Category Archives: Voices

Features of Support Center Shinchi

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 listening to some stories and recollections from those we have been “walking together with,” one by one, since the devastation.

Below is a story from our fifth speaker in this series, Ms. Keiko Kitagawa, a voluntary staffer at “Support Center Shinchi-Gangoya,” serving those affected by the March 2011 disaster. The center is located within a temporary housing complex in Shinchi, Soma County, Fukushima.

Soon after the 2011 disaster, Ms. Kitagawa visited Minamisoma City to help as part of a team of medics. Today, the support center holds a Wednesday café, which features, among other things, “Comfy Time for Kids and Parents.” In this comfy time, Ms. Kitagawa (known as “Dr. Keiko”), a medical doctor in the fields of psychiatry and pediatrics, and another pediatrician, Dr. Kazuko Meijo (“Dr. Kako-chan”) take turns discussing and consulting on many issues.


“Features of Support Center Shinchi”

Dr. Keiko Kitagawa,
Volunteer at Support Center Shinchi-Gangoya

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

In April, soon after the March 2011 disaster, I began to visit Kamaishi, Iwate, every month as a psychiatrist to help those affected. Then, in August of the same year, I began to visit the City of Fukushima for the same purpose.

I have been listening to those affected by the disaster and providing medical consultations to them at clinics, at the dorms of evacuee children, at consultation meetings for parents, at local schools, and at temporary housing facilities. The evacuees find my service through religious organizations, both Christian and Buddhist, other non-profits, and local medical organizations.

I began my service at Support Center Shinchi (in “Shinchi Base”), a center to help those affected by the 2011 disaster located in Shinchi, Soma County, Fukushima, in 2012. It used to stand beside National Route No. 6, but now it is within Shinchi Base, in the Gangoya Temporary Housing Complex. There, I spend time together with those locals who were affected by the disaster. I listen to those who want to talk to me at tea parties held at Shinchi Base and the housing complex, and I visit households in the complex. I visit neighborhood elementary schools, upon their request, to advise them on helping children there. I have also met with many other volunteers who give the residents massages, haircuts, home visits, etc.

I have been working with many support organizations and their staffers, as well as with temporary housing residents and other locals. Support Center Shinchi-Gangoya has some unique features.

First, Mr. Hiroshi Matsumoto, a staffer at the support center, came to Shinchi soon after the 2011 tragedies to help locals and, ever since Shinchi Base was developed, he has been living as one of the locals. With him, I see no “unilateral help” from helpers to locals, or a sort of “hierarchy” that, though unintended, can emerge before we know it.

In 2015, Mr. Matsumoto took me to a place called Yamakoshi, which once was a municipality in Niigata, Japan. Now, it is part of Nagaoka, Niigata. This is where another major earthquake hit back in October 2004, Following that disaster, Mr. Matsumoto resided in Yamakoshi for several years to help those affected. I saw that the way he helped those affected by the disaster in Shinchi, Fukushima, was a development of what he had learned in Yamakoshi.

Another staffer who regularly comes to serve at Shinchi Base, Ms. Eiko Takagi, is also “one of the locals” now. She is a very good friend of Ms. Kazuko Kato and Ms. Tomoko Miyake, mentioned below.

Ms. Kato and Ms. Miyake lost their beloved families, neighbors, and homes to the tsunami of March 2011. After residing in temporary houses for some time, now they are in their new homes. Ms. Kato hosts tea parties (for the victims), while Ms. Miyake visits the residents of temporary houses. Thus, once victims themselves, they are now helping others affected by the disaster. Once in a while the two women share their bitter experiences as “affected.” I have never seen anything like this in any other support organizations.

Today, Support Center Shinchi-Gangoya holds tea parties for those affected. The current participants are mostly elderly people who have been taking part in the parties since the center launched them. Some lost their houses to the tsunami of 2011, while others are unable to return to their homes due to the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown. They have escaped to Shinchi, where some of them live in temporary housing while some others live in new houses recently built here in Shinchi. Many of them used to live in old houses where three to four generations spent their lifetimes. When the 2011 disaster destroyed their old houses, the families were torn apart; they lost mutual confidence within the family, while losing many other things. They now live within different networks of people. After describing stories like this, they look down and seem to be lost in reflection.

True, five years have passed since the 2011 disaster. Still, no matter how many times we volunteers have spoken to them, those affected still suffer from deep agonies for which we have found no solution. We have yet to see their mental wounds healed. I think all we helpers can do is to share their grief.

The other day, I left Fukushima for a brief period of time and visited the coasts of Miyagi and Iwate, two prefectures in Tohoku, Japan. Over the last several years I have chiefly been involved in the situation in Fukushima where current residents in temporary housing are unable to return to their hometowns thanks to the nuclear power plant meltdown. I am surprised to see so many victims from the tsunami five years ago still living with the inconveniences of temporary houses. One reason is that the work to raise the ground level (to prevent another tsunami disaster) takes a long time and is still in progress. Also, the preparatory work for the coming Tokyo Olympics employs countless construction workers, leaving just a few for the rebuilding work in Tohoku. Also, the demand for construction materials for the Olympics has inflated prices. Therefore, it is very difficult for many tsunami and other victims to build new homes. Thus, the rebuilding is lagging behind schedule.

Yet another serious issue is that, in Fukushima, once an official ban is lifted from a no-go zone, no matter how high the actual level of radiation is, evacuees from the zone are asked to return and the compensation they have been receiving from public funds is cut off. This forces many evacuees to return to what had been no-go zones.

I think Shinchi Base is determined to accompany each one affected by the disaster, sharing their pain and carrying the burdens together. The base is not interested in spreading shallow, easy help. This way, the base, I believe, points out contradictions in our reality with its own actions, but without screaming aloud.

The base’s actions remind me of a Jewish saying: “whoever saves one life, it is as if he /she has saved the whole world.”

Driving Tours to Stay Aware of Fukushima

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 listening to some stories and recollections from those we have been “walking together with,” one by one, since the devastation.
Following is a story from our fourth speaker in this series, Mr. Masayuki Ogawa, who has been leading “Driving Tours to Stay Aware of Fukushima”—pilgrimages to the areas devastated by the 2011 disaster. The automobile pilgrimages have taken participants to hard-hit areas like Tomioka, Okuma, Futaba, and Namie and they learned how things are now, following the disaster. In addition, they have joined in tea parties at Gangoya Temporary Housing, located at Shinchi, Minamisoma, Fukushima, to have fellowship with the housing’s residents. While in society at large the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown, which is still in progress, is becoming “an incident to remember” in the minds of many, Mr. Ogawa’s automobile pilgrimages and kind visits to the hard-hit areas provide people there with great comfort and joy. Also, those pilgrimages help society in general to be aware of a tragedy still in progress.


 “Driving Tours to Stay Aware of Fukushima”

Masayuki Ogawa,
Tsukishima Anglican Church, Tokyo Diocese

Ever since the March 2011 disaster, I have been organizing a pilgrimage titled “Driving Tours to Stay Aware of Fukushima” twice each month. It is a two-day driving tour over some 800km (500 miles) in a van. Each participant is asked to pay JPY20,000.

We visit the support centers in Koriyama, Shinchi, and Onahama, and listen to their staffers. Also, we join in tea parties at temporary housing facilities to have fellowship with the residents. We also visit hard-hit areas to see how terrible the devastation was and how much rebuilding is in progress, hoping to learn what the earthquake and the (Fukushima Daiichi) meltdown truly were/are. In Soma and Futaba, two districts neighboring Fukushima Daiichi, we take measurements of radiation as well.

So far, some people from the Tokyo, Yokohama, and Chubu Dioceses of the Anglican-Episcopal Church in Japan have joined me on the pilgrimages. I found exchanges of information with them in the van, across churches and Dioceses, quite meaningful.

Some say, “What sense is there for those affected in you visiting the hard-hit places? Nothing more than complacency.” Still, our pilgrimages have been going on. Maybe, the criticism of complacency describes part of the truth. Still, my “complacency” thinks of others as well, not just myself.

Now, when someone in Fukushima who I’m visiting says to me, “Please come again. Show us your warm smile again,” I find a 500-mile drive to be no problem at all. As long as my health stands, and God’s blessings abide with us, I will continue as the voluntary driver of the “Driving Tours to Stay Aware of Fukushima.”

Volunteering in Year 5 since the 2011 Disaster

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 listening to some stories and recollections from those we have been “walking together with,” one by one, since the devastation.
The following is a story from our second speaker in this series, Ms. Yoshiko Nakahara, who has been working as a volunteer at St. Timothy’s Support Center Onahama. Located in Onahama, Iwaki, Fukushima. The support center has been providing help to evacuees from the areas adjacent to Fukushima Daiichi who are still living in temporary housing.

“Volunteering in Year 5 since the 2011 Disaster”

Yoshiko Elisabeth Nakahara,
St. Timothy’s Church, Onahama

Soon after the 2011 earthquake, I was totally desperate and did not know what to do. Then, God opened up a new way of living for me—serving those affected by the earthquake as a volunteer. This was the first time I ever worked as a volunteer and at first I did not know how to serve people. Even after joining in the group of volunteers, I was still at a loss as to what to do and how to serve. Then, many clergy and laypeople of the three Anglican Dioceses of Kansai (Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe) in the group kindly comforted me, though this was the first time I had ever talked to people from the three Dioceses in person. I was so nervous when I began to work as a volunteer.

I watched volunteers from the three Dioceses and, over time, learned how to serve. At “comfy cafés” in temporary housing, I delivered a cup of coffee to each person present, speaking to him or her sincerely, and introducing myself. Gradually, more residents of the temporary housing spoke with me. And each one of them gradually spoke to me in a confident voice. I was overjoyed, and often chatted with some residents of the housing so cheerfully that I was often mistaken for a resident. A certain lady always took my hand and said “Thank you, thank you,” yet I am the one filled with gratitude for what she said. She made me so very happy that I volunteered.

Then, some residents of the temporary housing formed their own group of volunteers— evidence that they were determined to take care of their own affairs and help others as well. As you know, they have experienced tremendous tragedies and have had a very difficult life since then. Still, they are willing to help others—a great attitude that moves me deeply.

Needless to say, over my five years of service as a volunteer, I have experienced grief.  When a friend and co-volunteer of mine passed away I was heartbroken. Whenever I was at a loss, she spoke warmly to me. I do believe that she is still with us, like a guardian angel.

At the temporary housing of Izumi-Tamatsuyu, “comfy café” meets twice every week, on Mondays and Fridays. A similar café at Hiruno, Watanabe Town, also meets twice weekly, on Thursdays and Saturdays. In all, I have the joy of serving people at four cafes every week. Today, I think I am the one encouraged by the temporary housing residents. I owe what I am today to my experiences as a volunteer. Without it, I might still be lost in feelings of hopelessness.

I have made many friends at the temporary housing where I serve. Who knows, they and I might need each other again someday, somewhere. They have survived unbearable griefs and tragedies. Together, we will spread the message of how valuable life is. As you live on, happiness can come to you. One day, a certain woman wept and wept with tears of thanks, saying, “Oh my, I am so happy and relieved to have you at this comfy, Ms. Nakahara.” Actually, I have had some unbearable experiences serving at the comfy cafes, but then her word of gratitude come back to me to remind me how thankful she was to me. Then, I thank God that I have been able to serve the comfy cafes as a volunteer.

I am certain that most residents of temporary housing are still worried over their future. Some have moved into new houses built for those affected by the 2011 disaster, yet no house can eliminate all their worries. No matter what kind of houses they live in, they need to share with others and face their worries in close friendships of trust.

Also, though we do see new houses and buildings constructed after the 2011 devastation, we have yet to see “rebuilding” of the minds and emotions of those affected. As time passes by, their sense of solitude grows deeper. I sure hope they will try to make more friends. During my years as a volunteer, I have made new friends who have been of precious help to me. Especially, I owe many thanks to the people of St. Andrew’s Church, Hitachi. Without their help, I would not have continued my service as a volunteer this long. Also, I owe much to the people of the three Dioceses of Kansai, who always help others with a lovely smile. Today, they sent some nice sweets and messages to my comfy cafes. My years as a volunteer will continue, and I certainly hope to “walk together” with all the people I serve.

My three years as a volunteer What I am thinking now

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

From the Project:
Five years have passed since the East Japan Earthquake of March 2011. Looking back on those five years, this “Voices” series presents the voices of those who have been walking together with us, one by one.

The first speaker is Ms. Junko Hata, a volunteer at “Support Center Shinchi Gangoya,” a support base located in a temporary housing complex at Shinchi Town, Soma, Fukushima.

“My three years as a volunteer—What I am thinking now”

Junko Hata, volunteer at Support Center Shinchi Gangoya

Over the last three years, I have been serving “Support Center Shinchi Gangoya” as a monthly volunteer. During this time, I have been mainly involved in weblog work, some clerical work like the management of photos and documents, as well as visits to temporary houses. I also help our Wednesday café, massage therapy, among other activities. I spend time with the residents of temporary housing in those activities, and such time is more precious to me than anything else.

Five years have passed since the March 2011 disaster, and three years since I began to be involved as a volunteer. Now, at long last, I am learning what it means to serve as a volunteer. Now my honest feeling is, “Thank you all for letting me serve as a volunteer.”

In this fifth year after the disaster, I think of the days when I first came to Shinchi.

I wrongly assumed, back then, that I knew what the affected people wanted and I thought I was giving them what they needed. After serving them in person, however, I found out I knew nothing. I was just complacent. In my bullet train ride back home, tears kept flowing from my eyes, and I wrote an e-mail to Rev. H, an Anglican priest at the Tohoku Diocese. He replied, “Junko, you have learned something precious. Helping someone means just being with them.”

Then, I had no idea at all what he meant by that. After serving at Shinchi every month over the last three years, however, I think I am learning what the priest meant. Just being together might sound like something anyone can do. Actually, however, truly being together is a difficult thing to do. Also, without a base like Shinchi Gangoya, being together would be impossible.

Deacon Lanson (*) sowed many seeds.
I read in a book that St. Francis of Assisi, when he rebuilt a broken church, carried each stone by himself. St. John’s Church, Isoyama, located in Soma, Fukushima, was devastated by the 2011 disaster. In the coming years, the church will be rebuilt and its activities resumed. I am convinced that my Support Center’s work should be part of the foundation of the rebuilding. With many thanks to all those Anglican Church people for standing with me, I am determined to keep serving the Support Center, with firm faith in the future of St. John’s Church.


(*) Deacon Anna L. Lanson
The mission of St. John’s Church, Isoyama began in the summer of 1920, when Deacon Anna L. Lanson opened a Sunday School retreat in a forest setting. After a period of sickness, she came to Isoyama to recover. She was then the principal of a girls’ school called “Aoba Jogakuin.”

While Deacon Lanson was back in the US on furlough, Deacon Carlsen, who founded a day-care facility named “The House of Sowing,” took her place. After Deacon Carlsen passed away, Deacon Lanson resumed her evangelical work in Isoyama.

Then, in 1928, the first baptism in Isoyama was held at Hoshimi So, Deacon Lanson’s residence. In 1932, the first confirmation took place there.

Then, in 1936, the sanctuary and parish hall of St. John’s Church was built, and the church was consecrated on the holiday of St. John, December 27th, of the same year. Some of the 56 members of the Sendai Seikokai (Anglican Church of Sendai) moved into this new church in Isoyama, to launch it. (Based on a commemorative publication of the 80 years of the Tohoku Diocese)