Saturday, 19 March 2011

The Journey to Tohoku

On Friday 20th March 2011, we travelled up to Miyagi prefecture (the area that was probably the worst affected by the tsunami) with a group organised by the `Hyogo Voluntary Plaza`, which is a group of specialists from many professions, including doctors, bone setters, earthquake researchers, builders, and of course acupuncturists, all based around Kobe andthe Hyogo area.

We left Kobe at around 5pm, and arrived at the camp in Miyagi at 10am. Most of the volunteers had to return back to Kobe at 5pm the next day (leaving Miyagi), hence there was not much time to offer treatment, and hence the need for us to try to raise donations so we can actually spend a more prolonged amount of time offering assistance to survivors of the tsunami.

The Hyogo Shinkyu (Acupuncture) Association (plus me and Hiroshi, who were honorary members for a couple of days). The sign reads `Tohoku ganbare`, which roughly translated means `Good luck/you can do it/we wish you the best Tohoku!`

Hiroshi Yamamoto, picking up instructions for the trip (map/group assignments etc.)

Getting ready to leave Kobe

Governor of Hyogo prefecture Toshizou Ido giving words of encouragement (I think), to volunteers

 Earthquake damage at the service area

             Coffee, coffee or coffee?

Our Bus

Hiroshi`s breakfast (and lunch)

Sign reads: Business is closed due to earthquake

Sign reads: Suspension of water supply from 15th March due to earthquake

Rolling moxa cones (chi netsu kyu) on the bus (potentially going to be a lot of people who have been in the cold for days, so the idea was that we might be able to use moxa - a herb effectively used in acupuncture often for its warming ability)

                                  Mountains near Sendai


Queues for petrol - A lot of petrol stations in Sendai and the surrounding areas were closed because they were damaged in the earthquake, or lacked the power to run pumps, or had run out of fuel.

Arriving at first camp, and getting instructions

        A car that has returned from the Tsunami struck area

Nurses from Kobe - both were in Kobe at the time on the Hanshin earthquake in 1995. The lady on the right told me how the water supply in the hospital that she worked in was cut for 3 weeks. Most people from Kobe that I have spoken to, and were involved in the Hanshin earthquake, are extremely keen to help the people of Tohoku, and feel a deep empathy for the victims of the tsunami

          Entrance to first camp, where the 2 other/actual members of the Hyogo Shinkyu Association were deployed. The building that you can see is housing a swimming pool, which has been filled with drinking water and is being used as a water storage tank to provide water for the 200 people that have been relocated to this evacuation camp not far from Sendai, in Miyagi prefecture.

Gathering blankets to give to the survivors in the camp

Me after just arriving at the first camp, where the other two members of the acupuncture team were sent. We were dispatched to another camp about 5 minutes drive away.

Hiroshi helping to offload supplies from one of the coaches. Supplies seemed to consist mostly of drinks, some food and blankets.

              Medical supplies (reads Hyogo Medical Association)

               Teamwork: Getting the supplies inside to a dry storage area

The camp

Most of the people who were sent to the Shinainuma Nousoun Kankyo Kaizen Senta evacuation camp, lived in Matsushima or Higashi Matsushima, both of which were almost completely destroyed in the tsunami. Matsushima was known for having one of the most beautiful landscapes, being ranked as one of the `3 views of Japan`, the other two being Amanohashidate in Kyoto, and Itsukushima in Hiroshima. 

At the time of writing, there are over 2300 evacuation camps set up in the Tohoku area.

The 3 view points of Japan (Matsushima is 1)


The view from Matsushima bay, before the tsunami

          The camp is located next to Shinainuma train station

The evacuation camp is located in the brown building with the arched entrance. It is usually a gymnasium and community centre, which is now being used to house a group of around 100 people who have mostly been moved from a bigger evacuation area to this smaller camp, where they will have better access to food and medical supplies.

Volunteers at the camp entrance

This board explains where the survivors have come from and who the person in charge at the facility is. Most people come from Matsushima town and East Matsushima city, two areas that were severely affected by the Tsunami.

The woman holding the baby was separated from her husband in the tsunami, he survived but is staying in another camp.

This is the makeshift doctor surgery in the camp. The team was from Hyogo and like us, were only there for an afternoon.

Arriving at the camp

The first bus of survivors arrives. This bus is bringing people from bigger evacuation areas to this smaller camp, where they will have more space, warmth, and access to food, water and medical supplies

A high percentage of the survivors were elderly (probably 60 percent over 55), and a few of families, including children. Some families had to split up and go to different camps.

Arriving in the hall

The survivors were welcomed to the camp and were given instructions as to what would happen that day.

Most people seemed quite bewildered and shocked. For the majority, this was the first time that they had had a bit of rest, warmth, a wash and a chance to sit and begin to take in what has just happened

Food and Supplies

Supplies being taken into the camp

Everyone gets one rice ball on arrival, which is being handed out by one of the survivors

 Everyone (including the group of local volunteers - in bright green coats) chipped in to help with bringing in supplies and distributing them

More things arriving

Food storage area

One survivor helping to give out Onigiri (rice balls)

A group of female survivors are asked to help to cook dinner for the group