With children’s smiles

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 twelfth speaker in this series, Ms. Yukari Zayasu, from the Okinawa Diocese. Ms. Zayasu is an instructor at St. Matthew’s Kindergarten, located in Tomigusuku, Okinawa. In the “One Family” program to assist child nursing in Fukushima, she came to St. Paul’s Kindergarten, Koriyama, in October 2014 to help with childcare. As someone who deeply loves children, Ms. Zayasu took very good care of the children of St. Paul’. Helping with childcare in Fukushima, she learned what the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown has actually done to the people here, including many things not covered by the mass media.

“With children’s smiles”

Ms. Yukari Zayasu, St. Matthew’s Kindergarten, Okinawa


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


In 2014, I visited St. Paul’s Kindergarten, Koriyama. Already three years had passed since the East Japan Earthquake of 2011, which caused the nuclear power plant meltdown. I had been longing to do something to help the people of Fukushima, so I thanked God when I joined in this kindergarten/nursery staff exchange program.

When I reached Fukushima, the first thing I noticed was that the streets were so beautiful and so different from those in Okinawa. It was already close to twilight when I arrived, and the people walking by seemed calm and gentle. I felt nostalgic, in a way. Some of the buildings damaged by the 2011 earthquake had been rebuilt or repaired, and the people’s normal life was, to some extent, coming back. I knew the residents of Fukushima were striving hard to restore their “normal.” Still, I thought they were quite calm and gentle—possibly I failed to see them rightly.

Anyway, on the following day, I began to serve St. Paul’s. In any kindergarten, the staffers clean the building(s). Yet here in Fukushima, this cleanup is meticulous and time-consuming, following a defined procedure. Still, I joined in this cleanup gladly, since it was simple manual labor anyway. Then, the children came in and we sang hymns and said prayers. Later we had good lunch. Surrounded by the smiling children, I had a very good time.

My time together with them was quite short. Still, I joined in an outing with the children, played with them in the kindergarten’s fully-equipped hall on the second floor, and I hope I was of some help to them. Having such a great time, I felt just as at home as I was in Okinawa. All the instructors and staffers at St. Paul’s were beautiful people, and the kids were all very lovely. I even wished I could settle down there.

Still, I learned what agonies Fukushima was experiencing, and I was at a loss as to what to do. Many are still living in temporary housing, while there is nowhere to dispose of the collected radioactive waste. Geiger counters are installed at parks, and children are prohibited from touching insects to avoid unnecessary exposure to radiation. Fear and anger coexisted inside me. And again, I was at a loss as to what to do for Fukushima. Still, although I was at a loss, the children held on to me with lovely smiles on their faces. I wanted to keep them safe.

After I came back to Okinawa and my “usual” life, my yearning to protect Fukushima’s children grew stronger, though I still do not know how to. Now, those children I spent such a wonderful time with are in elementary schools, and St. Paul’s is filled with the cheerful voices of new children.

I still remember the yearning I had to serve St. Paul’s when the kindergarten’s faculty held a welcome party for me at the start of my visit. That was a Friday evening, and I still remember the kindergarten’s chairperson saying, “It is very nice that this district is thriving again.”

I will keep praying for Fukushima, cherishing the sweet memories of my visit. The beautiful streets in Fukushima that I appreciated on my first day there were restored by the people there; they should be handed down to future generations. I pray that those streets and the lovely smiles of children will always be there. And I certainly hope to visit Fukushima again.