Local Soka Gakkai Members Engage in Relief Activities
More than two weeks after the earthquake and tsunami disaster which devastated northeastern Japan, despite being victims themselves, local Soka Gakkai members continue to make strenuous effort for disaster relief and the recovery of affected areas.
Members of Soka Gakkai's student and young men's groups in Miyagi Prefecture have created a "Bicycle Rescue Team" in Sendai City to help assist senior citizens who live alone in the ravaged area. Their tasks include buying food and other essentials as well as helping to clean up. Although lifelines such as water and electricity have been restored, garbage and destroyed furniture have been causing problems for many senior citizens. On receiving requests, the team visits many elderly people at home to support and encourage them to give them strength. One 69 year old woman commented, "Even though they are victims themselves, they come to visit us. I am moved by their kindness.
The coastal city of Onagawa-cho in Miyagi Prefecture was devastated by the tsunami, making it difficult to deliver essential relief supplies. In response, three members who had lost their own homes, Junya Abe, Takayuki Kunimoto and Yūki Ohkabe, have been engaged in the delivery of relief goods since March 14.
They have been distributing relief goods which are delivered to the Soka Gakkai Ishinomaki Peace Center to 16 refuge shelters in the city every day. Their car is now certified as an official emergency vehicle in order to assist victims, in liaison with the city disaster relief center.
Rin Itoh, a women's member, has provided her house as a distribution site to sort out relief goods for delivery. Susumu Chiba devotes himself to taking care of victims at a refuge center and is responsible for supporting evacuees on one whole floor. Many members in Onagawa-cho are engaged in relief activities throughout the city.
Kosuke Sugo is a volunteer fireman in Watari-cho, Miyagi Prefecture, who has been exerting himself to assist others even though his office and house were destroyed by the disaster. Immediately after the earthquake, he escaped to the third floor of the junior high school building. At that very minute the tsunami surged into the city and surrounded the school, isolating 250 people on the upper floors. The following day, Mr. Sugo secured drinking water from the school's water tank, carried the water for the toilets and cleaned up the site. On the third day, helicopters and a boat finally arrived to rescue people and he helped guide the victims. He and his mother were the last ones to escape. Now living in a refugee shelter, he devotes himself to searching for missing people and relief activities as a volunteer fireman.
In the afternoon of March 23, an outdoor barbershop called "Phoenix Barbershop" opened up outside a shelter in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture. The earthquake victims received haircuts from a volunteer barber, Mr. Yukio Ono, who is also a Soka Gakkai member and currently lives in the shelter. Mr. Ono is an experienced barber with a career of 26 years. Due to the lack of fuel, he heats water with firewood, shampoos his customers, and rinses from a watering can filled with warm water. Mr. Ono ran a barbershop in Kesennuma City with his wife, Ayaka, but the tsunami completely destroyed the shop as well as his home. Mr. Ono lost everything he possessed, but he managed to find his treasured scissors and some other instruments in the muddy remains of his barbershop. "I am having a hard time, but I increasingly feel that I want to be of help to others," says Mr. Ono. "I wonder why I feel that way. It must be because my heart was trained through faith."
As a vice chairman of the Youth Council of Hairdressing Environmental Health Trade Association of Miyagi Prefecture and the central figure of this association in Kesennuma City, Mr. Ono firmly stated that he wanted to reopen his barbershop as soon as possible for the sake of the people in the local community.
Reiko Suzuki from Kesennuma City has been engaging in volunteer activities at the Matsuiwa Community Center since the earthquake. "When I went to the community center, I saw there were 600 people there. I thought I should do whatever I could for them. So I started out with making onigiri (rice balls)."
Ms. Suzuki is chairman of the city's women's liaison committee and the key person leading local volunteer activities, sometimes managing the kitchen in the center. She not only prepares the meals but delivers clothes to the victims, opens her own bath at home to them and continues to encourage them with her cheerful smile. One elderly woman had lost her house and all of her possessions. She had lost hope, but she told Ms. Suzuki, "Looking at you fills me with energy. I think I will survive."
[Adapted from articles in the March 24, 25, 26, 28 and 29, 2011, issues of the Seikyo Shimbun, Soka Gakkai, Japan; photos courtesy of Seikyo Shimbun]