Individual Soka Gakkai Members Continue Relief Efforts
In the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake and subsequent tsunamis that hit Japan, local Soka Gakkai members have been taking the initiative to help provide support to those in need, despite being affected by the disaster themselves.
Masaki Takagi, who ran an electrical security maintenance company in Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, was at work when the earthquake hit. He was carrying heavy tools and equipment for electrical maintenance and barely managed to escape the tsunami. His company and house were completely obliterated by the powerful waves, however, and he took refuge at an evacuation center.
Mr. Takagi immediately set to work helping to restore power to the town hall which was the main disaster response center. He also successfully helped restore power to every evacuation shelter in town, where many people had suffered many freezing nights without electricity, in addition to hospitals and clinics, the Otsuchi waterworks bureau, the crematorium and other public facilities. Mr. Takagi remarked, "I feel a responsibility for delivering electricity and the light of hope. I want to heal together with the town of Otsuchi."
In Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, Yasuyuki Ohki, owner of a Japanese-style eatery, formed a relief team called "Big Tree" with his friends to help rehabilitation efforts in the city. The volunteers ranged from electrical and waterworks engineers to carpenters and house painters. Their core activities involved lending out power generators, repairing plumbing, helping to clean homes of debris accumulated from the tsunami and providing water free of charge.
Mr. Ohki also turned his home, which had not been damaged, into an ad-hoc relief distribution center and provided shelter to some 30 people who had lost their homes.
One of the relief team members shared with Mr. Ohki that he had felt overwhelmed by the magnanimity of the devastation, but that helping others fueled him with strength. Mr. Ohki remarked that the relief team's goal is "to become like a big tree to support the local people toward the recovery of Kesennuma."
In Shiogama, Miyagi Prefecture, Takeo Takeda has dedicated 60 years of his life to being a tuna sales broker and is the general director of the Shiogama Fish Market Sales Cooperative Association which includes 158 tuna buyers. Upon seeing the largest wholesale fish market in Shiogama-a renowned fishing port-cease operations after the tsunami, Mr. Takeda wholeheartedly worked toward the recovery of the fishing port.
Mr. Takeda's efforts to search for and confirm the safety of his association members as well as his neighbors continued, while he helped secure fuel for the fishing boats and, with the help of others, restored power and water supply to the building.
Largely due to his efforts, the port reopened for fish auctioning and catch landing on April 4, which made it one of the first of the affected ports to reopen in Miyagi Prefecture.
He states, "I had to do something. The fish industry of Tohoku region was dying out and I could not just let that happen."
Mr. Takeda's relief efforts have extended to shelters where he delivers raw tuna every day free of charge with his two sons. His son Kenji remarked, "The only thing we can do to encourage the survivors is to serve tuna fish. We are happy if they are happy."
In Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture, as well as being active within Soka Gakkai, Kahoru Kannabi is the chief secretary of an NPO called "The People," which supports the economic independence of Southeast Asian women.
Following the earthquake, a joint relief effort was started with their NPO counterpart in Kumamoto Prefecture, to provide food and set up cooking facilities at local evacuation centers. The goal was to empower women at the centers to cook for those housed there so that they would not be simply waiting for food donations to arrive.
Her relief team also successfully helped create a network of women at various evacuation centers who could relay detailed information regarding specific items that were lacking. Based on this feedback, volunteers were able to deliver these items to the appropriate shelters.
In addition, Ms. Kannabi helped set up relief distribution centers in several homes, to help provide relief goods to other survivors living in their own houses. She was eventually appointed chief secretary of a disaster relief center in Onahama District of Iwaki City, due to her success in providing aid to many people. Asked about her relief activities, she remarked, "I am determined to continue my relief efforts to support the citizens until recovery is fully accomplished. What I want to deliver more than any relief item is the energy and will to survive."
[Adapted from articles in the April 21-24, 2011, issues of the Seikyo Shimbun, Soka Gakkai, Japan; photos courtesy of Seikyo Shimbun]