, tea ceremony going on walks or organising people to paint the outside walls of the uninspiring temporary housing units. Even volunteering to take responsibility for the key of meeting room, of which there is one for every 50 temporary housing units, seems to be a challenging step. Evacuees do not know their neighbours, they are not necessarily from the same evacuation centres, and certainly not from home as people had the choice of evacuating to other prefectures, generally remaining if any family member has work locally to continue. Hosting prefectures offer the accommodation free of charge, which, in the case of other communities in Fukushima whose agricultural businesses have been badly affected by the nuclear disaster but who receive no governmental support, is often the cause of friction.

The Japan Society Eastern Japan Earthquake Fund
Our partners, the Sanaburi Foundation, established by the Sendai Miyagi NPO Center, have conducted consultations and needs assessments locally on the basis of which it has been decided that the donations to the Japan Society, as the Japan Society Rose Fund, should be divided into two programmes A and B. A is supporting recovery activities of not-for-profit organisations in the three affected prefectures. They must have a track record of more than 1 year of activity; be able to communicate information about their activities; the activities to be funded must be between 3 – 6 months duration; and grants will be in the region of Y1.5 million. This can cover the full cost of the project ie the cost of implementation and of administration, although staff costs must not be more than half of the total. A final report is expected, including the accounts. Under this recovery heading some funds have also been allocated to special projects particular to the prefecture – in Iwate, those which support evacuees, connecting people from coastal and those from inland communities; in Miyagi the promotion of exchange and connections between evacuees in temporary housing and existing communities and in Fukushima the connection of evacuees in other parts of Japan with those remaining in the prefecture.

Programme B will help build capacity of organisations to deliver support. Priority will be given to NPOs, and other organisations, with budgets of less than Y10m, capable of advertising and delivering support and managing accounts. Organisations with no track record (ie those established post disaster) are eligible, but in the case of intermediary organisations, they need to have a track record of more than 3 years’ operation. A maximum of Y2 million will be granted to successful applicants, administration costs of up to 20% can be included and staff costs must not exceed 60%. Projects which only provided or deliver goods are not eligible, nor are political or religious projects. An activity report, including accounts and mission statement for the following year’s plan must be included.

Applications will be assessed by a committee, comprising appropriate representatives from all three prefectures and short-lists of recommended projects will be sent to the Japan Society committee for comment, before approval.

We are making efforts to try and find funding from other sources to support the development of the intermediary network organisations, that is the cost of experienced organisations to deliver training and that of the local networks to receive it, so that ensure the sustainability of vital local level capacity building work.

Evidence of some exceptional people doing good things
a) Recreating employment
Jin Sekiguchi used to run a catering service social enterprise in Tokyo called Platform Service.  He managed to obtain a Y100 million donation from the Rotary Club to get this project going in Kamaishi, Kamaishi Kitchen.  They bought some vans which they kitted out as mobile kitchens.  These are being rented out to different restaurant owners who had lost their premises.  Platform Service does all the negotiation with the authorities about where the vans may operate.  The idea is that the restaurant owners will make a bit of money and eventually go back when they have managed to reopen their restaurants.  They are now considering whether this model of business incubator might be expanded beyond just restaurants.  We discussed with Sekiguchi the detail of his impressive social impact business and comparable social enterprise models in the UK: his provides employment and incubates new businesses which can then move on so that others can come in and benefit. It is financially self- sustaining, restauranteurs who have lost their premises rent the vans from him and provide an affordable  service (cheap and freshly cooked food) to those in temporary housing. It requires the initial seed corn donation, or investment to expand the model.

In Kesennuma in the grounds of a tiny temple we met Masato Sakamoto who was re- creating in temporary buildings the destroyed Kesennuma Shotengai – the local shopping mall of about 50 shops.  He and his team had managed to raise a small amount of funding and the loan of land from the local government and each shopkeeper would pay just Y7,000 a month as rent.  These temporary shops will open in the next month and the hope was that the confidence of local shopowners would be rebuilt, that they recover an income, for the eventual reopening of their shops and keep their customers and in the meantime the local people could buy the things they needed.

In Ichinoseki, 50 kilometres inland from Kesennuma, we found a sushi restaurant, with few customers but more than the usual number of sushi chefs.  The sushiyasan explained that this was the Ichinoseki branch of a Kesennuma restaurant which had been wiped out. The whole team was now working in Ichinoseki, sleeping above the shop, all sacrificing some salary to make the arrangement work. They were getting on with their lives, trying to continue business, hoping to reopen in Kesennuma in due course.

b) Counselling and advice
The mayor of Soma is himself a doctor. The city was financing an NPO called Soma Follow Team that had been set up by Yasuhiro Suto to provide in schools and a counselling centre therapy and counselling to children, many of whom had lost friends and relations. Many others were not attending school, since their parents were fearful of their having to cope with all the challenges of a new school, often distant from their temporary housing and difficult to get to.  Parents of smaller children did not even wish their children to play outside, in case of contact with contaminated soil.  Suto and fellow psychiatrists are also setting up a new NPO which intends to open a clinic for inpatient and day care facilities for those adults needing psychiatric and psychosocial care, since access to facilities in Sendai, had been cut off with damage to the railway line and to the Hospital in Minami Sohma as it was in the exclusion zone. The Japan Society of New York, we learned, has made a donation to this effort and we are now looking for other support. Ken Sato, the Soma deputy mayor, confirmed in his town that most of the NPO activity had been undertaken by major NPOs coming from outside the region.  Now local NPOs are being set up concentrating on counselling and also on providing an informal market in local produce, buying food and selling it cheap to people in temporary housing, trying to give some business to the farmers and performing a service to the evacuees.

Kako Murakami, a social worker from Kesennuma, is running Seikatsu Shien Project K in Kesennuma to provide help and support – much in the form of advice to people who are now living in temporary housing have lost their communities.  They run events to help rebuild communities – such as games for children and the chance for them to play with small animals, to get families out of their houses. They also run an advisory service.  Many people are desperate to know what they should be doing: what is the legal situation about their house whether it was rented or owned? What compensation are they owed?  What can they do now that their compensation money has run out and winter is coming?  Murakami and her colleague and volunteers spend a lot of time listening  and signposting to relevant authorities – they have made a friendly place in a hut with a cup of coffee for people to come and feel at home and talk about their problems.

c) Getting people doing things
Zenko Matsumura’s NPO – the Ishinomaki Sports Recovery Support Center was started 10 years to provide sporting opportunities where there were none.  Now he is adapting the mission for the needs of people today.  By putting on events and activities he hopes he will find the new leaders to do things – to start their own activities and to restore a sense of confidence. He does this work from his sports shop which was partially destroyed by the tsunami.  He has got it back into reasonable shape, although windows are still boarded over and wires were hanging from the ceiling.  He was a leader in his evacuation centre and brought together other evacuation centre leaders to communicate and coordinate. With the move into temporary housing, those new communities were again broken up and confidence has evaporated. Through a range of activities, he is trying to create opportunities for people to do things together and take initiative, since they had become too dependent while in the evacuation centres. He felt that there had been an ‘overkill’ of big NGOs in Ishinomaki – there now needed to be local sensitivity and grassroot activity.

Another Ishinomaki NPO Egao de Tsunagarou  – Let’s connect with Smiling Faces, after 11 March had adapted its existing family support mission.   They work on programmes to create a spirit of community amongst children, in temporary housing areas, in scout-like activities.  They are also matching people who want to give support.  They are working closely with people who had been involved with the Hanshin Awaji earthquake and had taken some children to visit Kobe.  The lesson there had been how important it was to build community activity.  They were also creating projects to help people to generate just a little income and thereby also to give them something to do.  Child abuse was becoming a problem with people doing nothing and just getting desperate and frustrated. There are also many suicides. The NPO was staffed by victims – people, mostly mothers, who had no homes and no employment and no money.  We went with her colleague, Keita Watanabe, to the main Ishinomaki temporary housing estate, of 1,200 households, built on a planned industrial estate, named, now inappropriately, the Tomorrow Business Town. Their activities were advertised on notice boards. They had also created maps of all the units and how they were set out, as none had been provided, making it even more difficult to identify friends and acquaintances.

Promised funding   for the organisation was slow in coming and the founder, Yoshie Kaneko, in spite of extreme personal difficulties,  was paying her staff out of her own pocket. We discussed with Watanabe some of the issues of managing an NPO in particular the need for focus – the difficulty of saying no – when they were overrun by people asking for all sorts of things, including funders wanting to connect with ‘local people’.  How does the NPO focus on what is really important when being approached from all sides by people in distress?  We encouraged him to retain his focus on a small number of key objectives.

These are just a few examples, from our very short visit, of extraordinary individuals dealing with extraordinary issues. They need energy, imagination and resilience. They deserve our ongoing support.

Phillida Purvis
Links Japan
September 2011

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