一般財団法人 連帯 東北・西南 RENTAI TOHOKU-SEINAN

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2014.03.12 20:31

Third Symposium on Self-supporting Reconstruction "Toward the light" (3/11 2014 at International House of Japan, Tokyo)

The Third Symposium of Self-supporting Reconstruction "Toward the light" was held on March 11, 2014, three years after the earthquake disaster to report our activities. For the first part of the symposium, we asked the guests invited from different areas to speak on several themes. The second part was a panel discussion "Toward the Light" which everyone participated in as we actively took up opinions from the audience.

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We placed a total of 150 pots of flowers to make the hall into a flower garden. Our Representative Director chose potted flowers and not cut flowers because he wished the audience to reflect on the vitality of and the care for the earth which makes the flowers bloom, as in the song "Flowers Will Bloom". We put up a heart-shaped flower art on the stage wall with the cooperation from U.GOTO FLORIST, Ltd.

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The symposium solemnly began with a silent tribute. We then showed a ten-minute video of the activities of our Foundation, followed by lectures by the guests from Tohoku. It was a good opportunity to share the authentic voices unreported on the media and the understanding of the necessity of self-support (psychological support) which we have focused on since the beginning of our volunteering activities.

We were able to directly listen to the fact that the support required differ from one area to the other although they are collectively referred to as the "affected area", and that it is changing with time. Each of our guests spoke from their own standpoint - the victim, the supporter, and the victim who had to become a supporter.

Each of the lectures is briefly introduced below.

● Lecture 1: Mr. Takahiro Inomata, Executive Director, Minamisanriku Town Council of Social Welfare

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It was explained that if we consider the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake the first NPO/NGO volunteering year, the Great East Japan Earthquake would be the first corporate volunteering year. The required support has changed from sustaining life ⇒ sustaining living ⇒ supporting psychologically. He also referred to the current situation where the administrative staff needs to be the supporters when they are themselves the victims as well.

Aged households with those over 65 years of age are increasing in this area and require sufficient welfare facilities. However, these facilities have been washed away by the tsunami and plans to build new ones to replace them are not yet in sight. A user-friendly welfare complex "welfare mall" was proposed as being necessary to cut down nursing-care insurance.

  1. The costs required for welfare providers could be cut since they could come together for their operations.
  2. If the costs of the welfare providers are cut, the nursing-care insurance covered by the users will also be cut down.
  3. The "welfare mall" would be user-friendly since the users could go there and receive multiple services within a single facility.
  4. A single user could be supported by multiple welfare providers since they could cooperate with one another.

The road to recovery is yet to be seen in Minamisanrikucho. The awareness on the affected areas will steadily weaken as the memories of the disaster fade away throughout Japan. However, he stressed his wish that the realities and the current situations of these affected areas be understood by as many people as possible and requested a continuous support.

●Lecture 2:
Mr. Masumi Chiba, Chairman, Shiogama City Urato Branch Steering Committee,
Miyagi Prefecture Japan Fisheries Cooperatives
Mr. Mitsuo Utsumii, Chairman, Shiogama City Urato East Branch Steering Committee,
Miyagi Prefecture Japan Fisheries Cooperatives

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One of the Urato Islands in Miyagi, Katsurashima Island miraculously did not have any casualties. The younger generations played a central role in calling out to evacuate and all the residents were able to reach higher grounds. Most of the residents of this island are fish farmers of oysters and seaweeds, and all the facilities were devastated by the tsunami. The island residents almost gave up restarting their business, but the payment obtained through the tsunami mutual-aid insurance became their hope. Additionally, in order for them to find a path toward reviving their work on their own, they started a private organization "Ura to Uminoko Saisei Project" to raise funds. Our understanding is that they received several million yen at the beginning, but with more exposure through the media, in the end 175 million yen of fund was received.

Our Foundation strongly supported "Ura to Uminoko Saisei Project" to incorporate their business through providing assistance in tax affairs, legal affairs and management. We also provided manpower from mid May through the end of July on every weekend, sending a gross number of more than 50 volunteers assisting with the clerical works, and we all felt thankful when Mr. Chiba repeatedly gave us words of appreciation.

After three years since the disaster, they have been successful in reconstructing their business with remarkable speed, even challenging to farm new types of oysters, and we wish for their continued success in the future.

● Lecture 3: Mr. Junji Suehiro, Director, Asuka no Kai, Senmaya temporary housing complex

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Mr. Suehiro lived near the Kesennuma Bay, and survived by evacuating to higher grounds right after the earthquake. He saw the bottom of Kesennuma Bay with a thundering noise after the earthquake, which was followed by the tsunami washing away houses and 300-ton ships. He could not do anything but to watch his cherished house flow by. It was difficult for him not being able to do anything when his eyes met those of a person in a house flowing past by, eyes as if asking for help. Afterwards, he himself got almost swept away by the water, but was able to help two people, a man and a woman.

He explained that with the support from everyone he has enough food and clothes, but he still has to live in a temporary housing and stressed that he would like to have a place where he could live in peace as soon as possible.

The number of missing and dead in the Kesennuma area is 1,277 (as of January 14, 2014), but as someone who has miraculously survived, he said that he believes the best thing to do to comfort those victims is for him to keep going on forward.

● Lecture 4: Mr. Ikuo Takeyama, Representative, Kamaya Memorial Building Committee

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We met Mr. Takeyama when he was preparing to build a memorial at the school ground site of Ishinomaki City Okawa Elementary School on March 11, 2013. Our Foundation also had an idea to dedicate an angel statue at the site, and coincidentally met Mr. Takeyama through our research and we have kept close contact until today.

When the earthquake struck, Mr. Takeyama was away from his family living in Shizuoka due to his work. His mother, wife, and daughter were living in Okawa District. On Saturday, the following day of the earthquake, Mr. Takeyama returned to Ishimaki and started looking for his family believing that they were safe, but he could not find them among those rescued and brought to the evacuation center. He started his search on his own from Monday, but when he saw the open space of land where his house used to stand, he knew he had to realize the fact that his family was gone.

Mr. Takeyama continued the search for six months after the disaster even after he was able to confirm the bodies of his family members. There still are 37 people missing (including 4 elementary school students), and their families are desperately looking for them.

His daughter who was lost in the disaster was all set to join the Japan Air Self-Defense Force from April. Her birthday was March 10th, so he requested the local radio station to play Yumin's song "Hikoukigumo", but unfortunately it did not go on air. He asked if anyone among the audience works in the music industry, he would appreciate it if Yumin's concert could be arranged in Ishinomaki. He has never left his home in order to be with his lost family, but this time, after three years from the disaster, he decided to come to Tokyo believing that his family would be happy if it was to be useful to other people by telling what he experienced.

He concluded by saying that when there is an earthquake, he would like everyone to remember to "focus only on protecting your life", "not go back to get money or things", and "decide where to evacuate and how to communicate beforehand if away from your cherished family."

● Lecture 5: Mr. Yoshihiro Kanno, Manager, Senmaya Branch of Ichinoseki City Hall

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The population of Ichinoseki City Senmaya area has greatly decreased from 180,000 in 1955 to the level of 120,000 people, while it has been aging increasingly. The simulation shows that in 20 years the number of households will decrease and vacant houses will increase. Mr. Kanno said that their images of the measures required by the government to take up for the current fiscal year are 1) countermeasures against the contamination from radioactive materials, 2) solutions for the aging and population-decreasing society, and 3) regional development through collaboration.

The city of Ichinoseki has sent 11 staff to Rikuzentakata and 2 staff to Kesennuma as its Great East Japan Earthquake support. They believe in assisting those near them based on a support that is not imposing.

Mr. Kanno also spoke on the importance of the ILC (International Linear Collider) project explaining the value and meaning it would have on Ichinoseki. Having this facility constructed would give hopes to the young generations of the area and would accelerate the advancement of science. With the next generation of human resources developed, the base for the next-generation science technology industry created, and the area becoming a place where innovations are nurtured, it is expected that it would become a splendid area with the world heritage Hiraizumi (with Pure Land thought represented by Chūson-ji Temple) and the latest science technology hub ILC coexisting like two wheels of a cart.

The population is expected to peak at 6,500 during the construction of ILC, and during normal operation it is expected to be about 10,400, thus the ripple effect on the economy is also expected to be of significant amount. They believe that the way to proceed is for the young generations to have hope and put out the message "Tohoku Renaissance" to the world.

● Lecture 6: Mr. Tsuyoshi Sato, Representative of Oshu International Relations Association, President of Kabushiki-gaisha Mizusawa Nouyaku

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Mr. Sato lived in an area which was not affected by the tsunami, but he immediately arranged to secure fuel through the business connections of his company. He personally delivered support goods from the city received on March 16th to the affected areas. The first place he delivered was Kesennuma which was in a disastrous situation, and he went there 125 times to deliver the goods.

Oshu International Relations Association provided information in three languages through FM community broadcast, and it was received with gratitude since it reached the usually out-of-service area such as Ofunato and Rikuzentakata.

It seems that the removal of the affected buildings and ships of the area is being considered for psychological reasons, but he said that if people wish the memories of the disaster to be linked to the safety of the next generation, then those hurtful things are specifically the ones which need to be preserved.

The Konjikidō Golden Hall of Chūson-ji Temple built in 1124 is a compilation of the technology at the time and the pride of the people. Similarly, the latitude observatory built in Mizusawa in 1899 also strengthened the pride in the local residents that the only one thing in the world is in Mizusawa. It is said that the people involved in this observatory were the ones who introduced piano, violin, and tennis in this area.

Like these two, ILC could also become the pride of the area, stimulate children's interest in science, and continue to be the pride of the homeland into the future. It would also provide job opportunities to the 500 international residents living in Oshu City.

Mr. Sato said that the affected area is trying to forget the disaster, but he does not wish the others to forget. He also asked to purchase products from Miyagi, Iwate, and Fukushima, and not only that but to visit the affected area, as this visit in itself would become a volunteering activity.

● Lecture 7: Mr. Bill Lewis, International ILC Support Committee

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The International ILC Support Committee is comprised of 12 international residents (7 countries) living in Iwate. They cooperate with Oshu International Relations Association to present the needs of the international researchers, engineers, and their families to the government, private organizations and companies. The committee members, including Mr. Lewis, are providing knowledge and support to the city utilizing their abundant experience living as a foreigner in Iwate, in order to present the loving hospitality of the Oshu community they have experienced to those coming to Oshu City for ILC.

The International ILC Support Committee made the following proposal to Oshu City.

  • Community / Social Integration: joining traditional events (festivals)
  • Shopping: not enough options for large-sized people
  • Transportation: roads are too narrow; request shuttle bus since the stations of Mizusawa and Mizusawa-esashi is far apart
  • Living in Iwate: need more English signs
  • Education: need to build international school

This proposal will not only benefit the international residents but Japanese as well.

There are many more ideas other than those proposed, and it was reported that they are being dealt with one by one. It was explained that the Oshu International Relations Association was not established for the international residents coming to Japan, but for the Japanese to assist in sharing information with the international residents in a better way.

● Lecture 8: Mr. Mitsuru Hatakeyama, Director, Okago Christian Resource Center

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Mr. Hatakeyama spoke of the village in the suburbs of Tohoku where many people were martyred in the early Edo Period due to the suppression of Christians by the government. Stories and the sites of hidden Christians are scattered among the mountains, and he said that he wished to bring these sites together as a means to vitalize the area.

Okago District in Fujisawa-cho, Ichinoseki City, the southernmost area of Iwate, was the top iron-producing district of Sendai Domain where the entire village prospered with tatara iron making and Christianity in the early Edo Period. However, since 1639 the government suppressed Christians for several years, and more than 300 people from this single village were martyred (executed).

Praying caves and execution sites, where those who refused to step on a picture of Christ were ruthlessly executed, are scattered in remote areas in the mountains. In order to pass down this history to the future generations, Okago Christian Martyrdom Memorial Park was built between 1994 and 1995. The park includes a Christian Resource Center, the 309 steps to martyrdom where you can see Okago from the top level, a historical hill, and Okago Christian Martyrdom Memorial Kurusu Museum. There are also life-sized statues of Christ by Mr. Yasutake Funakoshi, a sculptor known also as one of the 26 saints of Nagasaki. Many pilgrims, historians, welfare participants, and educators now visit the park.

Tatara iron making began in Okago because there was an abundance of good-quality coals, and even today, the instant you step into Okago area you can still see charcoal making with smokes coming up. There are no temples in Okago but one Catholic church. The local residents set up "Okago Christian Historical Sites Local Revitalizing Committee" and Mr. Hatakeyama became the Director, so that this history would vitalize the area and the visitors could go see the Memorial Park and the village, walk through the woods and feel the history, and be moved by the pure souls of those who were martyred.

Our Foundation became acquainted with Mr. Hatakeyama in December 2012 through a priest in Fujisawa-cho with whom we have a good relationship with, and our Representative Director was deeply moved by the history of the area which led to our assisting local revitalization activities. At the end of that year, a mass was held at Okago Catholic Church, the first in more than 30 years as the church was closed for a long time.

We put up illuminations outside the church, and it lighted up the area after many years and where it was experiencing a steady decline of population. People cheered when the candles were lit, and it received a lot of coverage on newspapers.

We paused for a silent tribute at 14:26 during Mr. Hatakeyama's lecture, the time when the earthquake hit three years ago on March 11th, and everyone prayed for the victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

● Panel Discussion

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The panelists were Mr. Yoshihiro Kanno, Mr. Junji Suehiro, Mr. Ikuo Takeyama, Mr. Mitsuru Hatakeyama, Mr. Bill Lewis, Mr. Tsuyoshi Sato, and Tahir Sayed from our Foundation. Our Representative Director Sata was the coordinator, and it proceeded as an interactive discussion with the audience.

The discussion began by pointing out that for those who could not go to the affected areas, attending this symposium would constitute as one of the volunteering activities. It then touched on the subject of self-reliance, which has been the objective of the activities of Rentai Tohoku-Seinan since it was established. Our Representative spoke of how he believes "vitality" is important in self-reliance, that the earth is crucial in vitality and that it is important for the earth to regain vitality in order to be self-reliant, and that he has been acting all this time thinking that we may be able to support the victims regain their vitality by going and staying beside the victims.

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We received numerous comments from the audience and it seemed time was not enough: "I would like the valuable experiences of the lecturers to be published and be read by many", "I would like Tohoku to create a new Japan", "I appreciate having had the chance to hear about the affected areas", "There still is a lot more we should do", "The problems occurring in temporary housings such as the elders and the young not being able to become self-reliant is not just Tohoku's problem but is something occurring all over Japan", and "The right religious outlook has not been cultured in Japan due to the backlash from the history of anti-Christianity."

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Mr. Ogata from the Rotary Club in Senmaya read aloud the poem "Amenimo makezu" by Kenji Miyazawa for the audience, in Iwate dialect. It has become difficult in recent years to hear true Tohoku dialect, and we believe the audience were able to feel close to Tohoku.

At the end of the symposium, Mr. Asada from the Japan Cherry Blossom Association kindly donated 3 cherry blossom trees.

We gave out the flower pots in the hall to the audience on their way out.

● Through the Symposium

People have began saying that "psychological support" is important in supporting Tohoku, but our Foundation has seen its necessity since it was established, and have continued our activities by changing the words to "self-reliance".

We feel it is extremely important for each and every Japanese to hold the right religious outlook and religious mind, but how is the current Japanese doing on this issue? When we try to assist through "psychological support", it seems we are being questioned on which religious outlook, r eligious mind or ethics are we basing our humanity in when we go and stay beside the affected areas (victims).

Categories:Staff reports

2014.03.12 20:31 admin

2014.02.17 19:53

The Second Chinese New Year Celebration(2/16 2013 in Ichinoseki, Iwate Prefecture)

From 1 to 4 p.m. on February 16th, we held the Second Chinese New Year Celebration together with the Chinese residents, other international residents, and their families living in Tohoku at the Bellino Hotel Ichinoseki in Iwate Prefecture.

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The celebration began with an opening speech by the Representative Director of our Foundation. Then we presented the 10-year-old Chinese rice wine in a jar kindly donated by Mr. Fu, the president of Kenkoh Trading Co., Ltd. in Tokyo, broke open the top and had all the participants enjoy the wine.

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The banquet was given in a buffet style, and we asked the participants to enjoy freely.

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The crowd was wrapped in awe and surprise by the Chinese performers with their Chinese harp, songs, Chinese acrobatic show and mask change show.

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The following section of the event was entitled "Toward a Further Internationalization of Tohoku", and we invited Ms. Hiroko Ito who plays button accordion, which is a traditional instrument in France used in chanson and a type of popular music "musette", and Mr. Sylvain Diony who plays guitar and also Tsugaru shamisen, for the audience to enjoy. They came to Japan from France to perform in a concert on March 6th, but kindly agreed to cooperate to support Tohoku during their day off before the concert.

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We then asked our audience to participate on stage as well. A dance was performed by the members of the Chinese club "Kakyo Kajin Doshu-kai", songs by the participants from the Philippines, and the song "Kitaguni no Haru (North Spring)" in Chinese sung by the Japanese team. The finale was the support song for Tohoku, "Flowers Will Bloom", and everyone sang together.

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We held this celebration free of charge last year, but this year, we asked for an admittance fee of 2,000 yen per person except for children under 12 and for those who were born outside of Japan but are living in Tohoku. We took this system so that we could show our appreciation and support towards those who came to Tohoku from abroad and became wives and are supporting their families. We would like to mention that approximately 60% of the participants were the ones we wanted to show our support to.

A leader of one of the groups told us that they "appreciate having given the chance to communicate in such a large-scale event with many other groups scattered over the area." It was a pleasure to know that our event was able to present an opportunity for the groups to cross-communicate with each other. We intend to support holding large-scale events to be held with the cooperation among the groups.

The event was introduced in the Iwate Nichi-nichi Shimbun.

Article in the Iwate Nichi-Nichi Shimbun, February 17, 2014.

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Categories:Staff reports

2014.02.17 19:53 admin

2013.12.25 19:51

Senmaya International Club and Event at Okago (12/23-24 2013 in Senmaya and Fujisawa, Ichinoseki, Iwate Prefecture)

● A Meeting at the Senmaya International Club

We held a meeting at the Senmaya International Club from 12:00 to 15:30 on December 23rd to cooperate in the revitalization of the local area.

Our Foundation had been using a rented, old traditional house in Senmaya, Ichinoseki in Iwate Prefecture as our base for our support activities for the victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake. As a different traditional house nearby was given to our Foundation this spring, we renovated it and opened it as the Senmaya Interntional Club on October 5th.

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Since its establishment, our Foundation has been focusing our volunteering activities on considering specific ways to enable self-reliance in various ways through discussions and thinking together at the disaster-affected sites, and swiftly implementing these ideas. We asked the refugee residents to join us at the meeting on December 23rd, held between 12:00-15:30 to think about how to revitalize the Senmaya area which faces depopulation.

Our understanding is that as of October 1st, there are 499 evacuees /263 households from Kesennuma and nearby areas who now reside in three temporary housings in Senmaya area. Three representatives from two of these temporary housings joined us at the meeting.

Including the manager of the Senmaya Branch of Ichinoseki City Hall and residents of Senmaya and Fujisawa, a total of 17 people attended the meeting. We had a lively discussion on ideas for regional revitalization and communications among the residents of temporary housings.

The three participants from the Senmaya Branch voluntarily declared themselves "Team Senmaya" to make a statement to actively hold volunteer activities.

One of the representatives who joined us from the temporary housing complex agreed to cooperate in the activities to provide psychological support and assist our Foundation, and we intend to continue our support activities.

As our Foundation also wishes for those in the revitalization of the area to make use of the Senmaya International Club, we informed the staff of the Senmaya Branch Ichinoseki City Hall of our wish and asked to utilize it in an effective way.

● The Lighting Ceremony and Dinner Party at Okago Church

From 5 p.m. on December 23rd, we assisted in the Christmas Event (Illumination Lighting Ceremony) at Okago Church in Fujisawa, Ichinoseki in Iwate Prefecture.

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Okago is an area where over 300 Christians were martyred in the early Edo Period. Our Representative had been trying to think of a way to somehow assist in the revitalization of this area, and was introduced to Mr. Hatakeyama, the director of the Okago Christian Resource Center, from a priest in Fujisawa who always assist us. As such, we have been assisting in the lighting event since last year.

This was our second event, and the illumination lighting ceremony took place at Okago Church at 5 p.m. Everyone gathering at the event counted down together to switched on the lights. Several tens of thousands of LED lamps lighted up all at once, and the church was enveloped in a magical atmosphere with colorful illuminations in the pitch-black night. The atmosphere was even more magical this year, with a newly-planted fir tree in the churchyard and the 40 bamboo candles lighting up the way leading to the church.

Director Hatakeyama of the Okago Christian Resource Center had long been wishing over the years for an illumination event. We all thought of the numerous Christians who were martyred in this area long ago, and prayed for the souls of those who tragically lost their lives to the Great East Japan Earthquake in May 2011.

This event was reported in the Iwate Nichi-Nichi Shimbun.

Iwate Nichi-Nichi Shimbun, December 24th, 2013

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● Chrismas Mass at Okago Church

From 11 a.m. on December 24th, we assisted in the Christmas Mass (Mass and Christmas Party) at Okago Church in Fujisawa, Ichinoseki in Iwate Prefecture. The Mass held at this church recommenced after more than 30 years as was the illumination lighting event.

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Father Takahashi of Mizusawa Church was asked to come, and the Christmas Mass at Okago Church was performed in a solemn atmosphere. Approximately 30 people gathered, including the local children.

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We held a simple Christmas Party after the Mass with the Christmas cakes lovingly baked by the local residents. We had a surprise guest, our Representative Sata's "Sata" Claus, and everyone at the party received a Christmas present. Our Representative planned this by himself and kept it a secret from the Foundation staff present at the party, so the staff was even more surprised than the children.

Our support activities in the Okago Church event have continued for two years now. Last year, our Foundation was the main force in handling the announcement of the event. This year, Director Hatakeyama took over and handled everything from planning to announcing which ended in a successful event. We realized that our activities were of use to the local revitalization, and hope that there will also be a wonderful event next year. We shall do our best so that the church will be filled with people at the Mass.

The event was reported in Iwate Nichi-Nichi Shimbun and the Iwate Nippo.

Iwate Nichi-Nichi Shimbun, December 25th, 2013

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Iwate Nippo, December 25th, 2013

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Categories:Staff reports

2013.12.25 19:51 admin

2013.11.23 12:50

Cooperative Participation in the AIDS Culture Forum(11/23 2013 in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture)

On Saturday, November 23rd, we provided Tomodachi Curry® at the "AIDS Culture Forum in Rikuzentakata" held in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture to cooperate in making it a lively event.

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Rikuzentakata First Junior High School was the venue, and in the school's premises there are temporary housing and Rikuzentakata Clinic.

The aim of this event is to provide awareness on HIV/AIDS to the young generations, and it has been held for six years since 2005 and organized by Rikuzentakata Junior Chamber, Rikuzentakata City Hall, and Ofunato Health Center of Iwate Prefecture. It was discontinued for two years due to the Great East Japan Earthquake, but this year it was brought back after three years.

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The event began at Rikuzentakata First Junior High School's gym with a performance by the artist Funny Pig from Rikuzentakata which warmed up the atmosphere of the venue. There were many participants from early on, and by the talk session began the gym was full of participants with more than 150 people.

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We provided Tomodachi Curry® at this event thanks to our relationship with Dr. Mikihito Ishiki of Iwate Prefectural Takada Hospital, and the request was to prepare about 200 servings. We did the preparations the night before at the Senmaya International Club (SIC) and made Tomodachi Curry® on the day of the event outside the venue.

Mr. Kyosuke Tachibana of Sendai Akiu Spa Hotel Iwanumaya joined us from the day before at the Senmaya International Club by staying the night and it was a great help. He was very efficient and we truly appreciate it.

Additionally, Mr. Yoshihiro Kanno, the director of Senmaya Branch of Ichinoseki City Hall, kindly presented us with a donation to assist in the event, and sent four staff from the Branch office to the venue to help us. We take this opportunity to extend our appreciation.

Dr. Tabata, the director of Iwate Prefectural Takada Hospital also came and joined the talk session.

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Tomodachi Curry® was scheduled to be provided at 12 noon after the lecture in the morning was over. We were to provide the curry within a limited time which was until 1p.m. when the next lecture began, but we were relieved to have been able to complete it in time. We were happy to hear many people telling us "It was delicious."

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"Class on Life", lecture by the "night watchman teacher" Mr. Osamu Mizutani

Categories:Staff reports

2013.11.23 12:50 admin

2013.10.25 18:22

Syed Tahir from our Foundation was introduced in the Ishinomaki Medical Association Bulletin.

Dr. Kenichi Shoji, the director of Shoji Naika Ichoka (Shoji Internal Medicine and Gastrointestinal Hospital) of Mizuho Healthcare Corporation, contributed an article in the 260th issue of the Ishinomaki Medical Association Bulletin. The article introduces Syed Tahir from our Foundation, and with Dr. Shoji's permission we post his article.

Dr. Shoji had been of great assistance when we dedicated and built the Angel Statue at the site of Okawa Elementary School in Ishinomaki on March 11th of this year, from arranging the accommodation for our staff and obtaining the tents and setting them up, even hosting a dinner on the evening of March 10th in Ishinomaki for the 25 people involved plus providing lunch on the 11th.

We take this opportunity to thank Dr. Shoji again for his kind assistance.


Ishinomaki Medical Association Bulletin

September 2013
No. 260

Charms of people in Tohoku
Kenichi Shoji

On a Sunday three months after the Great East Japan Earthquake, I received a strange phone call. "My name is Syed Tahir. I'm a volunteer from Nagoya who is working in Iwate. I am calling because Dr. Masamoto told me to say hello to Dr. Shoji. I was wondering if I could visit you some time when convenient for you..." Dr. Masamoto is an internal medicine specialist who is my senior at the university. He runs a kidney dialysis centre in Handa, Aichi prefecture. He has bought a hospital where he used to work as a part-timer and is now its manager. Currently he has acquired several clinics and is busy managing business rather than treating patients.

On the following Sunday, Mr.Tahir drove his car with no car navigation system and made great efforts to find his way to my house all the way from Senmaya, Iwate. He came to Miyagi by car full of rescue supplies immediately after the earthquake. First, he worked as a volunteer at Minato Primary School in Ishinomaki for 2 months and now is based in Hiraizumi, Iwate, working in various disaster-affected areas.

Mr. Tahir is a Muslim and belongs to a minor Islamic sect called Ahmaddiya. In his home country, Pakistan, Ahmaddiya followers are often suppressed by larger sects such as Sunni and Shi'ite. Perhaps because of that, he came to Japan 20 years ago as if following his brother, who is running a trading company in Nagoya. Since then, he has helped his brother's business. Now at the age of 46, he has a wife and three children. One is a second grader at junior high school and the other two are the 6th and 4th graders of primary school.

There is a teaching of Ahmaddiya that one must help those who are in need. As he has been grown up in an environment where this attitude is naturally accepted, Mar. Tahir almost reflexively rushed for Tohoku by a truck full of rescue supplies provided from Ahmaddiya. I cannot forget his puzzled reaction when he was asked why he was involved in volunteer activities by an elderly man in Iwate. He seemed to suspect that it would not be convincing enough for the old man if he had said that it was only a natural thing to do and tried to explain his reasons logically. However it was not easy to have his religious belief understood. According to Mr. Tahir, the universe is regulated by the plan of God and nothing can be irrational or incidental. He sounded as if he were a Christian. Later, Mr. Yasuhiko Sata, president of TKB Corpotation whom I met through Mr. Tahir, told me that Islam is based on the Old Testament and has much in common with Christianity.

TKB is a company whose former name was Tokibo Co., Ltd. As a major dealer of medical devices such as ventilators, it is well known amongst healthcare professionals. The present president Mr. Sata's father was a medical doctor and involved in a medical device related business. The experience led him to set up his own company called Tokibo. Mr. Yasuhiko Sata took over his father's business and expanded the company into an enterprise group with many affiliated companies in the US and Europe. Mr. Stata created a juridical foundation called "Rentai Tohoku-Seinan" in May 2011 with a view to supporting the 311 victims in Tohoku to re-establish their lives. Mr. Tahir met Mr. Sata through his volunteer activities and now works as the board director of "Rentai Tohoku-Seinan".

On a Saturday in July, Mr. Tahir visited our home after some while. "As I'm so busy with my volunteer work that I cannot spend any time with my family, I decided to move to Sendai and bring them with me. My wife and children agreed to my decision." The announcement came out of the blue and I tried to convince him that he had done enough work as a volunteer already and suggested to go back to Nagoya and focus on his own work. However he seemed to be totally determined. After he came to Tohoku, he had a chance to meet various people. Perhaps it was because many people were still caught up in the heat of the moment after the Earthquake, but he made a lot of friends to whom he could open up and let himself out amongst those living in temporary compounds and fellow local volunteers. He did not wish to lose these precious relationships by going back to Nagoya. This made him decide to move to Sendai with his family and continue to work for Rentai Tohoku-Seinan, making his new home a base for volunteer activities. For him, his friends in Tohoku are dear to him just like his family.

2013-Oct-10-img1.jpg
Mr. Tahir being nervous every time a camera is pointed at him

Tahir was born and brought up in the Northern Pakistan near the Karakorum. As he had occasionally contacted with Japanese tourists since he was very young, Japan has always been a place he felt an affinity with. Though this is merely my wild guess, the people in rural Tohoku and those in rural Pakistan may have something in common.

Generally speaking, people in Tohoku may be hard to approach at first but once warmed up, they are more open and candid than people in Nagoya and tend to build an honest and unreserved friendship. I am confident in this view as I spent 6 years in Nagoya when I was a university student. Mr. Tahir is a simple and straightforward man, more like a Tohoku local compared to a Nagoyan. He may have had some feeling of strangeness during 20 years of life in Nagoya. But in Tohoku, he felt as if he were included and started to see this place as his home to be.

Last week, Mr. Tahir and his family moved into a house in a leafy residential area in Sendai. The children are going to go to new schools from the second semester. The girl in the 4th grade of primary school is going to enter a Catholic school. Mr. Tahir negotiated with the school insisting on impossible conditions that the girl would not attend a mass or a religious class. Surprisingly, the principal consented willingly. This would never happen in countries other than Japan. Mr. Tahir was extremely grateful to Japanese tolerance (perhaps insensitivity) for other religions.

Categories:Staff reports

2013.10.25 18:22 admin

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