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 the tenth speaker in this series, Ms. Naoe China (pronounced “cheenuh”), from the Okinawa Diocese. Ms. China is an instructor at Shoseito Hoikuen (All Saints’ Nursery), located in Okinawa City. As part of the “One Family” program to assist child nursing in Fukushima, she came to St. Paul’s Kindergarten, Koriyama, to help with child care there. While she was in Fukushima, she visited Tomioka Town, where no-go zones and restricted residence zones exist side by side, as well as the areas surrounding Fukushima Daiichi, to learn much about what is going on in Fukushima and the devastation a nuclear power plant can cause.
My experience with the “One Family” program
Ms. Naoe China, All Saints’ Nursery, Okinawa
The English below written and arranged by Heeday, based on the original Japanese
The English edited by Rev. Dr. Henry French, ELCA
The One Family program provides us with opportunities to work with staffers of St. Paul’s Kindergarten, located in Koriyama, Fukushima. Taking this opportunity more than a half year ago (time flies!), I visited the kindergarten and worked together with the people there for six days, October 19th through 24th, 2015. On the first day, I was so nervous and at a loss over what to do, yet on the last day I hated having to go home. This is evidence that all the people I met with in Koriyama were very nice and warmly welcoming.
In 2015, when I decided to go to Koriyama, I was honestly worried over what radiation could do to my body. Radiation is invisible, and one experiences many hardships trying to protect him/herself from it. Such fear and hardships have never been alleviated for those living in Fukushima. It was the niceness of the people around me in Koriyama, especially that of the children, that relieved me of this fear.
Whether at St. Paul’s or in Okinawa, children are lively with beautiful smiles. Here in Japan, children call us instructors, “sensei” (literally, “teacher”). The children of Fukushima and Okinawa speak with different accents when they call me “sensei.” I found the Fukushima accent somehow comforting.
The instructors at St. Paul’s were also cheerful and had lovely smiles. Among them, I could behave as I did at home. Still, I witnessed as well many dark sides of the reality there. The children carried Geiger counters, and people had to measure the radiation levels of the sand and artificial grass in the kindergarten’s yard. Also, whenever we took the children out, we had to tell them what they could and could not touch. The reality was harsh.
Today, more than half a year has passed since I visited Koriyama, and more than five years since the meltdown began. The most important thing I have learned so far is that children, no matter what kind of environment they are in, are still growing, both physically and mentally. When I visited Koriyama, I was not sure what I could do for people there, though I was certain I should do something. Spending days with them, however, and looking back on the days I spent together with them, I have learned how to “walk together” mentally, not necessarily in things and acts that are visible.
While I was at a loss as to what to do, the children were growing up every day, and their families, nurses, and instructors, were doing everything they could for them. What I can do for them is to be someone with whom they can talk about their worries, sadness, fatigue, etc. I can be someone from whom they can find comfort and encouragement. Well, I might not be good enough to become such a someone, but I try to be, as all the happy memories of the days I spent with Koriyama’s instructors, children, and their families remain firmly with me. We are still together.
Today, more than half a year after my Koriyama days, I am here in Okinawa and every time I hear place names like “Fukushima” and “Koriyama” on the TV, I find myself responding. And my heart darkens every time, since it is almost always about something bad—something about Fukushima Daiichi or what is going on there. Countless people are eager to hear some good news from there, to hear that the recovery of Fukushima is done and the people there are at last living at ease.
I cannot help the countless people who need help, but I can pray for those people I met and love. I believe I can be of some help to them through my prayers.
I pray the day will come soon when all those children, their families, and the instructors and staffers can live with a smile that rises from the bottom of their hearts.