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Back to listMar 19, 2012

Soka Gakkai Members in Tohoku Reach Out to Others

Amidst the devastation and uncertainty caused by the earthquake and tsunami that struck the northeast of Japan on March 11, 2011, local Soka Gakkai members in affected areas have been contributing to the reconstruction of their communities and supporting people in their efforts to build their lives once again.

Mr. Fujikura Mr. Fujikura in his role as a volunteer with the fire brigade (Kamaishi City, Iwate Pref.)

Takashi Fujikura

Takashi Fujikura is a Soka Gakkai member in Iwate Prefecture. He works at a shipyard in Kamaishi and, for over 30 years, he has been a voluntary member of the fire brigade in the town of Matsubara that overlooks Kamaishi Bay.

When the earthquake struck, Mr. Fujikura was working at the shipyard. As he watched the crane at the yard swaying, he knew that a tsunami would follow, so he drove to the sluice gates and closed them. Once he had finished closing the gates, he turned around and saw that cars and houses were already being swept away by the tsunami. He started to lead people to higher ground and shouted "Higher!" at the top of his voice. Looking down on their hometown, Mr. Fujikura and the people with him gasped as they saw others stranded on rooftops and in cars. Mr. Fujikura returned to the town to rescue those he could. He kicked in the doors of houses in order to get to the elderly people inside and carried them to safety. He also carried others on his shoulders while making his way through piles of rubble.

The following day, in his role as a volunteer with the fire brigade, Mr. Fujikura took part for the first time in an official police search for missing people. Although the fire brigade's main job was the removal of bodies, Mr. Fujikura's task, given that he was acquainted with most people in his local area, was to identify those who had passed away. As the days went on, it became harder to recognize who was who. As Mr. Fujikura silently chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, he confirmed the identities of dozens of bodies that were found in Matsubara. When he confirmed the death of the fellow fire brigade member who had accompanied him to close the sluice gates, Mr. Fujikura wept. He determined that, for the sake of this young man he would live a life of the utmost value and contribution. “I should continue to live, doing my best for his sake.”

The shipyard at which Mr. Fujikura worked was destroyed in the disaster and all employees were laid off and dismissed. Even though there was no prospect of getting another job, Mr. Fujikura did not lose hope. He started chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo earnestly with his fellow Soka Gakkai members who were staying at his home following the disaster. Soon he was contacted by the shipyard and offered his job back. Now, the shipyard is busy repairing damaged ships. As Mr. Fujikura is one of only two employees who holds a license to operate mobile cranes, he feels that unless he puts in his all, the reconstruction of his hometown will be delayed.

Despite his inner strength, Mr. Fujikura was at one point hospitalized due to excruciating back and leg pain, and he couldn't walk. In his hospital bed, he had nightmares, and scenes he had witnessed after the earthquake were constantly in his mind. However, he is determined to repay the kindness of the Soka Gakkai members who have taken care of him by helping those who have been evacuated to be able to return home with dignity.

Now, when Mr. Fujikura returns home from work in the shipyard, he changes into his fire uniform and begins a patrol driving round the local area, while his colleague warns people to be careful not to cause a fire in the dry winter air. Matsubara is still almost completely destroyed and rebuilding is a long-term process, but Mr. Fujikura says, "We have to do whatever we can, for everybody's sake."

Ms. Sato Ms. Natsumi Sato (Watari, Miyagi Pref.)

Natsumi Sato

Ms. Natsumi Sato, a Soka Gakkai young women's leader from Miyagi Prefecture, currently works as a DJ for an FM radio station that started to broadcast disaster information in the wake of the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami. The studio is located in Watari Town Hall.

Early in 2011, Ms. Sato moved from Tokyo back to her hometown of Watari. Soon after she moved, the earthquake and tsunami struck, causing countless people to be forced to live in evacuation centers.

From the day after the earthquake, Ms. Sato helped supply food to people taking refuge in the town hall. At the end of March, she was offered a job working for a new FM radio station that would broadcast information related to the disaster.

When FM AOZORA, "blue sky," was launched, the response from listeners was huge but varied. On the one hand, people expressed their gratitude for helpful information when food distribution points were announced, on the other hand, they were also swamped with complaints. Above all, what was communicated loud and clear to Ms. Sato was the pain and sorrow of the people who had lost everything that was important to them in the disaster.

With listener feedback such as "I don't want to listen to any cheerful stories" and "I've had enough sad stories already," so as to avoid upsetting people, Ms. Sato was very conscious of the wording of her commentary and continuously tried to keep the best interests of the listeners in mind. If, for example the word "sea" or "ocean" was included in the script, she wouldn't read it. She made sure that there were no sounds of waves breaking in background music she played and listened to every song before she played it on air to make sure the lyrics didn't contain any upsetting words, such as "farewell" or "good-bye."

On April 11, a month after the earthquake and tsunami had struck, Ms. Sato gasped when she saw the document she had been given to read on air. It was a list of the names of over 300 people who had either been killed in the disaster or were listed as missing. Ms. Sato felt like running away, but summoning up her courage, she went on air and started to read the list, suppressing her emotions as much as possible.

As she read page after page of names, she came across the name of a child she knew. She also read the name of a child whose parents she had interviewed as the search for their child was being carried out. She even read the names of her own friends. She struggled to read the list of names as it became blurred by her tears. Ms. Sato felt completely incompetent as, even though she was aware she was live on air, her voice had become shaky and she had allowed herself to get upset. That night, Ms. Sato couldn't sleep and cried until she could cry no more.

The following morning, there was a call from a listener who had lost family members in the earthquake and tsunami. He said how grateful the family was to Ms. Sato for reading the list as she had. He said it would have been much harder for them if she had just coldly read the list of names without expressing any emotion. Hearing this, Ms. Sato began to feel, for the first time, that she was able to respond to the needs and sensitivities of those affected by the disaster, and she vowed to keep on encouraging others through her radio broadcasts.

These days, many upbeat topics are covered on FM AOZORA, and the number of listeners has been increasing. Nevertheless, there are many people who are still suffering. Ms. Sato says, "I cannot say that I really understand how people who have lost family and everything that is precious to them feel, but I want to understand as much as I can so I can feel closer to them."

When she is sitting in front of the microphone, Ms. Sato always visualizes the faces of those listening, and tries to be a voice that encourages them in their efforts to rebuild their lives.

[Adapted from articles in the January 19 and February 18, 2012, issues of the Seikyo Shimbun, Soka Gakkai, Japan; photos courtesy of Seikyo Shimbun]