Day 1 with Project Tohoku in Ofunato

After an overnight bus to Morioka and then another 2.5 hour ride from Morioka through the mountains to Ofunato on the coast, I arrived at the All Hands Volunteers base near the Sakari area of town yesterday at around 11am. I was oriented along with one other volunteer who was also on my bus.

All Hands has set up a command center in the Welfare Building in town. What I’ve seen of the main building is a small, generic Japanese office building. A room on the first floor has been cleared out and spread with temporary tatami mats. It’s being used as the main office and a common area. There is a big board with a list of teams and tasks, a corner where the All Hands staff works busily, wireless Internet that seems slow but more or less reliable, several Japanese kerosene heaters, and a shelf of luggage for the people who are living on the second floor. I haven’t seen the second floor yet, but I imagine it’s a big open area, converted office spaces, with mattresses and sleeping bags laid out.

One of the staff members drove me up to the other living area, Fukushi no Sato Center, which is about a 10-15 minute drive back up toward the mountains from base. I’m not sure how the numbers are split, but there are around 60 volunteers right now. The center is a rehabilitation center/old folks home which is currently housing some evacuees as well. It has a medium-sized Japanese-style bath on the first floor across from what looks like a dining hall. The second floor has a common room and several empty rooms where volunteers and evacuees are sleeping.

After a full day of travel, all I could manage was a quick walk down to the stores before a bath and bed. The walk was made quicker by a local lady who offered to give me a ride when I looked confused. She was an English teacher, eager to talk, and very friendly. Everyone here has been incredibly thankful for the help.

I passed out early and was up equally early. We left the Fukushi no Sato Center at 7:30 and had breakfast at the Sakari Base where we ate pancakes and had a meeting. I introduced myself along with the other new recruits and folks returning from breaks. I found out that one of the All Hands staff members is an alum from my high school. He graduated in’87, me in ’00. It’s a small, strange world. They also explained all the jobs and after we signed up.

I signed up with for a project titled “Ditch Bitches.” We were ten people and split into two groups, one of which was cleaning a larger canal with running water, the other of which was cleaning the roadside ditches in one of the neighborhoods hit by the tsunami. In the countryside, roads within towns and villages are all lined with knee-deep concrete drainage ditches. They are affectionately called “gaijin traps” because they are uncovered and foreigners have a tendency to drive into them and get stuck. In a bigger city like Ofunato, they are covered with heavy concrete slabs or grated metal drain covers. We pried all of these open and spent the day digging the mud and debris that accumulated in them. We dug up all sorts of things – broken tile and glass mostly, but also spoons, forks, iPods, broken CDs, little unopened bottled and can drinks, knicknacks, all of it covered in mud. At one point in a particularly deep, muddy section, we unearthed a mysterious frozen white liquid that was wrapped in some kind of packaging. It was still frozen after all this time.

We worked from 8:30 to noon, had an hour for a very satisfying bento lunch, and then worked until 4:30. The weather was nice – sunny and breezy, although the breeze did blow in a strong smell of rotten fish (or rotten something) that kind of lingers over the area of Ofunato near the coast, despite the fact that we were not in the immediate harbor area.

The area we were was still somewhat intact. There were a good number of buildings that are standing, and these increase dramatically as you move away from the coast toward higher ground tucked into the area between mountains.

Some houses had the first and second floors boarded up, some just the first floors, but many of the buildings had upper floors that haven’t needed to be gutted. But there are also empty lots where buildings have been completely swept away. In the distance I could see the NTT building closer to the coast that where we were, and it was large enough to still be there, but its windows too were boarded on the lower floors. On all the empty lots there are neat piles of collected metal, including some cars and appliances. We were dumping all our mud and debris on one of these empty lots using wheelbarrows. As I was wheeling one load to the dump site, I saw a plaque in the road that was marking the spot where the tsunami from the 1960 earthquake in Chili reached; needless to say, the recent tsunami went far beyond that spot.

My whole body is sore, and when I finish I will have forearms like Popeye. For now, I am glad to have Ibuprofen and glad to have been helpful.

After work, we bused back to the Sakari Base, had dinner, and did the evening meeting where team leaders reported back about the day and we all signed up for jobs tomorrow. I was tempted to sign up for something new to see a different part of the city and a different project, but I’m sort of a completionist and we didn’t quite finish all the ditches that we started today. I just hope that I don’t have to man up and jump in the canal tomorrow because I would come home very dirty. I’ll be wearing my work pants tomorrow, so it won’t be too much of an issue if I have to.

So now there’s just enough time to hop in the tub and then pass out in my sleeping bag before tomorrow. I’ve been outed as a snorer, which I don’t think bodes well for my restfulness tonight – rookies probably get a one day stay of leave on being disturbed for their snoring.

Jammin’ for Japan

I’ve been working madly the past month on two fundraising efforts here in New Orleans. I mentioned Drink for Japan in a previous post. We raised about $4000 in three hours! The next event is even bigger.

While planning Drink for Japan, I contacted John Gros of Papa Grows Funk, a local funk band featuring Japanese guitarist June Yamagishi, to see if they would donate to the event. John not only wanted to donate CDs and T-shirts, he wanted to organize a benefit concert with several A-list New Orleans bands. He has contacts in the Japanese community, and marketing guru/PR person/writer Carrie Williamson had gotten in touch with him about doing something. We all sat down with some members of the Japan Club and Jetaa NOLA, and the NOLA Japan Quake Fund made a lot of sense as the target of the concert proceeds: it’s being administered by the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the city has endorsed it, and all the Japan-affiliated organizations in town are involved. Donations alone have raised over $100,000, and that doesn’t include these two events.

The result has been amazing. John quickly lined up the musicians. His friend Yumi Mano helped gather donations and get restaurants involved. Michelle Hansen of the Japan Club has spearheaded the silent auction. Carrie really pushed the corporate aspect, which has resulted in some very impressive donations from big companies. I’ve been working the social media aspect and helping out with logistics, and Jetaa NOLA members have helped volunteer and solicit donations. The result is Jammin’ for Japan which will be this Sunday (tomorrow!), April 10 from 7:30-11:00pm at Rock ‘N Bowl:

The great thing is that local radio station WWOZ will be broadcasting the concert LIVE. They stream on the Internet, which means that anyone with an Internet connection can listen. When I did the calculation for the time in Japan, I realized that this concert will take place almost exactly a month after the earthquake and tsunami: it will run from Monday, April 11 09:30-13:00 Japan Standard Time.

I hope that you all tune in. Below I’ve pasted the Japanese press release along with an explanation of how to listen live. Please forward this widely to Japanese friends! Let them know that New Orleans is thinking about them.

ニューオリンズのジャズと伝統文化を伝えるラジオステーションの WWOZ 90.7 FM が、4 月 10 日(日)に市内のライブハウス Rock ‘N’ Bowl で開催されるコンサート NOLA Japan Quake Fund」をライブ中継

ジャズやブルース、ファンクなど、さまざまなジャンルで今のニューオリンズを代表するミュージ シャン、カーミット・ラフィンズ、パパグロウズファンク、ジェレミー・デイブンポート、ボネラマ、そして ジョージ・ポーターJr&ランニングパードナーズがサポート

2011 年 3 月 31 日(木)於ニューオリンズ ––– ニューオリンズのジャズと伝統文化を伝えるラジ オステーションの WWOZ 90.7 FM が、来る 4 月 10 日(日)に市内のライブハウス Rock ‘N’ Bowl で午後 7 時半から 11 時まで開催されるコンサート NOLA Japan Quake Fund」をライ ブ中継されます。ジャズやブルース、ファンクなど、さまざまなジャンルで今のニューオリンズを代 表するミュージシャンたち、カーミット・ラフィンズ、パパグロウズファンク、ジェレミー・デイブンポート、 ボネラマ、サンパイ・バーンズ、そしてジョージ・ポーターJr&ランニングパードナーズがサポートに かけつけてくれます。このうち、4 つのバンドには、それぞれ日本人ミュージシャンがメンバーとして 参加しており、当日はスペシャルゲストのサンパイ・バーンズも加わって、できるだけ多くの人に このイベントへ来てもらって、少しでも多くのお金を募金してもらい、3 月 11 日に発生した大規 模地震と津波、そしてそれに続いて起きた原発事故による放射能問題の被害に苦しんでいる 日本のみなさんのお役に立てたいと演奏や募金の呼び掛けを行ってくれます。当日は、日本の 文化にも触れてもらおうという目的で、地元のニューオリンズジャズ太鼓ドラマーズも演奏してく れる他、日本食レストランの NINJA が人気の高いメニューからいくつかのアイテムを販売します。

WWOZ ラジオはオンラインでも聴けるため、地元ニューオリンズだけでなく、全米、および世界中 で愛聴されています。そこでライブ中継するということは、世界中の人たち、そしてもちろん日 本の人たちがこのイベントをライブで聴いてくれるということです。イベントを主催する私たちは、こ れによって少しでも多くの方が NOLA 日本地震基金(NOLA Japan Quake Fund)を通して、 日本で被害に遭われた方々に支援の手が届けばいいと願っています。

パパグロウズファンクのリーダーであり、ハモンド B3 オルガン奏者兼ボーカル担当のジョン・グロス 氏がこの Jammin’ for Japan イベントの発起人です。彼は、次のように語っています。

「今まで、日本へ何度もツアーで訪れて、多くの日本人の友人ができましたが、みな温かい人 柄の素晴らしい人たちばかりです。ニューオリンズとその音楽を心から愛してくださっていて、いつ も応援してくださっています。特にうちのバンドのギタリストである山岸潤史氏を通して、一生を 通じて友人と呼べるような出会いもいくつかありましたが、私たちがカトリーナの被害で苦しんで いるときに暖かい支援の手を差し伸べてくれました。」
「最後に日本に行ったとき、宮城県の仙台と石巻へ行く機会がありました。演奏するお店の オーナーの方は、僕たちが到着したときに赤いカーペットを敷いて出迎えてくれて、一生忘れられないような素晴らしい思い出を作ってくださいました。今回の震災で、その町の方たちが本 当にひどい被害を受け、何もかも失くしてしまわれました。その方たちの気持ちを思うと、いても たってもいられず、また明るい笑顔を取り戻してもらえる手助けを何とかしたい、そう思ったの です。彼らの必要なお金や支援に比べれば、僕たちがここで渡せるものは微々たるものでしょう。 でも、僕たちがカトリーナの経験を通して学んだのは、とにかく第一歩を踏み出すこと。どんなに 困難に思えることでもまずはじめてみることです。その第一歩の手助けをしたいと思っているの です。」

今回の Jammin’ for Japan イベントでは、入場料の代わりに一人最低 10 ドルを寄付しても らいます。これはすべてそのまま NOLA 日本地震基金(NOLA Japan Quake Fund)へ寄付さ れます。さらに、ローカルセレブとのボーリングトーナメント参加費、T-シャツや食べ物の売上金、 サイレントオークション、50/50 ラッフルなどの催しを行い、現場にコンピューターもセットしてクレ ジットカードを使った追加寄付もできるようにする予定です。

NOLA 日本地震基金(NOLA Japan Quake Fund)について

NOLA 日本地震基金(NOLA Japan Quake Fund)は、ニューオリンズで活動しているジャ パンクラブ、ジャパンソサエティ、JetaaNOLA、および日本庭園基金が、ニューオリンズ日本名 誉総領事を相談役に迎えて合同で設立しました。大ニューオリンズ基金(Greater New Orleans Foundation:GNOF)は、連邦政府の認めた 501 条(c)項(3)号団体で、この NOLA 日本地震基金(NOLA Japan Quake Fund)の管理役を務めています。この基金への寄付 金は、被害に遭われた地域のみなさんの復興と再建を支援する日本の NGO’非政府団 体(を慎重に選んで直接そこへ寄付されます。ニューオリンズ市民はカトリーナで経験したように、 どんなひどい災害も時間と共にメディアには乗らなくなり、実際には復興には程遠い状態でし かなくても、義援金を募ることはどんどん難しくなってきます。この基金の一般費用は最低限に 抑え、寄付総額の 98%を直接日本の NGO へ寄付します。この基金はニューオリンズ市長 ミッチ・ランドリュー氏によって是認されています。



左上にある「LISTEN NOW」をクリックしてください。


Katrina and the Quake

A month after I arrived in Japan on the JET Program, Hurricane Katrina hit my hometown New Orleans. I had been placed in Nishiaizu, Fukushima Prefecture, a small town of 8000 people nestled in the mountains on the northwestern edge of the prefecture. My supervisor told me it would probably be okay to go back to the U.S. and help out if I needed to, but what could I do? A good portion of the city was under water, and my family had already evacuated to Memphis. I stayed and watched from afar.

At night I drank beer, watched CNN, and wrote angry Livejournal posts wondering why the O’Brien family of journalists had exchanges like these on international television:

Soledad: Clearly something is burning off in the distance.
Miles: It’s still burning. Clearly no sign of it being put out.


And now, nearly six years later, I find myself in the same position. I moved back to New Orleans last summer, so I’ve been forced to watch news from abroad and trace the paths of friends in Japan from Facebook status updates and Twitter feeds. Apparently, the journalists from outside are bad and the government response is slow, just like in New Orleans.

However, I’m confident that Japan will recover because I’ve realized that Japan is, secretly, just like New Orleans. They both pride themselves on the strangeness of their culture, they both eat really weird things, and they both love to drink beer outdoors. More importantly, they are both geographically exceptional; New Orleans was founded on the soft alluvial deposits of the Mississippi River Delta and Japan on the intersection of tectonic plates. If New Orleans can recover (and it has), then surely Japan can. Chin up, Japan.

The other reassuring part about being in New Orleans is that I’m in more of a position to help. Japan has a special place in its heart for New Orleans, as evidenced by the $44 million in aid it provided after Katrina. I don’t think New Orleans will approach that amount, but we can certainly try.

A consortium of Japan groups here in town has banded together to create the NOLA Japan Quake Fund. We raised over $8000 during our first day online, and that was without the assistance of any events. There will be a number of events all over town, so please follow @NOLA4Japan to keep up with the latest information. I’ll probably be broadcasting the information on my own feed as well.

Based on the response we’ve already had, we’re hoping to raise a good chunk of change – something approaching $100,000 if not more. This isn’t an impossibility. We already have many different groups who want to contribute to the fund. I’m involved with two in particular: Saturday, April 2 will be “Drink For Japan” at Avenue Pub, and on Sunday, April 10, Rock n Bowl will be hosting a celebration of prominent local bands that feature Japanese musicians – it’s going to be an all-start lineup, so be on the lookout for more information.

Please spread this info as widely as possible, especially if you are in the New Orleans area.