Giving you a little view of Japan without leaving your home!

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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Stability and Hope--will it ever come?

This is a different posting in that we are posting a letter by contact down in the Tohoku area where the tsunami killed so many just two years ago this month.  Sometimes we forget there are still people suffering and there are still precious ones that help meet others' needs as they can.  Will you continue to pray for the Japanese people in this area?  Thank you for reading clear to the end.  It also brought to mind that probably there are still people in the  USA and other parts of the world that are suffering, hurting, trying to rebuild after: a hurricane, 9/11, an unexpected death.  They all need Christ--may those of us who know Him, remember to pray for them as well as show them there is true hope!  

Hi !
We just got back for a trip to O---- cho, Hirota prefecture. It was a very cold and windy day, but I think we brought a little sunshine with us.(Our 4 kids ) Our family of 6 loaded into the car and it was packed to the roof, as well as each one of us, except my husband, had things piled on our laps also. The back of it was so low, because of the heavy rice, we had to take all bumps very slowly. All 4 kids sat in one row and the rest of the car with the back seat down was filled with things to take to the people there.
We had an assortment of things to deliver this time.They were sent to us from all over Japan and from overseas too, and from many different people. Warm clothing and jackets, warm blankets, warm socks, children's clothing, sheets, towels, miso, sembei and snacks, handbags, hats and gloves, and many other things, and this time we had 150 kg of rice to deliver too. There was some concern from some people sending things that it was too late for warm clothing, but it turned out perfectly for today was very cold and windy, and just the perfect type of weather to give people warm items. Handing people warm clothes, coats and big thick blankets on a day as today was just the right timing!!!
So many people and groups have shared these last few months, and though we have delivered some to the temporary housing people, most we saved to take to the coast. The people in the temporary housing are now getting a little selfish and demanding about things, and it seems a little hard to please many of them. Often they make demands of me that I just have no way of getting the things that they are wanting. (more wants than needs) They have gotten aid the whole time they have been in the housing, including rice, miso, new coats, new sheets, new blankets etc from the city and the government. Now some of them have come to expect that extra help and are a little demanding in the things that they want. They lost everything, so I think that getting that extra help is important for them, it is a good thing. I feel so badly for them when I see them fighting and feeling so unsettled and just wanting to be in their own homes again. Many do not have the means of buying and building a new home, and the government has yet to build the apartments they promised for everyone, and so they are stuck.
I also feel that those that decided to remain in their homes and fix them after being ruined by the tsunami waters are not getting the same concern and the need there is so great. They too lost everything in their homes, just the skeleton of their homes remained, but nothing inside. We are only able to help this one village, though all up and down the coast there are little villages just like this one. Some people are getting a lot of help and others are getting none at all.
The people on the coast are not that way at all,and have never been. Even right after the disaster, some people in the temporary housing were grabbing anything they could and feeling very desperate, and were just concerned for their own survival, whereas on the coast, they will just take what they need and often ask to make sure that the other homes we visit will have enough.
It is a challenge sometimes to give grace to those that are less than thankful and are demanding, but then again, they did lose everything they had along with loved ones. I try not to take their behavior personally and I do know that many of them are really hurting, and that is where a lot of the behavior comes from. We still help as many as we can in the temporary housing and all the homes in the village that were damaged by the tsunami. It is not based on whether they are being nice or not! We try and use the story of the Good Samaritan as a guide...and it says at the end, "Go and do likewise"
This trip too, they were thrilled with every single thing, and since we haven't been for about 3 months, they were sure pleased to see us again. They were all very talkative and shared lots of things that are going on with them. It was a small village before, but the tsunami washed many homes away completely, and so the homes that remained standing, even after being filled with tsunami waters, are standing alone,and they do not have any neighbors close by anymore. They are lonely and most are elderly, and just having people to talk to seems to brighten their day.
One obachan (grandmother) we saw recently while taking our children to the hospital a few months ago. She had surgery on her knee . Today she was telling us about it, and was so funny. She took a nice sweater that we had shared with her on another trip, and I guess all the nurses came and told her how beautiful the sweater was. She was just beaming telling us about it. She said that even before the tsunami, she had never had such a beautiful sweater. She has been so thrilled each and every time we go getting new-to-her clothing and other household items. Having lost every single article of clothing in the tsunami, and not being allowed to get any clothing from the distribution centers when they were having them for the first few months, she is just thrilled! The people who did not go into the evacuation centers, and then did not go into temporary housing have not been allowed to get any of the aid provided at all. They were told that it was only for the people in the evacuation centers and then the temporary housing.
Another who lost her daughter to suicide a few months after the earthquake, was inside while her dh was outside. He said that she wasn't feeling well. As soon as she heard our voices she came right out to talk to us and brightened up and was smiling. They lost their home in the tsunami and are now living in a storage building. It is tiny, made of cement and cold and dreary. They seem to be a bit more desperate, and so we try to give a little extra to them. Today we were able to give them some dishes ,cups and silverware, towels as well as warm blankets, clothing, jackets as well as rice and miso among other things.
Another family grandmother, mother, daughter (about 26) and the father live together. The father is quite a character and has a gruff manner, but seems to have a soft spot for me. We have visited his home since April of 2011. He said on our second visit that the clothing we had given him was enough, and he could just wear the same shirt every day and that would be sufficient. I know it is pride talking and that he doesn't want to be seen as needing help. I started teasing him and said that though he may think it is o.k. to wear the same clothes every day, that his family might not agree, and that I would find him just a few more things to wear. In the spring , we gave him seeds and he was so proud of the American veggies that he was able to grow! His wife and daughter and mother on the other hand, often would like some of the things, but if he is there they seem to hold back. I now know their sizes and choose for them and just hand them a big bag and tell them that I need them to take it since it doesn't fit me or else my husband will get upset about having to bring it back home again!!! He now has softened and knows that we only want to help and we don't look down on him in anyway for accepting what we are offering!
A church in Osaka sent us some money and we talked with them about how the money should be used. After some discussion, it was decided that rice would be perfect. We were blessed to be able to deliver some rice in the past also, and that is why we knew that every single house would appreciate it. They loved it before and we were certain they would this time too.
When I talked to my husband about it and asked him where we should buy the rice, he insisted that we needed to get Esashi brand rice, which you can only buy in Esashi (near Mizusawa). I was a little skeptical and thought that getting a little more and just buying it at the supermarket would be best. Getting to the supermarket still takes about 40 + minutes. I thought that getting a bigger quantity,rather than spending more for less rice,plus having to make a special trip there just to buy it, just didn't seem like the best plan. My husband was very sure that it was necessary that we get that particular rice for it is said to be very delicious and that the people in O....- Cho and also out on the coast would like it the best! It was one of those times that I decided that I would let my husband decide since he knows more about rice than I ever will.
We had to drive 1 1/2 hr to get to Esashi last weekend and we were able to buy about 150 kg of rice with the money that the church sent. We were looking at the bags of rice and we each had a calculator and were figuring how many bags we could buy, as well as trying to figure out if there was a way to get it so that I would not have to fill other bags and make them in smaller portions. The man in charge, a little ojichan (grandfather type) ,came out and started helping us decide and he steered us towards the same rice but it was in huge bags and was brown rice, and he would polish it for us to make it white rice and put it in bags for us. The children helped him by measuring it first before it was put in the machine to polish it, and it was quite fun to do it together. This ojichan was quite thrilled to have 3 little girls helping him. He said that he had never had such a large order before and he asked what we were buying the rice for.
We explained that a Christian church in Osaka was buying it so that we could share it with the people affected by the tsunami.They wanted to help the people here. He called over his manager, a young woman in her 30s and she also was touched by why were buying so much, and we were given a 10% discount on all of it. That made it approx. what it would have cost had we gotten it at the grocery store! God walked in front of us and I know he orchestrated it all. I am so glad that I didn't insist on doing it my way, and listened to my husband!!! He and our son loaded it all into our car!
Today, though the weather was overcast and cold, all the people we visited seemed to be in good spirits and very talkative. They wanted to share what had been going on with them these last few months and there were lots of smiles and laughter all around. It took us quite a bit longer this time, just because everyone was so thrilled to see us with the children and wanted to talk. We got back after 3pm after leaving the house at 7:30am, and the children had not had lunch!!! All for a good cause.
They absolutely love seeing our 4 children and that brings a smile to their faces!
I so appreciate all the extra care sent for our family too. The gas money to help with the cost of the trips to the coast and all the little special things sent for the children, my husband and me, is just so very kind and thoughtful. I feel very loved at the ourpouring of love for these people, as well as for our family! Thank-you from the bottom of my heart.
Truth be told, usually my husband is not very happy about going out to the coast. We have to go on his only day off, and that is just 2x a month, and I think that the cost of going and having to take almost of full day to go there and back, as well as the fact that we could not really afford to make these trips with his salary being so very low.
Anyway, the routine has been, that I get all the bags and boxes packed and ready, which usually takes me about 2 days solid, then on the morning we go, I load them all in the car, then he unloads it all and redoes it to his liking. I have suggested that perhaps it might be good if he just packed it instead of doing it twice, but that hasn't happened. Once we get to the coast and start delivering things, he changes and he sees how much the people all appreciate the help and how they light up when we come. He is all smiles during the visits to each home, and on the way home. He can see how much it means to these people , not just in the physical aspect of giving them things, but taking the time to visit with them, and listen to them! Having people who care is just amazing to them.
I am telling you this because this time, for the first time in the 2 years we have been delivering things, he was happy about us going, and was pleasant and taking that extra trip to Esashi last weekend to get the rice, and then unpacking it, just to be repacked this morning, and also this time, I had the bags and boxes all packed and ready and I had them outside in order of how they needed to be packed while he and the two older children went to reload the rice which was at my husband's parents home. He came back and asked me the system that the bags and boxes needed to be packed, I explained and he did it. Much better than I ever could have, and he was in such a good mood the whole time we were delivering things. I am just amazed for usually he is a little grumpy for the trip to the coast, on the way back he is happy and excited about helping those people, but the trip there is usually a little tense.
I am just so grateful that he has been willing to drive us there so many times, even though I don't think he thought it was important or that we needed to do it all!!!! What a great guy!!! Doing it pretty much because I felt so strongly about it and knew that it was what God had for us to do.
We are the only ones who have provided aid for this little village, and they never know when we will come and what we will bring. The generosity of all those that have sent things to share is just amazing and it has touched these people in a real way!!! It is so easy for people to say..".Ganbatte Iwate", or "Ganbatte Tohoku" . Translated I guess it would be something like...Don't give up Iwate, Keep up the good work, which we all heard a lot of after the earthquake and tsunami. Encouraging words, but not much help if you have so many physical and emotional needs! These people have both, even now 2 years after the earthquake.
Many people in our village  also have thought since about 4 months after the earthquake that the people affected had been helped enough and that they had gotten money from the government and didn't need anymore help. Outside people are not allowed into the temporary housing areas at all unless they are visiting someone they know. ( I am an exception to this rule.) An unknown stanger also would not be welcome in O....-cho. The only reason we are allowed to go, is that right after the tsunami we made lots of trips with water and food, and gave them to a friend of mine (a teacher I taught with) who lives there, and had her deliver it to people in need. From there, she and her dh introduced us around to the homes in need, and that made us safe.
I know it is hard for some people to not be able to personally help those in need, but please know that every single thing sent has reached the hands of someone that can use it. I have had lots of requests for photos, and that also is a little sensitive for most of the people here. Most would prefer not to be photographed and so I try to honor that. As time moves on, that may change, but it is still something that many do not want.
I spent the last two days, all day packing boxes and sorting things into groups for each household. I was exhausted and pretty tired last night and my hurt shoulder and neck were just throbbing. We couldn't get in our hallway to the entryway for the past months because of all the boxes, without walking sideways, and then last night after I sorted everything, we couldn't even do that!!!
I sat on the couch for the first time all day at about 10 pm and I looked at my husband who had just gotten home and I said that perhaps it was time for us to stop. He looked at me wide-eyed and said definately NOT! He said that we are able to share with these people and bring them things they need and spend time talking to them and just loving them. He said he saw no reason for us to stop! I said that perhaps people were tired of sending things, and he did not agree with me at all. He said that all these boxes of things being delivered was proof that many people understood. This is a huge change for him.
After the tsunami he was a typical Japanese and did not want to get involved. He didn't know quite what to do with me when I insisted on going to see if I could help the Search and Rescue Team from the U.S. that was stationed in Sumita, and then I heard that Samaritan's Purse set up in Sumita and we ended up helping there for 3 months. Add to that trips to the coast to take supplies, he has grown so much and now understands more than ever how important it is to help people.
I recently read on Facebook a quote about giving. It was something like the true meaning of giving is when the person you are helping has absolutely no way of returning the gift.
Good thing we balance each other out!!! I was just talking out of exhaustion, which is probably what is causing him to be grumpy on most of our trips to the coast! He works so hard, that he is exhausted and then I have him taking these trips to the coast on his very rare days off. Even today, as soon as we got back, he went off to work. At the beginning they were on very dangerous roads, now not so much, but even then he was willing to go. I drive, but he would not allow me to drive on those dangerous roads. Nice that he is my protector!!!
We were an accident Jan 3, 2013, a 4-ton truck slipped on ice as it was trying to stop, we were all in the car, but I was the only one that was hurt. Whiplash and something with my shoulder. Our car has been in the shop for 2 months and we only got it back recently. We were not able to fit our whole family in the loaner car that they provided, and so this was the first change we have had to make a trip since December.
I talked to the children before we left and told them that I really needed their help. Usually I carry all the boxes and bags myself to each home. We have to drive between each home, for the tsunami made a path and many are now we need to go back and forth across the path that the tsunami made to get to each home. There is very uneven ground to walk on getting to each home and is a little dangerous walking, which is why on all previous trips, I carried all the boxes and bags myself rather than letting the children.
I fell and hurt my shoulder at the end of December and then Jan 3rd we were hit by a 4 ton truck that slipped on the ice, and I got whiplash. I have been in a lot of pain since then, and am not able to carry heavy things or use my right arm very much. The children really stepped up and carried a lot. I still ended up doing more than I should have, but it was huge that my husband allowed them to carry things this time. He thinks that it is dangerous for them to do it, and it is...but mommy needed help today!
One extended family has 3 kids, and the grandmother was in tears today when we delivered a huge bag of clothing for them, as well as toys. I think that life is pretty bare at the moment and though they are able to get the basic, extra things just aren't able to be purchased.
Another older couple, lives in their home, but as you open the front door, you can still see the waterline inside near the ceiling where the tsunami waters were, and their closet doors made of paper are peeling and have not been replaced. No curtains and just the basics for the couple. It was very cold in their home, and I am so glad we were able to bring them some warm jackets and clothing, as well as blankets and towels. Most times we have visited, she came over to her neighbor's home, and got things from us, I had never seen in her home before December of 2012! I now know why!
I wondered as I was packing the things up, if they really needed some of the things that we took this time, but once again I was wrong. They were thrilled and just so touched that people still thought of them and cared enough to still send things. I know that many must wonder if this or that would be useful...but it seems as if all of you, and I often wonder the same thing. Often something comes and then it is just what someone has been wanting.
I never ask about family members for so many lost loved ones, and I have had to guess at times about how many people are living in the home. Many times by looking at the shoes in the entryway. I have done this for 2 years now, and I thought I knew about every single home.
Today I was surprised for one home, today there was a husband, who I have never seen before, who answered the door. I have given things for this woman and her daughter but since I had no idea her husband lived there too, I have never taken anything specifically for him!!!! I told him how sorry I was, and I quickly pulled out some miso and a towel for him and told him that it could be his personal miso!!! He laughed and said that he was shy and had never showed his face before!!!
There was sure a lot of laughter and smiles today. Every single one of the homes we visited were thrilled with the things we brought and asked us to thank the people who were so kind as to share with them!!! They think it is pretty amazing that people still remember since it has been 2 years since the tsunami!!! Thank-you all for sharing things and taking the time and energy to send things to us so we can share it with them. It was just amazing how it blessed them!
I am so glad that we were able to be a part of this today. Your generous help has allowed us to bless these people. I know that it is not seem like a huge thing to do, but to many of these people it is really big!!! It means a lot to them.
Blessings to you
Joni Owada and family