Archive for May, 2011

>Volunteering — Safety Precautions

Got a call from Damian Penston this morning, who is concerned that many groups doing clean-up work in the affected areas may not be conscious of health risks associated with asbestos and other contaminants they are likely to be exposed to if working near destroyed buildings, etc.

This is a reminder that if you are volunteering in a disaster zone, it is imperative that you take responsibility for conducting your own thorough research on the health risks associated with the work you will be doing, assessing the dangers, and taking appropriate precautions.
That said, here are a few recommendations gathered from different sources.
1. If you are near broken buildings and there is any risk of asbestos dust, please wear a dusk mask with at least an N95 rating. HEPA filter masks are best. Here is an article that touches on the risks.
2. Depending on the conditions where you are working, there may be broken glass, exposed rusty nails, and other hazardous debris. Please consider obtaining boots with steel toes. It is also possible to purchase metal insoles to insert in the bottom of your boots to prevent puncture. If your boots are rubber rather than leather, remember that a nail can still puncture the side of the boot and watch where you step.
3. A tentanus shot booster is recommended. Even a small cut or wound can lead to tetanus.
4. Even if you are just clearing mud in fields and not working around a lot of debris, I recommend rubber or leather gloves over cotton ones. The dust goes right through cotton gloves and will desiccate and irritate your hands over time.
5. Other recommended items include helmets, goggles (especially if you wear contacts), long sleeve rain gear, towels (worn around the neck), whistles (for summoning help in an emergency), etc. This link (Japanese) illustrates guidelines for outfitting yourself. Once again, you must decided how much of this gear is appropriate to the conditions in the area where you are working.
6. When you finish working, it is always recommended that you wash up thoroughly and gargle.
Here is a link to one source of affordable safety gear (thanks, Sandi!):

5/23 – This just in from Damien:
“It is also important to note that individuals with facial hair should not participate in asbestos removal, as protective gear may not fit properly and potentially expose them to loose particles.”

>Charity Futsal Cup


5-A-Side Charity Football, Friday June 10th with all proceeds going to Foreign Volunteers Japan to support the Tohoku Relief Effort.

Tournament hosted and sponsored by IFG Asia Limited and Footniks.

Date : Friday June 10th from 6pm – 10pm

Venue : Think Park Futsal Court, Osaki Station. Near Footniks in Osaki

Teams : 8 Teams of 5 people with subs (one female per team)

Games : Minimum 4 games for each participating team

Entry Fee : Y3,000 per player

Awards Ceremony and Prize Draw at Footniks after the Event

Prize Draw includes fabulous prizes including sports gear, meal vouchers, a case of beer and bottles of wine

Footniks will donate Y200 to FVJ for each drink purchased

Spectators very welcome.
Full poster after the jump:

>Volunteering in Iwanuma


Here is some more specific information about volunteering in Iwanuma, where our team spent a week clearing mud during Golden Week.

The Iwanuma VC is very welcoming to international volunteers and there were staff members who spoke some English. Here is the essential volunteering information and FAQ (scroll down for English.)

Much of the work clearing mud from homes is finished in Iwanuma, but people still need help clearing their fields and gardens. The 2 cm crust of sludge must be removed with shovels and wheelbarrows and piled near the road so that it can be trucked away. Even after the sludge is gone, it will take several seasons for the rain to flush out enough salt from the soil for crops to be grown.

Recently, there are approximately 150-300 volunteers per day. Most work clearing mud and debris. Other activities include helping evacuees move into temporary housing, sorting supplies, washing photographs, etc. Job matching takes place in the morning beginning at 8:30, and once again in the afternoon. It is possible to volunteer for full or half days.


Here is the location of the Iwanuma VC.

Trains to Iwanuma are running. It is a 20 minute walk to the VC from the Iwanuma train station. The train takes around 23 minutes from Sendai station. Shinkansen and air access to Sendai has also been restored. There are a number of Youth Hostels in Sendai if you wish to commute from there, but we recommend staying in Iwanuma. It is roughly a 40 minute drive to Iwanuma from Sendai.


There is a park next to the VC where volunteers can camp, and volunteers are also welcome to sleep in their vehicles in the VC parking lot. There is a restroom and tap in the park, and information posted on nearby bathhouses. It is useful to have a car to get to the bathhouses, but if you are coming by train you can probably gang up with fellow volunteers to get a ride to the baths.

The Hotel Harada has rooms for 6000 yen per night, Internet and parking included, and is a 20 minute walk from the VC.

ホテル原田 Hotel Harada

〒989-2442 宮城県岩沼市大手町3-18

Miyagi-ken Iwanuma-shi Otecho 3-18

TEL 0223(24)2525(代)

FAX 0223(24)6761

The Momokou Ryokan (桃幸) has rooms for 5000 yen per night. It has a small parking lot. It is a 20 minute walk to the VC.

Miyagi-ken Iwanuma-shi Nakao 1-chome 1-1

TEL: 0223-24-1101

Please see the previous post for information regarding insurance, gear, etc.

>Tohoku Needs Volunteer Help Now!


Clean-up crew in Iwanuma breaks for lunch, including FVJ members Jade, Sandi, Rajesh, and Camellia.

The Golden Week rush is over and volunteer numbers have dropped off steeply, but there remains a lot of work to do in the tsunami-affected zones in Tohoku. If you’ve been waiting for the right moment to get involved, this is the time!

Much of the work consists of clearing debris and sludge left behind by the tsunami. The tsunami has left a 2-3 cm crust of sludge on everything it touched. The SDF has cleared roads and public areas, but private property such as homes and fields must be cleared by hand, with shovels and wheelbarrows. The sludge and debris is piled near roads, and power shovels and dump trucks will later come to collect the piles. When it is too dry, the sludge turns to dust, crumbling and spreading and filling the air. Too wet and it becomes mucky and heavy. For that reason, it is imperative that as much sludge as possible is removed in the next few weeks, before the rainy season arrives, followed by the summer heat.

What to bring:

1) Volunteer Insurance (fukushi hoken)

Volunteer insurance not only covers medical care if you are injured while volunteering, it also covers costs if you damage someone else’s property or cause someone else to be injured. It is very affordable, ranging from around 500 to 1500 yen for 1 year’s coverage. Be sure to get natural disaster (saigai) coverage. You can acquire it at your nearest branch of the Japan National Council of Social Welfare.

2) Gear – If you are shoveling sludge and removing debris, you’ll need rubber boots and leather or rubber gloves and some good dust masks (a rating of N95 is recommended.) If you wear contacts, be sure to bring safety goggles. Boots with steel toes and/or metal insoles to prevent puncture injuries are best, depending on the environment in which you’ll be volunteering. If possible, find out as much as possible about the specific conditions where you will be working.

Other recommended materials include: shovels, buckets, towels, hat or helmets, long sleeves, long pants, rain gear.

3) Food, water and gasoline – in the early weeks following the disaster, volunteers were encouraged to bring all of their own provisions so as not to burden local supplies of food and gasoline. In most areas, this is no longer necessary, and buying food and water locally is in fact better for local businesses. You should pack a lunch each day when volunteering, though sometimes there is free food available for volunteers that is contributed by independent charities.


1. Be discreet about taking pictures. Do not take pictures of disaster victims, evacuation centers, and private property.

2. When in doubt, err on the side of maintaining a solemn demeanor. You may be in the presence of people who have lost their loved ones, homes, livelihood, etc.

3. When in doubt, inquire before throwing things away. Letters and photographs can be collected for restoration by the owner or at the VC.

Where to go:

A number of Volunteer Centers are once again accepting out-of-prefecture volunteers. This list is current as of 5/13/2011, but be sure to check the VC’s latest information before heading out.


Kessennuma VC

Ishinomaki VC

Iwanuma VC* (some English)

Higashi Matsushima VC

Watari VC**

Yamamoto VC

Tagajo VC

Sendai VC

Shiogama VC

* Tents can be set up in park near VC. Volunteers can sleep in vehicles in parking lot near or opposite VC.

**Tents may be available to borrow.


Soma VC*

Minami Soma VC*

–> 5/17 New website for Minami Soma VC

Shinchi VC*

*out-of-prefecture volunteers are accepted if able to secure local accommodations. Please do not sleep in vehicles or tents.


Inquire here for more information:

岩手県社会福祉協議会 地域福祉企画部 ボランティア・市民活動センター

>All Hands Tohoku Project: Hiring Volunteers from May 11th to 17th

>One Day in Fukushima

>By Axel Lieber

Please support this petition to the Japanese government to allow animal rescue groups back into the exclusion zone. 

On April 21, 2011 I joined Japan-based animal welfare group JEARS ( on their last rescue mission inside the 20km evacuation zone around the Fukushima 2 nuclear power plant, before the government locked down the area. One of the effects of declaring this evacuation zone and relocating the affected human population to emergency shelters has been mass-scale abandonment of animals. Tens of thousands of farm animals, pets and horses are inside the evacuation zone. Many have been set free by their owners and are roaming the area but others that had been leashed or locked up have perished from dehydration or starvation. Images on the Internet showing dogs that had died in their chains and reports of cats locked up in houses cannibalizing each other had been part of my motivation to come and help. If I could break only one starving dog out of its chains, the trip would be worth it.

Having loaded my car with six cages I have purchased at a DIY store, I drive into the area, observing signs of earthquake damage as well as the beauty of the landscape along the way. The zone consists of lush, rolling hills, gorges with white water rivers, a shoreline that is good for surfing and a few villages. At the edge of the zone, police stop me and take down my details. They do not yet have the legal power or orders to prevent me from entering. They wish me the best of luck when I have explained what I am up to.

These gentlemen from Kanagawa want to know just exactly what I think I am doing here.

Past their road block, traffic is still surprisingly busy. I arrive at the road junction where I was asked to meet Susan Roberts, one of the co-founders of JEARS, with nobody in sight. Getting out of my car, right away I spot a dog that is running around the junction, forcing other cars to slow down. Checking out the area I realize that nobody is home. There are still cars parked in front of some of the houses but nobody is in, and the doors are locked. Following the barking sounds from another dog, I encounter a middle-aged gentleman milling about in a yard. He tells me that this is his second house, a kind of get-away (from the wife?), and he has come back to pick up a few things before it is too late. The barking dog is his. Asked whether he knows who the other dog belongs to, he tells me to feel free to pick it up – clearly the owners have left it to its own devices.  He then launches into a tirade about the idiocy of the bureaucrats in the Ministry of Agriculture who are responsible for bringing misery not only to tens of thousands of animals but also, in many cases, to the owners who have not abandoned them happily. Not too sure if he singles out the correct ministry but I can’t argue with the gist of what he is saying.

When I see that the stray dog is heading off down the road, I call it. It stops immediately and without hesitation comes back to where I am. It is friendly and lets me pet it. It is very thin but generally in good health. Its friendly nature takes on an aggressive edge when I bring out the plastic-wrapped lunchbox I have bought from a 7/11 convenience store. The dog makes a spirited attempt at snatching it from me and tearing up the plastic with its teeth before I manage to establish who really is the owner of that box. I feed the hungry guy some pieces of teriyaki chicken and in the process almost feed my fingers along with the chicken.

At the junction, my first pick-up.

At this moment, Susan and her crew arrive in their Toyota Hi-Ace van, a vehicle large enough to hold seven or eight average cages. Susan is an English teacher living in Kansai and running an animal shelter there. She was one of the first animal welfare activists to take action in Fukushima. Rumour has it that she has already rescued one-hundred animals since the beginning of the crisis. The other members of the team are Miho, a girl from Tokyo acting as driver; Stuart, a retired vet from the UK; and Dennis, an animal rescue veteran from California who has come with a group called Kinship Circle to support JEARS. Shaking hands, we have a laugh at the fact that I have already picked up one animal before I am even officially initiated into the business of rescuing animals. The dog clearly likes being picked up.  As soon as I open my car’s door, it hops in, no invitation extended. It has also tried to hop into another car that had stopped by the road while I was talking to the man who had an axe to grind with those idiot bureaucrats.

And so we head off deeper into the zone, through a tunnel behind which radiation levels measured in earlier days had been drastically higher than in front of it. I slip on my N95 mask now, wondering what the plan is.

You don’t need a plan in there. The animals are everywhere. Anyone with a van and a few cages can pick up a half dozen dogs in just a few hours. The time-consuming part is not finding the animals but, in some cases, to catch them. Our most difficult catch of the day is a mixed breed that has been set free but has stayed in front of its owners’ house, by its kennel where food has been left. The dog is too distrustful, smart and alert to let itself be caught easily. After almost half an hour of trying to somehow outwit the animal without using force, we decide to leave Stuart, the English vet, alone with the dog and return half an hour later. The idea is that Stuart is the least suspect of our group as he has not participated in our encirclement tactics and is therefore the one with the best chance of building trust with the suspicious fellow. This works, and when we return half an hour later, the dog is in the cage, along with a soccer ball.

In the half hour we have been gone, we pick up three more dogs, including a young dog that first escapes upon our approach but turns around when I call it, and quickly becomes buddies with me. Accordingly, I christen him “Buddy”.

In between catching animals, we see streets broken by the earthquake, power lines that have collapsed and are dangerously hanging down onto the asphalt, and convenience stores that have been boarded up (announcing by handwritten note that they are “Out of operation”.) We see pet food dumped on the street in many places by thoughtful passers-by or animal welfare organizations. We see cows that have been turned loose and are ripping up people’s gardens. We see residents taking their belongings out of their houses, not knowing whether they will ever be allowed back. And although there are indeed people inside the zone, it is largely deserted and has an eerie quiet about it.

This Lawson is “Out of Operation”
A cow that has nothing to complain about.
A damaged bridge. Imagine the force that did this.

When we leave the zone around six o’ clock, we have picked up nine abandoned dogs in varying condition, one cat in very bad shape, and a tenth dog that its owner has phoned JEARS about, giving them an address where the dog could be found. About half the dogs are in excellent shape, the others show various signs of trauma, malnourishment and illness. Some of these things may have nothing to do with the disaster but may stem from lack of care by the owners prior to the troubles.

The Banetsu expressway takes us across the Japanese mainland to the other side of this narrow island, into Niigata City. Isabella Aoki-Galloan, the owner of the shelter there, comes to the parking lot by our hotel to pick up the three dogs in my car (including Buddy). The other animals will have to spend the night and the next morning in the parking lot as shelter is still being constructed to take them in.

Keeping eight animals in a city car park is a major operation in its own right. We spend until 2 o’ clock in the morning feeding, watering and walking the animals, picking up poo, soothing and petting them and reallocating them to more suitably sized cages if we have misallocated them in the chaos of the retrieval operation. I also have to help wrestle down a formidable Akita dog that will not accept its captivity without a fight. When I finally take a shower on my room, I realize that I smell like a pack of stray dogs.

I am up again at seven o’ clock in the morning and spend another four hours with the group and additional members of the Kinship organization lending a hand, taking care of the animals. By now, some of the more stressed and traumatized animals seem to relax a little, bark less and relate more to their captors.

This dog has not been brushed or washed in years,

Car park pow-wow

Finally word comes from the shelter that we can move out. The shelter is thirty kilometers outside the city, located on the foot of Mt Kakuda and surrounded by woodlands and fruit tree plantations. It is an ideal location to be running an animal shelter.

What I see there is astonishing. This is not a small pet hotel but an enormous disaster relief shelter that is now housing three-hundred animals, two-thirds of which are rescued (the other third are guests of the pet hotel business the owner runs and from which the shelter activities were born.) Three large main buildings that used to be barns and other farming facilities have been converted into compartmentalized animal holding structures. More space has been attached to these buildings in the same way winter gardens are attached to houses. Containers normally used to give construction workers a place to have lunch have been converted into holding facilities as well. Quarantine holding has been established in front of the gates (this is where our animals went). A volunteer vet is there to examine arrivals, run quarantine, hygiene and other health routines, and deal with medical problems. Seven full-time staff and a fluctuating number of volunteers who come from many places around the country clean cells, feed the animals, walk the dogs, talk to the cats and repair fences and doors. The noise of three-hundred animals barking, miaowing, complaining or laughing (I guess, even a dog can laugh) is overwhelming. Coming out of the Fukushima twilight zone into this haven of compassion and professionalism, I feel deeply moved.

Isabella, the owner here, takes a minute to chat with me. She looks tired and pale, with deep rings under her eyes. Clearly, at this moment, sleep is a luxury. Running this place is like running a war hospital. She assigns a couple of dogs to me to walk outside the shelter which I gladly do.

Pet hotel rooms

Inside one of the main buildings

The quarantine building 

Then I run into Buddy who has just been shampooed (after the vet had examined him for radiological contamination – of which there was very little) and led out to dry by the main gate. When he sees me, he performs a dance of joy that breaks my heart. Living in a Tokyo apartment with both my wife and I in fulltime jobs, I see no way to adopt the little fellow and have to leave him behind in the pandemonium of the sanctuary.

Driving back toward Tokyo, I reflect on two of my life’s most disturbing and yet inspiring days. I feel humbled and ashamed, comparing myself to the people who as early as a month ago have started this animal rescue operation. They are English teachers with little financial means and yet they have done more good than a hundred-thousand other people – myself included. I am deeply disturbed by the prospect of thousands of animals dying or possibly being actively exterminated by a bureaucracy that has yet to publically articulate its rationale for the lockdown of the Fukushima exclusion zone. I have not busted any starving dog out of its chains because we had to act fast and pick up as many of the animals we could see running around in the open, rather than spending hours to look for those animals that are chained and therefore harder to notice. They are still out there, needing a compassionate hand to save them. They will probably never feel the touch of that hand.

Anyone who wants to help can do so by volunteering man hours at the shelters or participating in rescue missions, donating money or adopting an animal. Fukushima is now – for the time being – in complete police lock-down but further up in Tohoku there are many more animals that need help. JEARS and others will now focus their attention in those areas and welcome volunteers, even for just a day. 

Please support this petition to the Japanese government to allow animal rescue groups back into the exclusion zone.


>Shuji Sets For Tohoku / Local Help


From Supporting Japan – Nagoya

Shuji Sets are used to practice Kanji

I’m working through HOPE International Development Agency Japan / HOPE Clubs to supply 40 Shuji Sets to the heavily damaged Oshima elementary and junior high schools at their request and am writing to ask for your help. I know that all of you have given a lot already but this is an urgent need I’m hoping we can work together to fill. Each shuji set costs 1980 yen.
Students in a HOPE Club at my Chubu University have raised enough money to buy 10 of the 40 sets needed and I will personally match this by contributing enough for 10 more. That makes 20. We still need 20 additional sets to be at the schools in Oshima by May 23rd.
If you have students, could you consider this to be a possible fund raising project for them? If you don’t have students, could you possibly help yourself or share this information with others who might be able to fill this need? Students (and anyone) are welcome to write and include messages of encouragement to send along with their gifts.
The shuji sets can be ordered directly from Amazon at the link I’m providing at the end of this mail. Should you or your students be able to help, please have kits sent to …

Chuck Sandy
Chubu Univerisity
1200 Matsumoto-cho
Kasugai, Aichi

phone: 090-9930-1559…
to arrive no later than May 19th. You can also send messages from yourself or your students to this address as well. If you will be able to help with this, could you please let me know how many kits you (and your students) will be able to provide. Shuji sets might not seem like an essential item, but having enough of them to go around is essential for these schools to get back to classes

Shuji set from Amazon:

A link to one of the schools on Oshima whose students will receive these sets:
If you’re not able to help, please don’t feel bad at all. I know that everyone is working in their own ways to do all that they can. Thanks for that and happy rest of GW to you all!

>Attention Animal Lovers: Another way to help


If you have been looking for a way to help the four-legged residents of Tohoku, take a look at the website of JEARS:

According to their site,

Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue and Support (JEARS) is a collaboration of three established and registered no kill animal rescue NPOs in Japan.

The intention behind the creation of JEARS is to coordinate rescue and support efforts for animals in crisis due to the March 11 Earthquake and Tsunami in Northern Japan.

You can donate directly on the page, and there is information about volunteer opportunities. You can also get information about adopting or fostering animals.