Volunteering in the Hiroshima landslide zone

As of 9/1/2014, 72 people have lost their lives and over 800 have lost their homes in the northern suburbs of Hiroshima city. Volunteering to help the clean-up project in the Asa-minami-ku area of Hiroshima officially began on August 23rd, 2014. I went and volunteered the first day and it was a very satisfying, albeit exhausting, day of shoveling mud and moving stones to areas where the heavy machinery can pick it up or to clear roads for local residents. It’s so powerful seeing the state of the landslide area in person and meeting some of the residents. Although volunteering was quite hard work, it’s not all back-breaking labor. There is a range of work you can do from holding the bags for people to fill to helping tidy smaller areas to filling bags with smaller rocks in piles. We arrived early just before sign-ups began at 9am, wrote our names, addresses (volunteering is now limited to Hiroshima residents only), and cell phone numbers. We were then given volunteer insurance and told to wait for instructions. We were interviewed by a few reporters (in Japanese) while we waited about where we were from and why we volunteered. The first question I was asked by a few reporters was quite a surprise: “Since today’s volunteer activity is limited to Hiroshima only, so why are you volunteering today?” My answer was of course because I do live in Hiroshima, this is my community and I want to help my fellow community members if I can. It’s great to show, in our actions, that members of the international community care. I did mention that it was difficult to get information and am very grateful to the volunteering expertise of Kaz Meiki who told us where to meet and how best to prepare.

Mark Exton, principal of the Hiroshima international school had initially passed on the invitation and Dr.Yas Ikegami joined up as well. I never would have known about this day of volunteering if not for these great people. It’s not hardcore ‘clean-up’ right at the frontline, so it never ever felt dangerous…and we hardly saw a hard hat all day. We helped clear a street corner so cars can turn and then spent the rest of the day helping a family clear out the drainage gullies around their house: there is a huge amount of mud everywhere! We were just making the tiniest contribution towards getting people’s lives back to some semblance of normality. If this 53-year old desk jockey can do it, so can most of you! Mark Exton, Hiroshima International School

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Once the official day of volunteering started, we were separated into groups of 10 by where we were sitting in order of registration and asked to decide a leader, and sign another form with our names and cell phones. Our leader was told to blow a whistle if there were a warning of landslide, earthquake or bad weather. The self-defense force veteran who volunteered to act as the leader of our group was fantastic. He was great in talking with locals to find specific needed areas to work on, organized our breaks and made sure we were taking turns at the shovels and not killing ourselves.

After this group briefing we were told to take shovels (“scoop” in Japanese) for our group (1 for ea 2-3 people) and other necessary tools, free drinks, free head towels, free use of a supply of rubber boots and other services while we waited for the next staff to lead us to our target area for the day. Once we started walking up to our target area (about a 5-10 minute walk) our leader was given a map of our assigned area.

As we entered the Yagi area that was affected it was busy with heavy machinery and littered with piles of rocks and mud everywhere. The further up hill you go, the more severe the devastation. I saw some families returning to the area sobbing as they saw the damage to their neighborhood. I also saw a lot of local residents out working hard as they likely have been doing without a break since it happened. I met some local kids and told them I was glad to see they were all right, but know they must be sad about their neighborhood and worried about their future there.

It struck me that this was like my own neighborhood, heck like any neighborhood I have seen in Japan built on a hillside- this could be any of us. The family we were asked to work with were next to a big ugly old apartment block that despite being a neglected, vacant eyesore for the past 10 years was likely what sheltered this house and many others in the neighborhood. Our group of 10 was joined by some unofficial volunteers and we all worked well together. No one seemed to mind that some volunteers were not officially registered, but in the case of an emergency and for the sake of efficiency, it is probably better to sign up and be insured at the volunteer center. Everyone was really friendly and we fell into a good work routine together.

Amongst us was an elementary school teacher, a junior high school teacher and three of her students, Mazda

businessmen, a self-defense force veteran, a housewife, a construction worker, a school principal, a ultra-marathon runner, a university teacher and a doctor in our group that I had a chance to talk to. During the breaks I learned about their lives, hobbies and we laughed about foods we like and dislike- hard work makes you hungry! We were provided with some “monkey banana” cakes, sport drinks and water while we worked.

We worked from around 10am to 2pm with breaks for drinks and snacks (provided) and lunch (bring your own). As we car-pooled, I parked at the DIY center Yoshimura Joy, but we had reports that the carpark was filled with volunteers cars by 10am and regular customers couldn’t get in- so parking is an issue. As far as necessary gear, I saw some volunteers in shorts and crocs, but it’s probably better to be properly outfitted if you want to work comfortably.

There didn’t seem to be sharp or dangerous things in what we cleared, but the more severely damaged areas would have different debris. Dust was also not an issue on the day I volunteered, but after a few dry days, goggles and a mask will likely be necessary. You can buy all of this gear at “Yoshimura Joy” DIY shop near the registration (if the volunteer center doesn’t have any for you to borrow). If you can get there by public transportation it would be best- there is a train to Bairin station on Kabe line which is nearest, but may be closed still (Midorii would be closest in that case) you can walk from there. There are also buses to Yagi that pass right in front of the Volunteer center. There were many being dropped off by friends and family (probably best).

As we posted news that we were volunteering many friends and family sent us messages of concern and caution and the volunteer center took any slight rain or warning of movement in the hills seriously- they don’t want any more residents, rescuers or volunteers to lose their lives in this disaster.

If you have some Japanese and it looks cloudy or is raining lightly, call ahead to the volunteer center below to ask if they will be going ahead that day. However, since registration starts at 9am and they close registration once they reach the daily quota of volunteers, if the weather looks clear I’d recommend getting to the registration by 8:30 to make sure you are allowed to volunteer. There is still so much to be done.

Essentials:

  • lunch
  • water bottle (some water is provided, but it’s not enough for the whole day)
  • change of clothes (especially if you are going home by public transport) and slippers or change of footwear (plastic bags for your dirty clothes and shoes good idea too)
  • hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, head/neck towel

Good to have:

  • long (waterproof) trousers, long sleeves
  • rubber (waterproof) gloves
  • sturdy work boots
  • goggles and a mask (it can get dusty on dry days)
  • your own tools- shovel
Volunteer Contact Details

Asa-minami-ku Volunteer Center Assembly Location: Hiroshima city, Asa-minami-ku, Nakasu 1 chome, “Sōgō Fukushi Sentā” 

Address in Japanese: 広島市安佐南区中須一丁目1―38―13 安佐南区総合福祉センター(JP) 09:00-17:00 Tel: 080-2931-3142 and 080-2931-3242 Fax: 082-831-5031 Google MAP

Asa-kita-ku Volunteer Center Assembly Location Asa-kita-ku Social Welfare Center 3-19-22 Kabe, Asa-kita-ku Contact (JP) 09:00-17:00 Tel: 080-2931-4242 Fax: 082-814-1895

 

See more photos of the #hiroshimalandslide on the GetHiroshima Flickr album #creativecommons

 

jjwalsh

Been enjoying living, working in and writing about Hiroshima since '98- co-founder, editor, photographer and writer for GetHiroshima.com / GetHiroshima map + GetHiroshima magazine

4 thoughts on “Volunteering in the Hiroshima landslide zone

  • August 24, 2014 at 9:28 am
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    Nice job on the write-up Joy. I’m sure it will encourage and enable more people to get involved! As I commented on Facebook, it’s physical work but if this 53-year old ‘desk jockey’ can do it, so can almost anyone!

    Reply
    • August 25, 2014 at 9:34 am
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      thanks mark! I have added your comments above- it was great working with you on sat, we had a great team!

      Reply
  • August 28, 2014 at 10:49 pm
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    Hi
    Great efforts nice one guys. Sadly we are on Holiday at the moment in Japan, we wanted to come and show our support by giving a days volunteering, but couldn’t sort it unfortunately! We do however want to donate some money to the relief effort, but also finding this difficult to do! Do you know of any information about donations we are currently in Osaka? We don’t read Japanese nor speak much of the language either. We did see a Red Cross van outside Kyoto station this morning, but the language barrier prevented us from explaining what we wanted to do!

    Thanks Andi

    Reply
    • August 29, 2014 at 8:16 am
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      Hi Andi,
      Thanks for your comments above. As the Red Cross is an international network if you make donations online at the main website, there’s usually a ‘designate to’ box where you could ask your donation help disaster relief in Hiroshima. The Japan Red Cross also has an English page if you search google for Red Cross org & Red Cross japan you should find the respective websites. I’ll try to post links here later. We appreciate your kindness & support.

      Reply

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