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2012 April Tohoku Trip

A veiw from a hotel window in Ofunato, Iwate. 

Temporary shopping site, convenient for consutruction workers and NGO/NPO staff/volunteers, inconvenient for the locals without cars.

Raising ground level to rebuild warehouses for the aquaculture industry. 

At the office of Habitat for Humanity Japan. 

The very first seaweed harvest since last March.

Fishermen heading out to the ocean for the first time in a year. 

Debris can be seen pilled up everywhere in Iwate and Miyagi, due to lack of municipal governments outside Tohoku agreeing to accept and dispose tsunami waste.


Shigeru Ban Interview on Dumos Magazine

Founder of Volunteer Architects' Network (VAN) and JDRFB grantee Shigeru Ban, was featured in domus, a design and architecture magazine, about VAN's Disaster Relief Project

After the earthquake and tsunami hit Tohoku in March, thousands of victims were sent to evacuation shelters - often a school gymnasium or other single, large rooms which are overcrowded and offer the disaster victims no privacy.  Ban came up with a unique partition system that was inexpensive and simple to build. 

The JDRFB grant will support VAN's construction of temporary housing, as the recovery phase moves into the transitional stage and evacuees leave the temporary shelters. Ban has designed multi-unit "townhouses" built with steel shipping containers, in much the same way that he was able to successfully use the containers to build the Nomadic Museum. Here is more detailed updates from VAN about the multi-unit "townhouses":

Read more about VAN and Ban's work for the Japanese Disaster Relief on domus magazine.



Ambassador Roos works with All Hands Volunteers

June 30 - Ambassador John Roos made his third visit to Japan's tsunami-affected region from June 27-29, in order to show the continuing U.S. support for the reconstruction efforts and to send a message that Japan is safe and open for business.

While in the region, the Ambassador met with local officials and students, heard the moving stories of American JET teachers still working in the disaster areas, and visited the elementary school where Monty Dickson (one of the two American citizens killed in the tsunami) taught English. In Ofunato, the Ambassador teamed up with All Hands Volunteers to help clean up a damaged car dealership. 

(From the Embassy of the U.S. Tokyo, Japan website <>)


This is a video message from Ambassador Roos while working in Ofunato:


Ambassador Roos works with All Hands Volunteers from All Hands Volunteers on Vimeo.

For more videos and photos of All Hands Volunteers' work in Tohoku, click here


Transition: Rescue and Reconstruction - Peter Grilli

The following is another report from Peter Grilli, President of the Japan Society of Boston, who recently returned from Japan. Peter spent most of the last week traveling through various parts of Tohoku – mainly in eastern Miyagi Prefecture and Iwate Prefecture. 


After meeting and talking with many people at refugee centers, local town offices, centers for volunteer workers from all over Japan and all over the world, it seems pretty clear to me that we’re now at a major transition point:  from the first period when simple survival and rescue were top priorities to a second period of re-construction of all sorts.  In most of the places we visited, the worst of the overwhelming debris that had been swept by the tsunami of March 11 into all coastal towns and villages has been collected into vast mountains of garbage and debris.  Roads have been cleared and traffic is passable almost everywhere.  The debris is slowly being trucked away to be used as landfill in the hills in some places, or landfill for coastal land-reclamation projects.   Left behind is terrible stench in most places, lots of flies and other bugs, and infernal black crows that fly in to pick over the garbage.   But reconstruction is clearly underway: reconstruction of life-styles, reconstruction of homes and shops, reconstruction of industries, reconstruction of an entire economy.  In some places it is moving fairly fast (though life will clearly not seem “normal” for close to a decade…); elsewhere, reconstruction is moving with agonizing slowness.  Government bureaucrats have targeted certain larger towns for high-priority reconstruction efforts, but smaller towns will have to wait for years and years to receive significant government assistance.

Large-scale aid from the Japanese central government is essential and it is being delivered slowly and is making important changes.  But it is often provided coldly, rigidly, and with a high-handed manner by government bureaucrats.  Disaster victims are being made to feel as though they are nothing more than a troublesome temporary inconvenience – a distraction from the “more important” priorities of the central government.   The offensive comments last week by Minister of Reconstruction Matsumoto Ryu brought an outraged response from the people of Tohoku and resulted in his being fired after only 9 days on the job.  That seems typical of the bungling policies of the Kan government, and it is bringing a rising tide of resentment throughout Japan.   There are little or no expressions of consolation and sympathy for the victims from the cold hard faces of government bureaucrats, and their reconstruction efforts are being delivered with rigid insensitivity to local realities.  The several visits by the Emperor and Empress to Tohoku were totally opposite in tone; their genuine compassion was deeply appreciated, and highlighted the contrast with the cold formality of the bureaucrats.

These are photographs taken in Minami-Sanriku, where the Emperor and Empress prayed for the dead and visited several evacuation centers.  They returned one month later, in mid-May, on the 2-month anniversary of the March 11 disasters.


Ofunato Updates from Amya 2

Amya, currently working as a volunteer interpreter for All Hands Volunteers has sent us a follow up report to the last post from July 1:

Hello again,

This posting isn't necessarily a happy one but it reflects some of what I heard in Ofunato and as such, I wanted to share it with you.


What's Not Reported


As I sat over dinner with a city council official from Ofunato he shared with me and those around me stories I had yet to hear.

"We appreciate all the coverage we've gotten, you know," he says.  "But, there's a lot that's not being reported."  The people around the table nod, knowingly.

"We're not the only ones affected by March 11th."  I press for details.

"Niigata, for example," he continues.  "It wasn't affected by the tsunami, of course."  There's more nodding.  "But, the earthquake really made a mess there.  The press doesn't report that." 

This is news to me.  What he says is true.  I have yet to hear any story about Niigata.  It didn't occur to me there would be serious earthquake damage the media hasn't covered.

"It's not just that," he says.  "The media isn't covering the suicides."  The table falls silent.  Everyone seems to be thinking.

I hear story after story about people, young and old, who have taken their lives.  I'm shocked.  To date, I had seen strength, perseverance and resolve among those with whom I worked.  I had suspected there were those who were not faring well, but to know now as fact is disturbing.

I hear of the dairy farmer in Fukushima who can't sell milk or meat from his now contaminated farm.  He hanged himself in the barn.  I hear of the young man who saved his grandparents from the tsunami, only to go into the woods with a rope.  I hear story after story or tragic loss.

I continue to scan the newspapers I see, the magazine advertisements in the trains and see nothing about either story.  I don't know what to make of this but find myself grateful, if nothing else for the knowledge.  Terrible as it is, knowing there are more lives who need help, I hope I can continue to work on behalf of those in Tohoku who so desperately need help.




Japanese Disaster Relief Fund - Boston Awards Round 1 Grants July 12th, 2011

We are thrilled to announce JDRFB's first round of grants made to 9 promising proposals by local NGOs and volunteer communities working in Japan. Through an extensive review process, the Fund distributed approximately $400,000 to organizations best positioned to support those affected by the earthquake and tsunami on March 11th, 2011. Their proposals met the following criteria:


  • Directly serving victims of the disaster with particular interest in women, children and elderly
  • Addressing a need not being met currently by other efforts or organizations
  • NPO organization or have a fiscal sponsor for the donation
  • Ability to evaluate the programs and are accountable for the outcomes


Thank you to all of those who contributed to the Fund and we are now proud to present our first round of grantees.

Please click here to read more about the grantees and their works.


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