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Survivors face long wait to go home


Japan tsunami survivors face long wait to go home

RIKUZENTAKATA, Japan – Yukiko Yamaguchi wants to go home.

But like more than 400,000 others staying in shelters since a powerful tsunami plowed through their homes 10 days ago, the 73-year-old has no idea when she’ll be able to. Rebuilding Japan’s northeast coast is expected to take years, and the monumental effort is not even close to beginning.

Instead, another phase is slowly getting off the ground: the construction of prefabricated homes as temporary housing for the displaced.

“We’re anxious to leave here,” Yamaguchi said, sitting with her husband on a woven mat in a middle-school gym that has been their home since the town of Rikuzentakata was flattened by the raging torrent of water on March 11.

On Monday, construction workers outside the school screwed in the corrugated aluminum rooftop of one of the first temporary homes to spring up: a metal-sided box raised on wooden stilts above a muddy soccer field.

The house is one of 135 that will be built at the school by the Iwate provincial government, and one of thousands that will go up in the coming months outside other shelters scattered across Rikuzentakata’s hilly outskirts. Residents will likely stay in them for a couple of years until more permanent homes are ready.

“It’s simple and easy to feed people,” Yamaguchi said, referring to the meals prepared daily at her shelter, where laundry hangs in classrooms. “But the question everybody is asking is, when can we go home? We want to know how they plan to rebuild this town.”

So far, there are no answers.

The epic task of removing the debris must be completed first, and firefighters and soldiers are still removing bodies from the rubble. In Rikuzentakata, bulldozers began demolishing a few uninhabitable homes Monday. The steel claw of one earth-moving machine ripped off a green rooftop and dropped it in a mountain of twisted beams.

Elsewhere in the rubble, one woman stood, mouth agape, over a rectangular sheet of white metal that had been crushed to half its original size. “This is the front door of our house,” she said in disbelief. Only a square concrete foundation remained.

The rest was carried away by the tsunami as it pushed more than three miles (five kilometers) up a river. When the wave receded, it left a mud-covered plain of wrecked cars and nail-studded wooden planks, mixed in with what once made up lives here: smashed pianos, soiled picture albums, torn shoes.

As authorities collate the casualties, the toll steadily rises. Japanese authorities say more than 8,600 people are confirmed dead and 13,200 are missing.

“It’s all so hard to believe,” said Tsutomu Nakai, 61, a former secretary general of Rikuzentakata’s chamber of commerce who runs the shelter where Yamaguchi is staying — a hilltop junior high-school housing nearly 1,000 people.

Nakai, too, wonders when he’ll be able to go home. The hardest thing, he said, is the sudden dependence on charity. He has no identification, no credit cards, no money. He wonders what difference it would make anyway — even the banks were swept away. The charcoal-gray sweater he is wearing was given to him by a friend.

“I have trouble sleeping,” he said. “I want to believe this isn’t real, but it is.”

He said he would rebuild, though he was unsure how. “I was born here. I will spend the rest of my life trying to rebuild this place,” he said.

Some say it’s too dangerous to live next to the water.

“I can never see myself living here again,” 75-year-old Minoru Sato said in Onagawa, a harbor town to the south, as he picked through remnants of his shattered apartment. He found a photo of himself on a ski trip and stuffed it into a plastic bag.

Kadzuhiko Kimuri, another Onagawa resident, said some towns would never be the same. “I don’t see how they can ever rebuild it. I think most people will never come back — especially not the young generation,” he said. “There weren’t many jobs here for them, and now there are none.”



Please fill out the following form if you have been displaced from your home because of the recent events in Japan. Our hearts are with you. This is a new initiative and it may take some time before we are able to match you with a host, but we will do our best.

We also understand that you may be filling this out for someone else, as such, we have accommodated the form so we can coordinate with you as the person main point of contact.

[wufoo-form id=”m7x3w7″ type=”simple”]

Opening hearts. Opening homes.

Opening hearts. Opening homes.

The mission of the Aloha Initiative is to provide citizens of Japan who have been displaced by the recent earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis with a warm and welcome home and we need your help.

It is estimated that over 450,000 people have already been displaced from their homes in Japan. Some have lost their homes. Some have lost their entire families. As the nuclear crisis continues to get worse and there is every expectation that the direct and economic effects from these tragedies will be felt for years to come. While we hope that all of the displaced are able to find placement in Japan with the help of the Japanese government and local support groups, they may need some additional help.

“Aloha” means affection, love, peace, compassion and mercy, the feelings and emotions we want to convey to the people of Japan. Our goal is to assemble a community of people who are willing to open their hearts and the homes to some of the displaced in case they need our support.

We would like to thank Mayor Alan Arakawa of Maui County, HI for his support and leadership with this effort and for encouraging other Mayors from all over the country to get their local communities involved.

Thank you for your support.


The Founding Families


アロハ イニシアチブの使命は、 最近の地震、津波、核危機により住むところを失った日本市民に暖かく歓迎する家庭を提供することです。そこであなたの助けが必要です。

日本ではこれまで45万人以上の人々が住む場所を失ったと推定されています。その中には家を失った人、また家族全員と死に別れた人もいます 。核危機が悪化し続けるなか、今後長期間にわたってこれらの惨事は人々および経済に影響を及ぼすと見られています。 日本政府と地元の支援団体の援助により、住むところを失った人々が日本国内で住む場所を見つけることができるのを願っていますが、さらなる援助が必要かもしれません。

“アロハ”は愛情、愛、平和、思いやりと慈悲を意味し、 日本の人々に伝えたい気持ちと感情です。私たちの目標は、家を失った日本の人々がサポートを必要とする場合に、心を開き家くという家庭のコミュニティーを結集することです。

アロハ イニシアチブへのサポートと指導、また米国内における市長に地方自治体支援参加の呼びかけを促すなど、積極的な支援をされているアラン アラカワ市長、ならびにハワイ州マウイ郡への感謝の意を表します。



Keith Powers
キース パワーズ
Michiko “Lynn” Ishida-Powers
倫子 リン パワーズ
Keith Regan
キース レーガン
Lynn Araki-Regan
リン アラキ・レーガン

Sympathy for Japan, and Admiration


MARCH 11, 2011, 10:33 AM
Sympathy for Japan, and Admiration
By NICHOLAS KRISTOF (follow this author on Facebook)

Our hearts are all with the Japanese today, after the terrible earthquake there – the worst ever recorded in Japan. But, having covered the 1995 Kobe earthquake (which killed more than 6,000 people and left 300,000 homeless) when I lived in Japan as Tokyo bureau chief for The New York Times, I have to add: Watch Japan in the coming days and weeks, and I bet we can also learn some lessons.

It’s not that Japan’s government handles earthquakes particularly well. The government utterly mismanaged the rescue efforts after the 1995 quake, and its regulatory apparatus disgraced itself by impounding Tylenol and search dogs sent by other countries. In those first few frantic days, when people were still alive under the rubble, some died unnecessarily because of the government’s incompetence.

But the Japanese people themselves were truly noble in their perseverance and stoicism and orderliness. There’s a common Japanese word, “gaman,” that doesn’t really have an English equivalent, but is something like “toughing it out.” And that’s what the people of Kobe did, with a courage, unity and common purpose that left me awed.

Japan’s orderliness and civility often impressed me during my years living in Japan, but never more so than after the Kobe quake. Pretty much the entire port of Kobe was destroyed, with shop windows broken all across the city. I looked all over for a case of looting, or violent jostling over rescue supplies. Finally, I was delighted to find a store owner who told me that he’d been robbed by two men. Somewhat melodramatically, I asked him something like: And were you surprised that fellow Japanese would take advantage of a natural disaster and turn to crime? He looked surprised and responded, as I recall: Who said anything about Japanese. They were foreigners.

Japan has an underclass, the burakumin, and also treats ethnic Koreans with disdain. But compared to other countries, Japan has little extreme poverty and a greater sense of common purpose. The middle class is unusually broad, and corporate tycoons traditionally were embarrassed to be seen as being paid too much. That sense of common purpose is part of the country’s social fabric, and it is especially visible after a natural disaster or crisis.

I don’t want to overdo that. Japan’s civility masks problems with bullying from schools to the work place, gangs like the yakuza rake in profits from illegal activity, and politicians and construction tycoons exchanging favors so as to loot the taxpayer. But it was striking in the aftermath of the Kobe earthquake to see even the yakuza set up counters to give away supplies to earthquake survivors. And Japan’s social fabric never tore. Barely even creased.

This stoicism is built into the Japanese language. People always say “shikata ga nai” – it can’t be helped. And one of the most common things to say to someone else is “ganbatte kudasai” – tough it out, be strong. Natural disasters are seen as part of Japan’s “unmei,” or fate – a term that is written by combining the characters for movement and life. I remember reading an ancient account, I believe from 16th century Jesuit visitors, of an earthquake devastating a village, and then within hours the peasants began rebuilding their homes.

Uncomplaining, collective resilience is steeped into the Japanese soul. We sent our eldest son to Japanese school briefly, and I’ll never forget seeing all the little kids having to go to school in shorts even in the dead of winter. The idea was that it built character. I thought it just gave kids colds. But it was one more effort to instill “gaman.” And it’s “gaman” that helped Japan recovered from World War II and tolerated the “lost decade” after the bubble economy burst in about 1990. Indeed, it might be better if Japanese complained a bit more – perhaps then their politicians would be more responsive.

One factor may also have to do with our relationship with nature. Americans see themselves as in confrontation with nature, taming it. In contrast, the Japanese conception is that humans are simply one part of nature, riding its tides — including many, many earthquakes throughout history. The Kanto earthquake of 1923 killed more than 100,000 people. The Japanese word for nature, shizen, is a modern one, dating back only a bit more than 100 years, because traditionally there was no need to express the concept. In an essay in the Times after the Kobe quake, I made some of these same points and ended with a 17th century haiku from one of Japan’s greatest poets, Basho:

The vicissitudes of life.
Sad, to become finally
A bamboo shoot.

I find something noble and courageous in Japan’s resilience and perseverance, and it will be on display in the coming days. This will also be a time when the tight knit of Japan’s social fabric, its toughness and resilience, shine through. And my hunch is that the Japanese will, by and large, work together — something of a contrast to the polarization and bickering and dog-eat-dog model of politics now on display from Wisconsin to Washington. So maybe we can learn just a little bit from Japan. In short, our hearts go out to Japan, and we extend our deepest sympathy for the tragic quake. But also, our deepest admiration.


Mayor Arakawa

My wife, Ann, and I are deeply saddened by the recent tragedies that have fallen upon the people of Japan. We wish to express our deepest condolences to all the victims of the devastating earthquake and tsunami.

Over the next few weeks and months, many different organizations will be putting together important relief programs that will help deliver much needed funding to the rebuilding efforts in Japan. It is important that we, as a community, provide whatever support we may be able to afford to help these desperate people.

While monetary support is critical, we must also consider the importance of mental support for the survivors. For that reason, my family and I are helping to support this new initiative that will help spread the true spirit of Aloha to the survivors in Japan.

The Aloha Initiative is a program focused on offering respite through an organized homestay program where survivors will be matched with willing host families for predetermined periods of time. Our goal is to provide survivors with an opportunity to get away and recharge themselves both physically and mentally.

In light of thousands of people having lost their homes and some even having lost their entire families, we are reaching out to people who are willing to open their hearts and their homes. We are certain that, if the situation were reversed and we were experiencing such tragedy, the people of Japan would reach out in a similar way to help our community.

I urge you to take a moment to learn more about this powerful program that will help us spread the spirit of Aloha. I also humbly ask that you consider becoming a part of the Aloha Initiative by volunteering and showing your Aloha to our friends in Japan that have suffered so much. Please show your support by signing up at


Alan M. Arakawa
Maui County, HI

Mayor Alan M. Arakawa, Mayor of the County of Maui from 2002 to 2006 and 2011 to present. He was born in Wailuku, Hawaii in 1951, graduated from Maui High School and attended the University of Hawai’i at Manoa as a business major. He entered civil service in 1984 as a wastewater plant worker for Maui County and became a supervisor in the wastewater division of the Department of Public Works. He was both a United Public Workers Chief Steward and a Hawai’i Government Employees Association Union Representative.


In 1994, Arakawa decided to make his first run for public office and, after a lot of hard work and effort, succeeded in being elected to the Maui County Council. He was re-elected in 1996 and 2000. During his time on the Council he served as Chair of the Planning, Parks and Land Use committees. He also spearheaded the movement to create nonpartisan elections for Maui County government seats. In November 2002, he decided to run for Mayor of Maui County and was elected in a nonpartisan race to become Maui County Mayor.

Mayor Arakawa is married to wife Ann, an Assistant Professor of Mathematics at University of Hawai’i – Maui College and they are the parents of two grown daughters, Jan and Jodi.

In addition to establishing the Mayor Arakawa Community Kokua Fund in 2002, the mission of which is to provide financial assistance to groups and individuals in need, his community service involvement includes Hui Malama Learning Center, Maui Okinawa Kenjin Kai, Kiwanis International, and the Japanese Cultural Society of Maui.

Corporate Partners

We are in the process of reaching out to several key corporate partners to assist with this initiative. We are primarily looking for commitments of in-kind support for the families. Your support can be directed to placements in your local area, your state or nationally. Transportation, food and clothing are the primary needs – but many people will arrive with no personal belongings. If you are interested in getting your company involved, please email us at

Mahalo! to all our Partners:

Hawaiian Airlines Japan Airlines
Mana Foods Hawaiian Airlines Japan Airlines
Relativity Media
First Hawaiian Bank
Japan Cultural Society of Maui First Hawaiian Bank


And… a big shout out to