Japan, after the tsunami – Refugees camp in Sendai and Saitama

My name is Ayano Unuma, I come from Iwaki. I am 7 years old. Since I was evacuated to Saitama Super Arena, I feel happy that I can eat. We are in the Rokugo High School in Sendai, where refugees came after the tsunami of March 11th, who violently hit the Northeastern coast of Japan. Takanori Kanatsu is an English teacher in this High School. He is volunteer and helps the refugees. He guided us and explained how is the life in this camp for these 400 refugees. There is now about 200 peoples in the gym. and over ther, there is a place where we practice kendo and Judo. There are also about 200 people now. I’ve been here for 7 years, so… I have many students and I am really sad that many students, my students… They lost their houses or families due to the tsunami. There are many old people. Sometimes it’s really difficult to evacuate them from the 4th or 5th floors… And then, there are the chiefs and they talk to us about the situation. Many relief supplies are being sent and we really appreciate it. There is tons of boxes and there are the relief supplies that are being sent here. There are many kinds of food, clothes and things that we use in our daily-life. We’ve been here for a long time so we really would like to take a bath. Before visiting the dojo, we met a farmer from Sendai. She is one of the responsible of this gym, and she talked to us about the life in the camp. Here, we live together, everyone is friendly and patient and we all try to help another while smiling and trying to have fun, because we all live together in one house. It’s already been about 17 or 18 days isn’t it? Now younger people are starting to get back to work, normally there are three times more people living here than what you can see now. Yesterday the mayor came but no one works in the district even the town and the sub-prefecture are not working… They are just asking us to be patient and to wait here. But soon, junior school students will have to come back, so we hope that we will be able to move to temporary houses quickly in order for this place to become a school again. Let’s move to the place where students practice kendo and judo. On the way to the dojo, we met Rie, a former student of M. Kanatsu, who survived to the tsunami. She told us how she managed to escape. I was at home when we heard that a tsunami was coming. We tried to escape but the wave had flooded the car already. I really thought that it was over for me. My grand-parents pulled me out of the car through the window, and next thing i knew, I was taken by the current. I lost consciousness so I don’t remember this moment. When my face finally came out of the water, I was clamped between two trees. I extricated myself and grabbed on to a phone post. I remained clinged on to it for over 3 hours. Then I saw a red light, I shouted: “Help!!!” and the rescuers came to save me in a boat. There is a memo: if parents, sisters or brothers are still missing, they just have to write a memo to say: “I am here, in the gym, please get in touch with me”. Or something like that.. These are the memos they wrote. There are still lot of cars. Some people don’t like to be in the gym because there isn’t any intimacy. So some of them prefer to live in their car. This is the place where our students practice kendo and judo. There are around 400 refugees here (note: he meant 200). They come from Higashi Rokugo, a region completely devastated by the Tsunami. Ah! Before entering we need to wash our hands. There are relief supplies, and now they eat… On the first 3 days, people only ate about 2 meals. But now they have breakfast, lunch and diner too. So 3 times. Now it’s a complicated problem about the rehousing. They need to wait for the government’s decisions. I want to find a new home quickly and live in a clean place. Contrary to popular belief, the center of Sendai City is clean. There was only few traces left by the earthquake and the black screens were more representative of the problem of the town than some cracks that you can randomly see on the roads. In the center of the city, it’s the economy that suffers from the disaster. 17 days after, many shops were still closed and particularly foreign companies. The convenience stores were still open, but were facing a shortage of food. You should’ve been lucky to just find an onigiri. All the staff here are volonteers. Today’s the first day we open this temporary Starbucks in Saitama whose staff have been sent by our managers who organised this project in a priority way. For a minute or even just a second, we want to heat peoples’s hearts with this coffees. It is to grant this only wish that we have all gathered here. We do not have any precise goal, and it’s not like we will be here for just one day, what we want, is to support people all the way by sharing our coffee with them. These initiatives of support are not isolated, in Japan, peoples are mobilizing to help refugees. In a context where an international fear of the nuclear has taken more consideration than what is happening to these thousands of people many initiatives, local or international, are spreading to collect money for refugees or bring them some support and comfort. Two months after we came to this camp, almost 300 of the 400 refugees of the Rokugo Junior High School camp, were evacuated to temporary houses. By the end of June, all the refugees should be in temporary houses. But tens of thousands peoples are still living in precarity, waiting for solutions of housing from the government.

2 thoughts on “Japan, after the tsunami – Refugees camp in Sendai and Saitama

  1. Thanks for coming out and supporting us again. Just FYI, we are a junior high school here in Sendai.

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