Tohoku Stories: A Year in Review of the Japan Storytelling Project

We continue our series on story-centered learning with an update on our efforts to hear from those affected by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011.

   

We wanted to understand how people and organizations tried to help communities in Tohoku since the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami. From July 2013 to present (December 2014) we have collected over 2,000 stories from individuals about the activities that people engaged in following the disaster in Tohoku, Japan. These stories are being collected in order to further support local organizations that continue to provide needed assistance to the affected areas. The project is administered by the Israeli-based NGO IsraAid (IA) and its Japanese affiliate the Japan IsraAid Support Program (JISP).

The storytelling team held workshops at over 20 schools and universities. After, participants conducted interviews among themselves or completed paper forms. The storytelling team also volunteered in everything from debris removal to being a camp counselor for children. Participating in volunteer activities enabled the scribe to earn trust. Volunteering together with people in the disaster region, the Storytelling Project both assists people in the disaster region and collects information about how to assist them further. Please read the translated blog about some of their activities: ameblo.jp/japanstorytelling. They also have a Facebook page with routine updates about their activities: www.facebook.com/jpstorytell. As a reward for participation, respondents were given a cute bendable pen.

The stories discuss 803 different organizations/people. Individual people and local organizations accounted for the majority (55%) of efforts captured in stories. Here is a word cloud of everything discussed. These words are translated from Japanese:

Further analysis using GlobalGiving’s tools on storylearning.org revealed 10 themes: mental health activities, children’s activities, community center activities, temporary housing activities, school based projects, radiation concerns, disaster stories, volunteer activities, internet-based activities, fundraising, and donations.

Using these themes and others, Prof. Takehiko Ito of Wako University and the Japan Storytelling Project director, Keith Goldstein, are preparing a publication for the March 2015 International Society of Life Information Science Conference in Tokyo. The paper is entitled: “Tohoku Stories: Identifying Happy Themes of Disaster Relief”.

We gathered lessons from many perspectives to create a multi-faceted view of the disaster recovery.

Employees:

  • The majority of activities are organized by a small circle of staff and large circle of volunteers. Organizations are primarily based in Tokyo or Tohoku. Often staff in Tohoku are originally from Tokyo, Kansai, and other regions.
  • Organizations that continue to be effective succeed by collaborating with other organizations. Collaboration with pro-bono legal teams is especially important, as foreign fundraising has exponentially decreased and domestic support is contingent on bureaucratic regulations.

Volunteers:

  • Many people from outside Tohoku (especially from Tokyo) would like to participate in future volunteer activities but lack information on where to volunteer and what they can do.
  • Volunteers often spend their personal expenses to make trips to Tohoku, which cost about 30,000 yen ($300) per weekend. More support is needed to alleviate these personal costs to enable them to volunteer more.

Recipients of aid:

  • Greater advocacy and lobbying work is needed to represent the interests of locals who feel that government policy is not working in their best interests. Current construction projects and future initiatives to rebuild often contradict the wishes of local residents (sea walls, community centers, etc.)
  • More long-term projects in education, economic development, and psycho-social support are needed. A large number of projects ceased working after the first year. Many organizations burned through funding that was slated on a yearly basis with the hope of getting a renewal. After 3 years the majority of programs were discontinued.

Witnesses:

  • Support for the elderly is one of the most pressing needs in Tohoku at the moment. Temporary housing units are populated primarily by elderly, whose physical, mental, and emotional conditions are quickly deteriorating.
  • Discrimination is a big problem felt by residents of Fukushima. People don’t want to visit Fukushima, buy products from there, or have relationships with people from there. Local residents feel this is unfair, as there are radiation checks and other neighboring prefectures are often equally affected. While internal solidarity is expressed by locals, subliminal comments hint at high levels of anxiety and growing frustration. Numerous mentions of suicide by local farmers and others were discussed.

See for yourself:

http://storylearning.org/c/s?group_range=307 (Note that because this form was translated from Japanese and uses slightly modified questions, not all story analysis tools on storylearning.org will work with this data set.)

Tell us a story:

In order to further facilitate data collection, the storytelling team also developed a DIY survey.

Have you heard about an interesting project that helps people in Tohoku? If so, please fill out this short online 3 minute questionnaire to tell us about activities that you know about: http://www.basileis.org.

Postscript:

We at GlobalGiving believe that effective disaster relief begins by hearing from the people most affected by the earthquake, flood, storm, civil war, or other catastrophic event directly. We are grateful to IsraAid for their effort to help the people of Japan speak, and hopeful that all future disaster recovery efforts will include a mechanism for voices from the ground to inform what happens.

Marc

Marc Maxmeister is part of GlobalGiving's impact team.

2 Comments

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