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Tohoku:Voices from Minamisanriku

2016.4.10

It has been five years since the Great East Japan Earthquake disaster struck northern Japan, PWJ interviewed people from Minamisanriku where PWJ is supporting the work of local NGO called Viva! Minamisanriku and its activities for the elderly.

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The land preparation continues in Minamisanriku

building a new town, not restoring the old
“Tsunami swallowed me and took me down in the water. I couldn’t breathe for about 20 seconds or so. The thought of death came to my mind, but I found a floating house gutter and I clung onto it, and I survived. I can still remember clearly the terrible sound of tsunami rushing through” said Kiyomi Suzuki, 59, from Minamisanriku, Miyagi, looking back on March 11, 2011. Presently in Minamisanriku, various reconstruction projects occupy large percentage of the town, but to Kiyomi, “I don’t really feel like the town has been recovering, instead, it almost looks like the new town is being built. I am becoming more and more aware that I won’t be able to live in the same place, the house I had lived in for years before the tsunami took it away.”

survival still goes on
“just when I was finally overcoming the hardship after the disaster, another hardship took me over. Having to lost my house, is really sinking in now.” said Hisako Miura. “Survival has been my focus, but after more than four years have passed, I can’t help but feeling strong anxiety how I will keep on living in the upcoming years.” People have formed new communities at temporary housings which has brought long-needed psychological stability to many, but people are aware that as the reconstruction moves forward, they all will need to move out from the temporary housing to the permanent houses. Again, they need to start nurturing the new relationships and build a new neighbors and community, not an easy thing to do, “what if I don’t get along?” such thoughts creates more anxiety.

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Viva! Minamisanriku Executive Director Kiyomi Suzuki (7th from the left) and Hisako Miura (5th from the left) attending one of the classes.

trying not to be forgotten
It is difficult to keep the awareness of what happened in Tohoku. “I would like to share my tsunami experiences but I don’t think people want to hear about them.” Nazuna Saijyo,年齢, 8th grader at Shizukawa Junior High School, talked to PWJ. Even though there are still visitors coming to disaster affected areas, the number has drastically decreased. In recent days, Nazuna said she can feel that when she talk about her experiences to the visitors, many of them only show little interest as they did right after the disaster.

“kizuna”, person-to-person bonding, gives strength to move forward
However, when PWJ asked about what keep them moving forward, Hisako Miura responded as “connectedness with others”. “one of the volunteers who came to help us right after the disaster keeps coming back to see me every year. She told me that how I looked has been getting better each year. Her comment made me so happy. Even though we see each other once a year, living far away from each other, I realize this kind of person-to-person connectedness gives me power to keep it going.”

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Nazuna Saijyo, at a PWJ youth program in Augusut, 2012. ”I really enjoyed the youth program. I made lots of friends and I learned more about the town I grew up in.” Nazuna explained with a big smile.

For the past five years, PWJ has been witnessing immense change in people’s emotions to face the disaster as well as the need for the recovery from the disaster. However, we have also acknowledge the community’s strong sense of resilience that has never changed since the first day we arrived in Tohoku in March 2011. PWJ hopes to walk along with people and communities in Tohoku to help support the recovery path together.