Saturday 16 April 2011


Dear  Friends
This is going to be a hard post to write. Things didn't turn out as we expected. Coincidentally, when I got home there was a programme filmed in exactly the same area we had been to with a few shots of the same evacuation shelter. NHK had followed up on some people in the town featured in a programme they made a few years ago. It was good television; they helped find the third member of a group of three lads who'd been separated and by the end of the programme the dejected fisherman is thinking about putting his one remaining boat out to sea. Good uplifting stuff. I wish I could be so positive about our experience today.

The expressway was busy, the road bumpy with temporary repairs in places, lots of army vehicles. People at the service station were on a mission, civil servants from Osaka, volunteers in wellies and masks.We passed many army camps: tents and vehicles. When we arrived at the centre we were expected but there was just one woman, one of the residents, running the place, and she was very busy. We unloaded the sheets and wanted to set them up but it didn't work out. Firstly, most of the residents were out, either at work or out searching for missing relatives. Secondly, the hall, a school gymnasium, was crammed full of stuff, blankets on the floor and low 'walls' of people's belongings. People had made little 'rooms' themselves ( all different shapes and sizes) and we couldn't section off an area without their permission. There was no spare space at all, just a narrow path around the outside. So we set one up just to show how it should be done but it had to be put back with the rest of the sheets in the entrance way - along with the boxes of crayons and pens. So we couldn't set it up ourselves and I didn't have the pleasure of seeing them set up and children using them. But I'm sure it will be done by the residents themselves when they're ready to do it.

I asked how many people were staying there and she said officially 270 but more people come in at night and she has no idea of the actual number. The atmosphere was not good. Maybe it was the time we visited but nothing seemed to be organised, a few people sitting around looking lost and dejected. It wasn't like the centres you see on television: smiley kids, shiny floors, buzzing with volunteers and organisors. Whilst we were there there was a delivery of relief goods and from the way people crowded round to see what had come in you didn't get the impression that the supply was adequate.

Someone told us that help was getting as far as Ishimaki city hall but no further. Why were there no officials? Why were there no organisors?

We took a detour through the town of Ishimaki on the way back. The damage is just like you see on televison and we were shocked. Houses destroyed, cars and boats all over the place.

The damage is so great, the scale so huge that as an individual one feels helpless. My conclusion is that perhaps the best thing for us to do is to give money and leave this mammoth task to organisational experts like the army and the Red Cross. There will be a time for smaller grassroot organisations but at least in the centre we saw today it seems like it's still early days. And here's a suggestion: the bureaucrats should get out of Kasumigasaki (Tokyo's Whitehall) and set up shop in Ishinomaki and get things moving.

So I'm a bit shell shocked this evening but I'm glad that I went and I know the things we took have got to where they're needed and will be well used. Thank you for your help.

Osaka City staff at the service station


Ishinomaki town



Natori (Sendai airport area). The trees on the horizon are on the coast.
Two to three kilometres away?


  1. It looks like it was quite a serious day. I am so proud that you got out there and did your bit.

    What you are doing reminded me of when we moved in to Beaconsfield. I remember that we made a big cardboard house in the playroom with all the boxes from the move. I might have even slept in it one night. It was very cosy! I'm sure the kids there will come up with equally creative ways to use them.

    I really think it will make a big difference to people's comfort.

    well done,

    PS - the geiger counter I am building is coming on very nicely!

  2. Anne, your blog is so informative and well-written. It is something I will continue to read when I get back to Canada and am cut off from information again and seeing things for my own eyes. That would have been such a hard day to go to Ishinomaki. I feel overwhelmed and tearful just looking at photos, I can't imagine seeing it in person. Take care of yourself. Christelle

  3. Hi Anne, which shelter were you at? I'll be there for the next 3 months and can send you photos of the sheets in use if you'd like.

  4. Hello Anonymous
    I would really like to get in touch with you. But preferably not in this very public blog. Did you get my e-mail?
    Look forward to hearing from you.

  5. Hi Anne, I didn't get your email and I checked my spam box too, can you try again? Thanks

  6. Hello again Anonymous,
    The shelter we went to was in the gymnasium of Iinogawa Junior High (飯野川中学校).
    Any information would be much appreciated.
    But to my e-mail address please in the first instance.
    I only have a no-reply address for you so can't contact you directly.