What happened while living in the evacuation center

What were the 10 days in the shelter like? Did you have any problems?

Hmm. Well, everything was a problem. Our trainees and staff weren’t able to receive or transmit the necessary information. We were isolated, and couldn’t contact anyone.

We staff need all kinds of information to protect our trainees to get them home safely. We need information about the situation around us, like if the buses are running or not, how and where to obtain medicine, and so on. We had difficulty making surefire plans on site without such information.

I think it was also really stressful for our trainees because we couldn’t secure personal space for them in the shelter.


Were you sharing a room with abled people the whole time? Was there any trouble?

Yes. We shared a room with abled people for 10 days. Though the evacuation center made no special arrangements for our disabled trainees, we didn’t cause any trouble for the people around us.


Because the local people from the same Arahama area were understanding?

Yeah. We had a good relationship with the former neighborhood association chairperson who happened to be in the same room with us, and thanks to that connection we got along well with the locals who didn’t know us as well. We also talked proactively to the people in the room, so we were able to get to know each other and support each other without any trouble.


How was your relationship with the shelter management?

The school teachers took the lead at the shelter. We communicated proactively with them, and told the teachers about our situation as social workers.


Did you get any special consideration from the management?

Not really. But everyone was in a state of confusion when the disaster happened, and if we had just expected others to support us, I don’t think it would have gone well. In a disaster, the people who support you are all in the same position. They’re evacuees too.

If we hadn’t gotten involved in managing the shelter ourselves and had the mindset of doing it together, I don’t think things would have gone well for us at the shelter.

So after we took refuge at Shichigo Elementary, we went to the faculty room right away and talked about what the situation was, any information to be shared, how we could contribute, etc. Through such communication, we naturally got involved in management.

Relief supplies

Even though help wasn’t coming and everyone felt like giving up, they didn’t forget to speak up.

Did supplies arrive after the temporary group home was built?

Kayoko: For start-up supplies, we had declared these 7-piece sets our trainees would need when they entered the group home, so we got those.

But there was a general temporary housing complex behind our temporary group home, and they got daily supplies for each household there, but none came to our group home. Even though daily supplies had arrived for everyone in the region, our group home was ignored in spite of this perfectly visible building.

Ogawa: Like potatoes and mandarin oranges. Only the people in the house behind us got those.

Kayoko: Not that we really wanted those things.



Kayoko: You can see the entrance of that temporary housing complex right outside our group home window, so our trainees could see supplies being brought in. So I think maybe they felt a bit bad.


Why were those group home residents left out from the daily supply distribution?

Kayoko: We weren’t on the local registry somehow. When I noticed that, I tried to identify the problem by asking questions like, “What number of what district are we?” If you’re not on the registry, you don’t get local information, and it’s difficult to live in the region if you haven’t built a community with local people in case something happens, so I had us put in the registry. As we started getting involved like that, the region started cooperating with us.

Ogawa: Anyway, no supplies came for around the first 2 months after we moved into the temporary group home.


What supplies came?

Ogawa: Vegetables and stuff.

Kayoko: They were living in a different place than before, so they didn’t know who the ward mayor was, and often felt uneasy about communicating with neighbors and such. I heard them say, “How are we different from our neighbors?” It seems they were treated differently from the average temporary housing complex.

Our relationship with local community

We don’t have much recreational activities with local people. Our connection with them is mostly through our service such as collecting items for recycling.

Most of our collection for recycling is done in the local area. We first leave flyers at each residence to let them know about the collection. The flyer says “Please leave the items at your doorway on the date and time indicated. We will pass by and pick them up.” The population in Shiogama is rapidly aging as well, and even taking a bundle of newspapers to collection points is a hard work for elderlies. They appreciate our service very much and often thank us when we visit and pick the item up.

We greet them too. It is very important that we properly greet people, and we emphasize on this point to our trainees. Furthermore, we have kept our promise of coming to pick things up on the date and time announced. In case we can’t do so, we tell people in advance. As we have fulfilled people’s expectations, the demand has never decreased. Some people start putting items for recycling and then keep putting more in later collections. Some people observe first how things come out. When a block in a neighborhood had ten households and only two of them put recycling items in our first try, for example, we keep leaving flyers and going to pick the things. We will see three households putting items, and then four in the next time. The number gradually increases.

I think local people know well that we have kept our promises and fulfilled our tasks. They trust us and rely on us, so when items are not picked as was promised, some people phone us to complain. We deal with these cases immediately to keep the good relationship we have established with these people. The good relationship we have is a result of all the efforts of staff and the trainees. People have known us for quite long time through our work. People mention our name at all our sister facilities and say “oh, you are a group facility of Sakura Gakuen.”


Shoko’s home was far away from Orion, so her family who lived with her could not easily go check on her.


Was there anything that worried you?

Shoko: I was worried that I couldn’t get through to my family on the phone.


Around how many days was it before you were able to talk to them?

Shoko: My parents heard from their neighbors that I’d been taken to the Ishinomaki Red Cross Hospital, so they came to the hospital and we were able to talk a little there.

Kumai: Shoko’s family really had deep roots in the local community. Her parents owned a store.

Shoko’s mother and father weren’t able to come check on her, but a neighbor came here by bicycle (to the building they had evacuated from, where the old workshop was).

I was just trudging through the mud to get water when I happened to meet the neighbor. I told them Shoko was safe.

Even though our workshop was far away from Shoko’s house, this person empathized with Shoko’s parents who were worried about her and came to check on her. That made me realize how deeply connected Shoko’s family was with the community.

To public housing

When did you start living in public housing?

Konno: I think I moved at the beginning of 2016… I guess it had been a year? My aunt and uncle helped me move.

Yanagibashi: It’s a stand-alone house, a big one-story bungalow built for disabled people and elderly people with weak legs and hips. We were just thinking he should start living in public housing like this soon, so we were happy.


And now you come on a shuttle bus from there. What time does your work start?

Konno: Usually… I get up at 6 in the morning and eat breakfast, then leave home around 9. (Work starts from 9:30.)

And since living in my new house, I’ve also made friends with the neighbors. A nice old couple.

Yanagibashi: The relatives who helped with the move said the house was designed to match the neighboring houses.

Returning home

Did you move to another place after the temple?

I went home when the electricity came back. Everyone was really happy when the power came on.

I was told the water would take another 2-3 months to come back on, but I also heard the Self-Defense Force was delivering water in trucks, so I went home. As long as I had electricity, I could communicate at night too. But I didn’t have any food, so I discussed what to do with the mother of one of my daughter’s classmates. I had her tell me in writing what she was doing about food, and at what time the water delivery trucks would come. Volunteers were making curry for us on Sundays, but I didn’t know that at first. My daughter just happened to hear about it, and so I took a pot to where everyone was going. I checked the time for the water trucks and lined up, but when the water ran out before my turn, I used gestures and such to find out when the trucks would come next. The gas in my house was LP gas, so I could use it, but I didn’t have access to a lot of water, so I couldn’t take a bath. Towards the end of March a friend came from Iwate by car and said, “Let’s have a bath and go out to eat together.” So my friend took my daughter and me to Iwate for a bath and a good meal.

The water finally came back on after around two months. After that we could take baths and cook meals.


Around how long after returning to your home did you get back to your normal routine?

I had lost my job, so things were tough for one or two years. I never went back to the life I had before. I think it really has changed completely. I used to be able to live my life without thinking much about it, but after the disaster all the roads to go shopping were closed or flooded, and I felt really insecure. I used to be able to talk and go drinking with my friends from the sign language club, but after the disaster I was so scared another earthquake might come that I couldn’t go out at night. After 2-3 years I finally got together with my friends again, but there was nothing left where there used to be a lot of houses, and it was hard for me because whenever I saw that I remembered the difficult experience I went through.

When it was time for my daughter to start high school, I discussed it with her and decided to move to Sendai, since I would need to start working again. My daughter seemed to be calmer after we moved and seemed to feel a lot better, so I was relieved. Both my daughter and I are feeling better now, although we’ve been through a lot.