Community life

Evacuating to high ground

Did you establish someplace to evacuate?

Tada: We were sleeping in the place we use as a workshop now. The non-disabled people who took refuge with us were using the rooms and halls in the Seiyu-kan Building, so we were kind of separated.

Yasuko: There were 500 people here (in the Seiyu-kan Building) at the highest. A lot of people evacuated here. (Including non-disabled people.) (Mr. Tada and Yasuko were in different offices at the time of the disaster.)


Around how long did you take refuge here?

Tada: Until summer or so?

Ogawa: Yes.


Did people get sick or anything?

Kayoko: Rather than getting sick, I think it was more mentally difficult. As you can see, this is the only high ground we have here. So a lot of people came, right?

Ogawa: Yes.

Kayoko: You couldn’t open a door without seeing a bunch of strangers, so it was a really unstable environment.

Heartless words

Kayoko: There were a lot of people in the region who didn’t know this was a place for people with disabilities. So they thought it was strange that only we (at Kujira no Shippo) were getting special treatment. If there was a problem with the toilets, or they found someone who wasn’t following the rules properly, they would say, “I bet the Kujira no Shippo people did this.”

We didn’t want our trainees to feel hurt hearing all these negative words, so we thought, well there just happen to be toilets in another one of our buildings. We talked about it and decided that although it would be hard for our disabled trainees to walk over there, we would have someone go with them at nighttime to use it. But as we were doing this, the people around us gradually started to understand them (the trainees).


What inspired that understanding?

Kayoko: It was inspired by the shelter meetings we had in the mornings with everyone to determine the rules for managing the building (as a shelter). We had decided to set rules because this was a place everyone was using together. Kujira no Shippo also participated. Our trainees expressed their willingness to clean and do what they could just like everyone else, and when they started working together with the non-disabled people, the prejudice and misunderstanding went away.

But people would say things like, “Oh, so you can talk normally.” It’s really a shock to hear something like that from people who know nothing about disabilities.

I realized a lot of people think people with disabilities can’t do anything in life without help.

For example, once the abled people realized that if you told our trainees to line up and wait their turn, they could wait in line with everyone else, they started asking us to help when they needed more hands to distribute the relief supplies that arrived. Sometimes our staff and trainees would pair up to help, and that helped some people to gradually understand. We were happy when those people started talking to us and gradually losing their prejudice.

Shelter closure

I heard you were in the shelter until summer or so.

Kayoko: We were the last ones to leave.

First the non-disabled people started moving into temporary housing. The number of evacuees gradually decreased, and once all the non-disabled people finished evacuating, evacuations to the Seiyu-kan Building were called off. We were surprised as we were still living in the workshop.

Yasuko: It was already closed.

Tada: The temporary group home still wasn’t finished at that time, right?

Kayoko: It was September when the temporary group home was completed and we moved.  We were hit by a big typhoon in fall that year. We had just moved two days before and were finally settled in. It was the time when we were like, wow, I can sleep in my own room now, right?

Ogawa: Yes.

Kayoko: I was relieved there were no major damages. But I think they really put up with a lot.


Is Ms. Ogawa usually the type who tries really hard?

Kayoko: Yeah, with work. She helps everyone too.

Distributing bread to local people

The trainees had saved a whole freezer full of the bread they had made at work just in case. This turned out to be useful.

Kayoko: You were making bread just in case something happened, remember?

Ogawa: Yes.

Kayoko: That day, the earthquake happened right after they finished the bread. They were working until 15:00. Starting that night, we handed out the bread first to the elderly, then small children, then elementary school students, and then junior high school students. The people who evacuated to the Seiyu-kan Building got by eating that bread from that day.

There were some people who said all kinds of heartless things to us. But after someone had told them, “The bread you got was from those disabled people,” those same people said, “We’re sorry. We said all those things, but you were actually the first ones to help us.”


The publicly-owned designated shelters usually provided instant rice and water and such, but the Seiyu-kan Building was a private institute.

Yasuko: I don’t think there were any reserves here in the Seiyu-kan Building, but there were blankets in storage to get through the cold.


What kind of bread was this?

Kayoko: They were large loaves. We had around 100 of them (in the freezer).

Living in the shelter

Where was the evacuation center for your region?

We’d been told that when a big earthquake came, we should start by evacuating to high ground. The people from the elementary school had also climbed up the mountain to escape from the tsunami. So there were a lot of people in the evacuation center on the mountain.


Around how many people gathered at the evacuation center?

I think there were around 200. It was completely packed. It wasn’t only people from my neighborhood, but also people from surrounding neighborhoods whose homes had been washed away. The people living in the hills were also in danger, so everyone gathered in the shelter and stayed together. Because I mean, that night it just kept on shaking.


Around how long did you stay there?

Until the end of May, so around two and a half months. It was a long time.


Did anyone besides your family and friends offer to help you at the shelter?

All kinds of people at the shelter offered to help me and got meals for me. Sometimes I would receive my meal and chat with the people nearby who had helped me. But because I can’t see or hear much, I had no idea what was going on around me and couldn’t offer to help anyone. So there were times when I wanted to do something, but couldn’t.