Working with “comfy cafes”

More than five years have passed since the earthquake and tsunami devastated much of eastern Japan in March 2011. Looking back on the past half-decade, we are sharing some stories and recollections from those we have been “walking together” with since the devastation, one by one.
Given below is a story from another speaker in this series, Ms. Toshiko Tani, a volunteer providing tea and sweets to the “comfy cafes” at two temporary housing sites in Iwaki, Fukushima – one at Izumi-Tamatsuyu, Tomioka, and the other at Hiruno, Watanabe.

“Working with comfy cafes”
(Cafes at temporary housing sites for those affected by the East Japan Earthquake of March 2011)

 Toshiko Tani, The Nara Episcopal Church

The English below written and arranged by Heeday, based on the original Japanese
The English edited by Rev. Dr. Henry French, ELCA


Today, five years and almost four months have passed since the 2011 disaster. Those affected by it have been carrying heavy burdens, both physical and spiritual, far beyond the imaginations of the rest of us—fears, hardships, hopelessness, sorrows, solitude, groaning, etc. I wish the disaster had never hit anyone. I want to have words of real comfort to the victims. It is extremely hard to see and understand the agonies they have been experiencing. I desire more compassionate understanding.

Also, I am living far away from them. What can I do for them? I am aged and not very strong now. So, if I visit them to “help,” I might end up as causing trouble for them. Afraid of causing such trouble, I thought all I could do was to pray for them. Then, the bishop and some others from Tohoku, the hard-hit region, proposed having “comfy cafes” in Onahama, Iwaki, Fukushima. In response, the women’s associations of the Dioceses of Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe offered help to the cafes. These women have been working with the cafes for almost four years. I myself have been working with them for almost two years now. Women of different churches of the three dioceses have been voluntarily helping those cafes, for which I here express my applause. They have been sending to Onahama many delicacies, fruits of the season, handmade sweets, etc., together with short letters.

At my church, The Nara Episcopal Church, I called for help in making sweets, and more volunteers gathered than I expected. Today, many of us still get together to enjoy both chatting and making sweets. Some of the volunteers prepare lunch for all of us. Others make tea for us, while the rest of us chat together: “This sweet is great.” “Need more sugar in it.” “Should give it a bit of salt,” and so on. We make a surplus of sweets and then ask church people to buy them in order to finance the ingredients and shipping costs. Actually, we sometimes have a surplus of money as well! Thus, all the people of the church are helping us make sweets and send them to the comfy cafes.

Our chats help us relax and smile as we work seriously on making sweets: “Hope they like this.” “Hope everyone over there is having a good time and has a smile on her/his face,” and so on.

Deacon Kishimoto, who takes care of the cafes at the sites, said, in a phone conversation with me, “We are determined to serve temporary housing residents until there is no one left in temporary housing.” Also, on June 1st and 2nd, 2016, the Women’s Association of the Kyoto Diocese held a general assembly where Ms. Chikako Nishihara, who also takes care of the cafes at the sites, was invited to speak. With many words of gratitude, she said, “I will remain in temporary housing until there is no one else left.” Her words moved me greatly. I believe I am not the only one determined to keep working with her in the coming years.