Living in the shelter

Story: Mr. Kenichi Tatsumi (man/ in his 60s at the time/ visually impaired)

So then I was evacuated at Kitakami Junior High for three days, in the Council building for two days, and in my nephew’s house in the city for two weeks. The Council was located in the foothills of our neighborhood. The water came right up to it, but the building was fine.


Around how far was Kitakami Junior High from your house?

It was around 2-3 kilometers.


Was Kitakami Junior High a designated evacuation center?

I’m not sure if it was a designated evacuation center, but since we’d always been told there would be an earthquake off the coast of Miyagi Prefecture at some point, I think people did think of it as an evacuation center. It has a lot of space, it’s easy to get to by car, and it has a building.


Had you planned to evacuate to Kitakami Junior High if something happened?

I never planned it. I never even thought about a tsunami.


Was there food and drinks at Kitakami Junior High?

Someone from the nearby hot spring spa came with cooked food, things like bite-sized rice balls, sausages, and eggs. We were in no position to hope for anything fancy.


Were there any other people with disabilities besides yourself?

I think I was the only one there, but there may have been some who never identified themselves. The people there offered to help me a lot.


Did you have any problems at the shelter?

I can’t really say I had a problem, but… For example, we had to fill a bucket with water to flush the toilet, but I could do that by feel so it was honestly no trouble for me. But people still did it for me because they were trying to be considerate. That was nice of them, but I’m used to relying on my sense of touch, so if one thing gets moved around it throws everything off for me. That can make it difficult for me to go to the toilet.


So people went out of your way to help you, and you didn’t want to seem ungrateful?

Yes, that’s exactly it. When I’m on my own, I can find a way to flush the toilet or whatever. But I don’t think that’s really the issue. For some reason I held back and didn’t say anything about it.


Because you were being polite.

After that I moved into the Council building. They got cup ramen and all kinds of other provisions. I was really aware of the fact that I was the only visually impaired person from my community. The next day they started searching for missing people or whatever, and I was the only one who couldn’t help. Even if I’d paired up with someone, I would have been a burden. No one wants to spare the energy to deal with that. That was when I started to feel uncomfortable being there. My other nephew who lives in Yokohama came to visit later, and I decided to go to Yokohama with him. Although I didn’t want to impose. And so I stayed in Yokohama for around four months. I didn’t have my cane or anything, so I called the Miyagi Prefecture Visually Impaired Welfare Association, and they introduced me to the Association in Yokohama. I called and they came right away. At that time I also met someone from a vocational support center for the disabled, and they invited me to fold boxes with them and that sort of thing. I would work half the day, and in the afternoon I would go for walks with the volunteers. I got to walk to all kinds of places. I have to admit I was really fulfilled. It’s different with social workers, but at home I feel bad about asking people for help.


I guess that’s what happens when you stay somewhere a long time.

Yeah, this situation helped me realize that. Then an opportunity came along to move into an apartment in Sendai, so I moved. I stayed there for five years. Even after moving to Sendai, I got a lot of help from the Miyagi Prefecture Visually Impaired Welfare Association and various other people. In both Yokohama and Sendai, I had a full life and learned a lot.