Archive for August, 2011

Reflections and Narratives of Relief Work for Japan

* by David H. Slater

The measure, experience and meaning of a “disaster” is in large part a function of the relief that is, or is not, provided to those in need.

Focus: This is an open call for short (less than 700 words) pieces on the topic of relief and volunteer activities around the events collectively known as 3.11. We understand “relief” to include a wide range of support: from asking for donations on the street corners of London to digging mud in Ishinomaki; from running up food supplies to Fukushima to housing displaced kids in Kyoto; from fighting the April snows to the August rains; from acting as a part-time counselor to victims to leading corporate social responsibility programs at multi-national companies. Japanese and foreigners, students and adults, professionals and amateurs, practitioners and volunteers of any sort are welcome here.

Send your entries NOW in attached MSWord files to:

Goal: We want to document the relief effort as it is going on. At a time when 3.11 has been largely pushed out of the news cycle, even in Japan, even though huge amounts of work still need to be done, one of our goals is to let others know about the work being done, the work you have done, and maybe the work still needing to be done. This is direct and maybe intimate, but it is not voyeurism. It is also not promotion for a single group, but please feel free to tell us the groups you are working with.

There is a strategic element to this call: to spread the word, to encourage others to contribute, to keep it going.

The single biggest reason that people do not volunteer is that they do not really know what it involves. Let’s tell them.

Format: These pieces must be short (less than 700 words) and to the point, vivid and direct, taking a single aspect of relief that can be captured and made meaningful in this format. No footnotes or bibliographies, but you could include links. The format is somewhere between an essay and a blog entry: it is shorter and more informal than an essay, but more focused on a particular topic or aspect than a blog entry.

Source: Your topic can be based on some sort of local practice, but your piece should be directed to a wider audience, beyond your academic discipline or professional context. First-person narratives are very welcome. This is a chance to digest and present some parts of your experience in ways that communicate to others.  It could be sad or funny, desperate or hopeful–all important parts of the relief experience.

Time-frame: If at all possible, review your older notes so we can include something from the earlier months: clearly, working in April was much different from working in August. Send both.

Your entry: We ask you to do your best to present a finished copy, but we will have the resources to proof-read your work when necessary. Japanese or English are both welcome. We encourage non-native English speakers to write something in English, and we can give it a “native check.”

Collective Product: In the end, we will collect, proof-read and present your entries digitally.  Pending some more funding, we will translate Japanese into English and English into Japanese. We are now arranging for newspapers, journals, universities, relief sites, and others to feature your work and offer links to your work. We will have a web-designer—not me—to make your good work accessible to others.

Clearly, we cannot tell the “whole story’ in 700 words: our intent is to provide enough different pieces to allow readers to understand some of the range and complexity behind disaster and relief.

Note: Multiple submissions from the same author are welcome. Selections from larger pieces are also fine (and might be a good way to draw attention to other related projects). You can use your blog entries if they are suitable or any other source that does not violate copyright.

Deadline: October 1st.  

Check Out Some Others’ Sample Entries Here

posted Oct 19, 2009 10:41 PM by David H. Slater   [ updated Aug 10, 2011 2:52 AM ]

Here are some examples of  others’ experiences. As you can see, they are of vary different styles and focus–which is just what we want.  Of course, since all of your expereinces are different, your entries will be different also.

Attachments (4)

  • Approaching a house.rtf – on Aug 8, 2011 4:04 AM by David H. Slater (version 1)
    3k Download
  • Fieldnotes from Iwanuma.rtf – on Aug 8, 2011 4:13 AM by David H. Slater (version 1)
    11k Download
  • Unstable Ground.doc – on Aug 8, 2011 3:30 AM by David H. Slater (version 1)
    28k View Download
  • What I saw in Tohoku.doc – on Aug 8, 2011 3:41 AM by David H. Slater (version 1)
    29k View Download 

More information can be found directly at the project page:

David H. Slater is an associate professor of cultural anthropology at Sophia University, Tokyo, Japan. He has been active in the relief effort from the start. He has also been collecting narratives and reflections from volunteers, and now wants to put them together and bring them higher profile.

You can find out more about him here:!/david.h.slater

Please feel free to contact him with questions or suggestions for improvement directly at:

Smiles & Dreams: Tohoku Kids Project

Hi my name is Paul Yoo, Co-founder of volunteerAKITA and The Fruit Tree Project (  Along with our on-going activities, we are also involved in the “Smiles & Dreams:Tohoku Kids Project” led by Living Dreams/SmileKidsJapan ( and Right now, we are working as Home Communication Managers (HCMs) to two orphanages in the Sendai area.  Our role is to act as contacts for the orphanages, and relay any needs they may have.

What we need right now:  A boy, in his 3rd year of high school (his final year), at one of the orphanages we are in contact with, has become the first orphan there to ever express interest in going to college.  He wants to attend Yamaguchi Hukushi Bunka Daigaku (University of Human Welfare and Culture) and study hoiku ka (child care).  It is a four year program and the university will cover tuition for the first 2 years of the program, along with 50% of the 3rd and 4th years.  Our goal is to raise¥1,154,000 which includes ¥970,000 in tuition costs for the 3rd and 4th years, along with an ¥184,000 mandatory insurance cost over 4 years.

We are currently accepting PLEDGES to donate to this fund because he still needs to pass his college entrance exam.  Once he does, we will move forward in collecting funds and transferring the money into an account that will be handled by the orphanage.

We welcome any grants, scholarships, or personal donations to get this young man to college, and most importantly doing it without leaving him in debt after he finishes school, since in most cases, once an orphan has finished high school, he is on his own.

It is truly inspiring that he plans to go to college and is the first from his orphanage to show interest in doing so.  Successfully sending him to college would be such an amazing gift, and would inspire other orphans to follow in his footsteps, knowing that they too can receive a college education, and strive to become whatever they want to be in the future.

If you have any questions regarding this proposal or can help us out, please contact me.

Much Love,

Paul Yoo

Paul Yoo
volunteerAKITA / The Fruit Tree

Aussie Beef

*Written by Jamie El-Banna

The day started quite differently to others, as I had the morning off. I had stuff to do in the afternoon, but was free in the morning. I opted to spend my free time catching up on emails, listening to some beats and enjoying the breeze from the sanctuary of the shade. And taking a dip in the river. I honestly can’t get enough of it. 
I knew that all my friends back in Osaka would be hitting the beach today. Even though it’s an incredibly dirty beach, it made me feel a bit lonely. But swimming in the river and looking up at the blue sky made me feel a little bit better. 

I would be assisting at a 炊き出し (if you forgot, this is giving out food) and festival type event in Watanoha, which is in East Ishinomaki. I went with Chiyomi, Michi, “A-chan” and CKD. We got there a bit early so we looked around.

This group was making mochi, which is pretty fun. First the rice gets crushed by two people walking around in circles pressing it with the big mallets. After a while, one guy starts hitting it, while the other one puts it back into place. 
So it’s WHACK reset WHACK reset. When pros do it, the guy resets it after each hit, and they have a good rhythm going on. When amateurs do it, they don’t reset it each time, because it’s just too dangerous. The mallet Yuki-kun used is still enough to break a finger or two, although maybe not with his strength. The one I used would do some serious damage.

As well as this, there was some live music, several food stalls, some stalls giving out clothes, shaved ice, and drinks. I tried some mochi and shaved ice, but didn’t have anything else, as it was too hot for food! When I was pounding mochi I noticed one person looking at me very intently, and it turned out to be someone I had met about 3 weeks ago. 
She was surprised to hear I had been in the area the whole time (she had returned to Chiba, but came back for this event). The group started packing up at around 1/1:30, which is when the other groups arrived. They would be doing their 炊き出しand festival from 5.

I first heard about the activity going on here from Foreign Volunteers Japan. Their blog is updated with stuff they are involved in, but much more active is their Facebook group. They have created a great network of people who are eager to help Tohoku.Through this group I have got into contact with lots of very active people, and it’s been invaluable in the spreading of information. Anyway, Mike Connolly contacted me about helping out with a BBQ. He had, with the help of some contacts, been able to procure a large amount of Aussie Beef, in the shape of 200+ steaks. *drool*

There were people from two groups here (not including FVJ), Grace City Relief, a church based group from Chiba and another group that GCR have some sort of connection to, Help Tohoku (in Japanese). There were a lot of high school kids from an International High School with them. It’s been AGES since I’ve talked to foreign teenagers, I forgot how funny they are. In some ways they seem more mature than their Japanese counterparts, in others ways less so, but they are just as amusing.

As we would just be frying steak, there was very little in the way of preparation to be done. Once the tent was up and BBQ in place, we had nothing to do, so helped out where we could.

These are pretty typical Japanese Yo-yo’s, often found at festivals.

They are small water filled balloons with some elastic attached to the end. You make a loop in the elastic and put your finger through, and bounce it like a balloon.

You put the water into the balloon using the pump, then fill it with air. There you attack a small pink clasp and some elastic to it and then you’re done.

Of course, this is assuming you don’t get distracted by the huge temptation of spraying someone with water.

There was also a small raised area, upon which two drums were placed. Two girls would be playing the drums, as well as a very cool old man, who could dance while playing the drums.

I had a go as well, and failed miserably. But it was still fun!

At around 3:30 Chiyomi and Michi had to go, so we dropped them back at the University, bought some cold drinks and returned.

There were a few people around, and there was a slight smell of steak in the air.

We had talked earlier about how best to serve the steak. We had agreed that it should be cut up, and we were going to skewer it and give it out that way, but we hadn’t decided how to cut the steak up.

So John had done a trial run. It was apparently not that easy to cut up the raw steak, but it was very easy to cut the cooked one, so that’s what we decided to do.

The system would be:

  • John fries the steak
  • He gives it to me and I cut it up.
  • I give it to CKD, who would put skewer them.
  • A-chan would dip them in the sauce and pack them
  • Micah (17-year-old American from Chiba) would help A-chan with the packaging, as well as constantly fanning the area to keep flies away.

That last job sounds kind of dumb, but there was an immense amount of flies. I don’t think any other stand had the fly problem we did. Which just goes to show how tasty our steak was!

All the while, Mike would be taking photos and just doing other stuff, I can’t be sure, because I was busy, but I’m sure he did something!

Before things got heated, we took a group photo.

On an unrelated note, I really like the Aussie Beef logo. If you haven’t noticed, it’s a big A, but the centre of the A is a map of Australia. Very nice.

Our steak was very popular. So much so that we had to stop serving it after 30 minutes, so that those who were going to come a bit later would also be able to have some.

I took this opportunity to wander around a bit. There was another group who came to play some music, although I have no idea where they were from .

I also went to see how the Yo-yo’s were coming along, and they seemed to be very popular indeed. I played with the kids a little bit, which was very fun. I ended up having a small water fight with one of them, but he was some sort of ninja genius, as he would sneak up on me and get me whenever my back was turned.

I’m so used to playing with young kids now, it’s so fun. I’m going to try and spend a bit more time doing that, if I can.

Others were less naughty.

Mike and I made a quick trip into town, to pick up two other people.

They had been volunteering with Peace Boat. I had got in contact with one of them through Twitter, and they also wanted to see what we were doing. 
When we got back, the steak frying had restarted. And there was a very long queue (LINE) for it!

Most of the other food stalls had run out, but because of our break in the middle, we were the last ones left serving food. The drumming was really good, and we couldn’t help but dance a bit while we worked. Much the amusement of the people in line, some of whom joined in a little. 
While I cut up meat, I chatted with the people in line, who were very friendly!

I’ve mentioned it before, but I live in Osaka. The people there are known for being friendly, and speak in a dialect which is easily identifiable (many famous comedians are from Osaka). Not only that, the way they speak is very casual and maybe a bit rough sometimes. I learnt Japanese from speaking to people, and since I live in Osaka, my Japanese is heavily tinged with Osaka-ben (dialect).

So to the old women queuing up, it was very amusing to see this foreigner dancing around cutting up steak, while making jokes and flirting with the 70-year-old grandmothers.  A typical Osakan!

Eventually we ran out of food, but we made it so that everyone in the line was able to have some. Actually, most of the people at the end of the line were volunteers, one of whom was from Megumi, someone who I had met on my second day in Ishinomaki.

The BBQ had been a big hit. It was actually kind of a test run, to see how it would go down. I think there’ll be more Aussie Beef BBQ’s in the future, and I’m looking forward to helping out again.

I took a lot of nice videos at the festival, but as I have no access to a proper internet connection at the moment, uploading them isn’t currently viable. But when I can, I will!

After everything was tidied, we left and attempted to go and take a bath at the Sento, but they were about to close, and wouldn’t let us go in (even for a quick shower! *stingy*).

It was around 9pm by now, and we were hot, sweaty, sunburnt, hungry (the steak was superrrrrr popular. No left overs!), and had nowhere to bathe.

So we did the only sensible thing to do in that situation, and went to McDonalds.

While we were waiting for our order, someone called my name.

It was George-san, who I had done Photo Cleaning with. We chatted for a bit and caught up on recent happenings. He was now working on a different project, but told me that the photo cleaning was still going on, although they often lack people.

A-chan showed an interest in the photo cleaning, so I told her that I would take her and CKD (they come as a set) there the next day.

As we left maccas (McDonalds), I thought about some of the people I’ve met here.

In one day, I had seen three people who I hadn’t seen for quite a while. I’ve been here long enough that I can now greet people with 久しぶり!- Hisashiburi (long time no see!) and mean it.

Which is kind of nice.

Poster Bio: Jamie El-Banna
Jamie first took a trip up to Miyagi
prefecture for volunteering towards the end of May 2011. The trip left a deep impression on him. Shortly after returning to work in Osaka, he made the dramatic decision to resign from his job to become a full-time volunteer from June. Since then, he’s been building up a small-scale volunteer network based out of the tent camp on the Senshu University campus in Ishinomaki. He’s been an active member of Foreign Volunteers Japan, and has contributed immensely to the group’s discussions on Facebook. If you are interested in DIY volunteering, than please visit his blog and consider joining his crew.