More than five years have passed since the earthquake and tsunami devastated much of eastern Japan in March 2011. Looking back on the past half-decade, we are sharing some stories and recollections from those we have been “walking together” with since the devastation, one by one.
Given below is a story from the ninth speaker in this series, Ms. Minako Sakihara, from the Okinawa Diocese. Ms. Sakihara is an instructor at Shoseito Hoikuen (All Saints’ Nursery), located in Okinawa City. In the “One Family” program to assist child nursing in Fukushima, she has come to help St. Paul’s Kindergarten, Koriyama, several times already. Now she enjoys a strong relationship with the kindergarten’s people. In addition, in our “Home Stay Okinawa,” a summer retreat program for Fukushima children and their families, Ms. Sakihara kindly hosted some participants at her own home. In spite of the fact that the physical distance between Okinawa and Fukushima is so great (some 1,130 miles), Ms. Sakihara is always attentive to what’s happening in Fukushima, whose residents are greatly encouraged by her attitude and help.
Working with the “One Family” program to “walk with” Fukushima
Ms. Minako Sakihara, All Saints’ Nursery, Okinawa
The English below written and arranged by Heeday, based on the original Japanese
The English edited by Rev. Dr. Henry French, ELCA
- To begin with —
Memories of the East Japan disaster of 2011 are still quite vivid to me. Someone shouted, “Tohoku is being devastated by a terrible earthquake!” and those words echoed through my nursery. I dashed to a TV set and turned it on. The devastating earthquake created a gigantic tsunami, whose whirlpools of water swallowed up everything around in a moment. Shock! I could not believe what my own eyes were seeing, and all I could do was to pray, “Oh, God, stop this!!” The disaster was happening right here in Japan as I watched TV. Every time I heard news of the disaster, I was moved and wondered what I could do to help those affected. Then, I met with Ms. Kay Ikezumi of what was then the Project on Nuclear Power and Radiation (called the No Nuke Project today).
- The “One Family” project launched
Ms. Ikezumi told me that in Fukushima, after the meltdown, many kindergarten staffers were still taking good care of their children, and fighting against invisible radiation. She also said her project was considering some retreats for those Fukushima staffers so they could relax here in Okinawa. While the Fukushima staffers were relaxing here, she wanted some kindergarten staffers in Okinawa to serve in Fukushima, taking their places. Just then, Right Reverend Uehara, Reverend Iwasa, and several other child nurses of my nursery were there with me. We agreed to kick off the retreat and exchange project soon in whatever way we could. Expressing our wish to “walk together” with Fukushima’s people, we named the program “One Family.”
- The One Family program
Assistance to nursing at St. Paul’s Kindergarten (October 27th through 30th, 2015)
No matter which class of children we went into, they and their instructors welcomed us wholeheartedly. We had real good days at St. Paul’s. On sunny days, the kindergarten’s yard was full of kids running around, with lovely smiles, watched over by staffers. This might not sound like anything special, yet here in Fukushima, those kids can only run around outdoors with their instructors and staffers carefully watching the wind direction and velocity, and counting the minutes in order to avoid exposure to hazardous doses of radiation. Also, before the kids come to the kindergarten, the staffers and instructors wipe out the whole inside and outside of the kindergarten to remove radioactive substances. All of these efforts are still definitely necessary, even after more than five years.
Ever since the meltdown began, the people of Fukushima have never been fully at ease. I hope they are all right, mentally and physically. When, if at all, will this place be “restored to normal?” There are countless nursery staffers around the world, some of them Anglicans, but only those in Fukushima and its vicinity carry such heavy burdens. I am convinced that we should share those burdens with them, with the hope that St. Paul’s will always be a place where the children can laugh and feel at home.
Hosting visitors from Fukushima at my home
Last summer, a wonderful woman came in and stayed with me and my family for a vacation from Fukushima. She was just like part of my family, watching TV with us in my living room, accompanying my elementary daughter to a neighborhood “radio stretch” (Note: In many neighborhoods in Japan, they hold gathering where people stretch to music from the radio. This is called “radio stretch.”), chatting over meals, and so on. She also joined in some neighborhood events, dancing summer festival dances, watching an “Eisa” dance event (a dance style of Okinawa), and learning many other aspects of Okinawa’s culture. We really had a good time together.
Inspired by our encounter with her, my whole family has been talking a lot about Fukushima. Whenever we hear news about Fukushima Daiichi, my children show concern, saying “Is Ms. xxx OK?” They seem to be concerned over nuclear power issues in general, asking questions like, “Mom, we heard about what’s going on in Fukushima at school today,” and “Nuclear power is bad, but why is Kagoshima restarting its nuclear power plant?” I am convinced that we, adults, are responsible both to explain to children why nuclear power plants must not exist, and to keep Fukushima relevant to all of us, always.
- To conclude —
When I first visited Fukushima, I was taken by surprise to see radioactive soil packed in black vinyl bags, and piled up right in front of houses. They have done some “decontamination,” yet I have heard that they are short of places to store the contaminated soil. The recovery of Fukushima has been very sluggish. I am deeply worried that many residents there might lose the courage to recover. I am determined to walk together with Fukushima and provide as much assistance to them as I can while communicating as much as I can about the calamities there to my friends. This might be small help, but I will continue it.