Sunday 29 January 2012

Inspiration Sunday - Joni in Tohoku

Today I want to introduce you Joni, I only recently learnt about Joni and her situation as her open letter has been doing the rounds in the foreign wives community. I wanted to help Joni get the word out that people in Tohoku still need our help.

Can we start with you sharing a little about yourself and your family?
My name is Joni, I am a tall, blond American who is a country girl from Iowa, married to a Japanese man and we have 4 children ages 4-12. I have lived in Japan for over 20+ years and have lived both in this area and also in Shizuoka. I was a H.S. and elementary school teacher for 12 years until I married. We now live in Sumita-cho, Iwate-ken.
What is the weather like there at the moment? 
For the past month or so it has been quite cold, with lows about -8 to -10. We had just about 6 inches of snow on the ground until a few weeks ago and now every few days we are getting 2+ feet of snow. There is about 3-4ft of snow on the ground here in Sumita right now.  Most of the people in the temp housing here lived in Rikuzen-Takada or on the coast where they didn't get snow during the winters except on rare occasions. So having snow and ice around is new to them, and they are finding it really cold! Japanese houses here are not insulated and even inside our home it is cold. We do have a fan heater but that just heats one roomThat is in our home which is city housing for Sumita. The temp housing units here, are single homes, made of wood, but not nearly as well-built as the one we live in and they have a foot of space under the house just open! We have that same space, but it is partially blocked, whereas they do not have anything blocking the wind or snow from going under their homes.  They are living among people that they do not know, and many have trouble meeting new people. When we first delivered the things from the church in Hokkaido, I had them playing games to decide who would get such and such and item and they were laughing and talking to others, which hadn't happened before.  During the summer months, I noticed many would go have tea together at 10 am outside and it was so nice to see them getting to know their neighbors, though it was only one area of the temp housing that did that (64 houses in all there). Since it has gotten cold, most stay in their houses all day, and rarely go out. I have noticed many seem very depressed and the weight of their situation is very heavy on their minds.  I have been making an effort to try and deliver things on those really cold and snowy days...give them a reason to smile. Somehow it is hard not to smile, at the silliness of us trying to do that.
Where were you when the earthquake hit?
We were in Sumita-cho, in Arisu, in our home at the time of the earthquake. The Magnitude 9.0 one, it was impossible to move, my youngest daughter was sleeping on a futon not 4 ft from me, and during the earthquake I couldn't get to her. Our house was being thrown about, furniture falling, things being torpedoed across the room, the refrigerator that shook open...(it was lovely to have chili, spread all over the broken glass in the kitchen, and to have to try and clean it up in the cold and dark ! No hot water...!!! (though we were lucky that we did have water!) The sound of things crashing around us and the very LONG and violent shaking was hard.I feel very unsettled after small earthquakes so it has been a very, very, long time of feeling very unsettled with the daily doses of earthquakes we have now.
My husband was out of work since at the time but it was a blessing for he was home the day of the earthquake and we were able to go collect the children all huddled outside the school about 4km from here, and preschool waiting in the cold and snow with no coats or shoes on! 
It was a very long, dark, cold time afterwards and up here, most people are not prepared for a disaster of that scope. We had a couple of flashlights, and some canned food etc...but it was the cold that was the hardest I think.Our heater is a fan heater which is kerosene, but has to be plugged in so it was useless. I had some canned baked beans which we ate cold out of a can which the kids all thought was a treat and they each had their own can and since I order them from the U.S. I normally ration them a little bit, but after the earthquake, we ate canned baked beans and I let the children eat as much as they wanted, and it was wonderful.
What was the time like after the earthquake and tsunami?
We were without lifelines for many long weeks after the disaster. No gasoline for over a month etc.(No heat though it was still winter here and we had another month of snow) (electric, phones, gas, all down) Though we had many things shaken and fall, our house is ok, though many neighbors had windows and walls fall, and the building across the street from us (jidokan where they children go to play) had to be demolished for it was so badly damaged. The roads were impassable in many places.But there was no gasoline, so people were not going anywhere.The nearest gasoline station is about 8 km from us, and they didn't were closed for a long time, and even those in Tono-shi, the ones that were open, you would have to queue for hours and then only allowed to buy 5 or 6 liters of gasoline, which pretty much just got us back to our home! There are no train lines here, but the nearest Shinkansen stations also were damaged and the train lines were down for a long time. 
Since 3/11 we have had so many aftershocks and they continue to this day. Those first months we were getting as many as 60+ aftershocks a day. Aftershocks sound like they are smaller, but they are just regular earthquakes of a different name. So all day every day we were and are reminded of the earthquake. We now get about 4 a day, sometimes small, sometimes big, a couple have shaken things off shelves etc...though after the mag 9.0 they don't seem much.
Do you have an advice to pass on?
I would really encourage all of you to think through an evacuation plan for your family and where to meet if something happens.Make sure that the items that you have in your emergency bag are more than you think you will actually need. High calorie, no cook items, A couple days supplies won't last long and in the case of people here...they escaped with nothing.How to contact your children, loved ones..and what to do in the event that all lifelines are down.Really think about what if there was no electricity for a month. What would you eat? How would you survive, and then go through every other lifeline in your mind and really think about it. It is very frightening to think of all that.Even more important than other things, in Otomo cho and other places it was WATER that was the huge problem. They didn't get their waterlines (or electricity or gas) back for almost 5 months.
I know you have been doing a lot of volunteer work, acting as a translator along with hands on work and donating whatever you could spare. You are looking for some specific items at the moment to donate to the temporary housing nearby, can you share with us what you are trying to get hold of?
For boys size 160cm or mens S and M, I haven't had much to share with them so far.There are a few smaller boys, size 130cm and 2 girls that size too.It is very cold here at the moment so fleece things are greatSportswear in mens X and XL always seem to be needed.
Blankets, warm jackets, ski wear, hats, is cold and snowy here, so many of these people are not used to the cold in Sumita for the coast and those areas didn't get much snow. 
Womens underwear is needed (new), There are no clothing stores here in Sumita, and so unless they can to travel all the way to Mizusawa or Tono, there just isn't much available.
The majority of people are elderly...all sizes but womens M-XL, and mens L and XL...would fit most of them .Several of the elderly ladies are size XL or larger and they have often said to me that even when there has not been much their size, and they were just thrilled with the larger sized items that I have been able to share with them. One elderly lady was so thrilled yesterday with a robe/pyjama that I gave her that a friend sent. She has not had pjs since 3-11. She is one of the larger ladies, and there just was never anything her size when they were able to get clothing donations.A friend donated a sewing machine so some of the ladies have set up a sewing club and other knit or crochet so supplies for them would be nice too. I have also found that several people have sent little gifts...perhaps ones that they received as gifts but never used or needed, and also other things that were in their home. There are things that may not be a necessity, but would sure be nice to have sort of things, that could really make someones day. 
I cannot imagine having lost now though there are still needs, the other "Extra" things," just because", are also heartening to these people too. The knitting yarn, needles and material that were sent, brought such smiles, and others have sent little things that they got as little gifts from stores etc, little wrapped boxes of tea...just anything.
 Getting ready to delivery the goods, Joni's daughter squashed under the boxes!
This is not necessary, but if you care to, a personal note, perhaps copied a few times that I could give them when I give them the items would be really nice...if it is in English that is fine, I will translate it for them. Sometimes just that personal touch might be nice and to know where the things came from!!! 

happy recipients

If you have things to donate please contact Joni at sistermomy 'at' hotmail 'dot' com for her mailing address. Please make sure all clothes are clean and not stained and clearly label the outside of the box with the contents to make life easier for Joni.

What is the situation like now?
Many are quite concerned for in a little over a year they are expected to move out of temp housing, and especially the older people, have nowhere to go. Banks won't lend to people over 50, they are living on Nenkin...(social security) and so it is just hard for many of them.Sumita cho has told the people here though, that they will not have to move out, which is very helpful, but those living in the temp housing in front of jr and sr high schools etc. will have to move. As of yet, they have not been told just where they are to move, or gotten any help in finding ways to build new homes etc.
the temp housing
In Otomo cho, we are helping those that did not move into temp housing and chose to remain in the village. Most had their houses on the first floor, ruined by the tsunami but have been able to rebuild the first floors. The people in the temp housing have been getting aid, though it has tapered off a lot, but those that chose to fix their homes and remain haven't received any aid even from the beginning. They were without water, electricity and gas for almost 5 we often took trips bring supplies from our home, food, water etc...just to let them know they are not forgotten. It is sometimes hard for them to see the people in the temp housing getting new things...and help when they don't get anything.
So, please take a few minutes and look around your home to see if there is anything you can donate, if you are not comfortable donating to an individual then use this as a prompt to donate to one of the many charities. It is bloody freezing up in Tohoku this time of year and will stay so for a few more months so please, share what you can and let the people of Tohoku know that we haven't forgotten about them.

Sorry this post doesn't have many photos but Joni's computer is on it's last legs so she was only able to provide photos from her phone there is a post on Recovering Tohoku about Sumito-cho and pictures of the temp housing.


  1. I sent a Joni an email but she didn't write back. I really want her address. i have a box ready to send her. thank you

    1. I will drop her a line and tell her that you have tried to contact her. I know she has about 20 boxes waiting to be delivered and that her computer is on it's last legs so she might not have had chance to reply yet.

    2. she said she couldn't find your email so could you resend it? thanks,

  2. We're thinking of you all, aspecially in such cold temperatures. We have a bit of snow here, but it's nothing compared to what you are having to cope with. We are sending three little houses that we had so much fun making, and we will see what else we can put in the package as well. Lots of love, Kate & Lizzie (aged 12) Mnnn.... Corned beef xxx


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