Boston-Japan Medical Relief Initiative was formed immediately following the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011 in order to coordinate Boston-area physicians, hospitals, medical research centers, and other concerned parties to help address the ensuing medical crisis in Japan.
It almost has been one and a half year from the tragedy, and we can see a lot of changes in Tohoku area. Residents and people who have been helping the area made a lot of progresses in order to rebuild the town. There are a lot of changes and progresses for the medical needs in the area. About after one year from 3.11, the needs for dispatched doctors and medical related people have been decreased. Because of this situation change, BJMRI ended dispatching doctors and medical related people to the disaster area and decided to move to next phrase.
Tohoku area still needs a lot of supports, and people in the area are working hard everyday to rebuild better hometown.
This summer, BJMRI is currently conducting a medical anthropology project at Minami-sanriku! We will update more about this project later.
We are also planning to join the other projects in Iwate area as well. We are not only targeting to support the victims directly but helping those people who have been helping rebuilt Tohoku.
We will update our activity and progress of our second phrase on this webpage.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Sanriku Project is to help facilitate the recovery and rebuilding process along the Sanriku coast through empowering local residents and building community resilience. (http://sanrikuproject.org/?p=5)
I am a pediatric nurse from Children's Hospital Boston. I joined the Japanese volunteer nursing organization called Cannus, and came to Ishinomaki for one week. Currently, the main focus for this organization is try to help the people transition from the schools/auditoriums/shelter areas to temporary homes.
As it has been discussed before, the mental health has been the main issue for the people in Ishinomaki. Buildings and hospitals have been restarted, so supplies are in a bundle, but people still have the fear of earthquakes. It seems as if people are even more afraid of earthquakes now compared to the time before March 11. There were already 2 small earthquakes while I was here the past 2 days. I don`t know how I can get rid of that fear from people.....
The other fear is for the elderly who are having a difficult time transitioning to the temporary homes. Many of these temporary homes were sometimes 2 hours away from their original place, making people move to a complete foreign city. All the shelter areas are completely shutting down on Oct 11, and some people are even refusing to move into their temporary homes. But of course, the city can`t place all the temporary homes near the water again....
More updates to come! I am going to a different area tomorrow, and hope to take more pictures as well. Thank you to BJMRI for helping me with this trip, and hope to update more about Ishinomaki.
Cannus`s website: nurse.jp
Hypertension and alcoholism
Two major mental health issues in Ishinomaki were elevated blood pressure and alcohol abuse. With Cannus nursing volunteer organization, we started going into the temporary homes and finding information about the residents in the homes and the environmental changes the residents are facing. We had several simple health clinics with the residents and were able to talk to the residents about their health issues. The most common problem within the elderly was elevated blood pressure. Blood pressure was easily average 150s systolic and 90s diastolic. There were many cases with systolic in 200s. Residents are mainly already taking ACE inhibitors and calcium channel blockers, but blood pressure remains to be high even with medication. My main question for this was how is the one of the healthiest country has blood pressures in 200s?
Alcoholism is one of the most growing health issue within the temporary homes. We had a presentation specifically about alcoholism and how we can help these residents. These residents are mainly 50s60s, and has been in the shelter for months and still not able to find a temporary homes. These residents are having violent behavior at times within the shelters, and causing other issues in the community. After they are transitioned to the temporary homes, there are problems of these people becoming isolated and none of the problems are solved. Cannus's main goal was to try to prevent the isolation in these temporary homes, and have the residents realize to their problems, and seek help on their own.
Attached are pictures from Ishinomaki. Even though it has been six months from the earthquake, buildings remain to be destructed as if the tsunami came through the city yesterday. I sometimes can't believe that this developed country like Japan is taking forever to rebuild the city....
Thank you very much for all the help from BJMRI and being able to share my experience to other health care workers in Boston. Hopefully this helped and influenced other health care workers to come back to Japan.
はじめまして — My name is Angela Lee, and I’m a sophomore at Harvard majoring in social anthropology, with a specific interest in mental health in Japan. This January I joined earthquake relief efforts in Ishinomaki as a member of BJMRI. In the following posts, I’ve chronicled my experiences, which on the whole were exciting and very rewarding. I hope to continue helping with all the wonderful work BJMRI does, and I look forward to returning to Japan this summer!
This is my first time in Japan (actually in Asia), and travelling alone was quite the adventure in and of itself. I arrived at our base in Ishinomaki last night and today is the first day of work in 2012. I first get the chance to survey the damage that remains 9 months after the earthquake and it is nothing short of striking. So much has been rebuilt since then – the station at which I arrived, Sendai station, although it had been severely damaged, hosts hundreds of travelers, dozens of shops and endless traffic. At the coastal community where I work it is likewise evident how remarkable people’s rebuilding efforts have been; here, much of the progress reflects the incredible work the organization with which I am volunteering, Samaritan’s Purse. Driving to our work site, we pass house after house stripped down to its foundation, ready for rebuilding. Today we finished another house, on which volunteers had begun work just in December.
The beautiful view from our main cabin at about 7 a.m., when we leave for the worksite.
As a member of the mud-out team, my responsibilities include removing furniture, breaking down walls and floors, scraping out mud from the tsunami, and bleaching the house down. It is as physically demanding as it sounds but the day passes by quickly; there is never a quiet moment. I am lucky to work with a weathered staff member, who as a native from Sendai is quite the asset to the team as he doubles as a translator and mud-out leader. Other volunteers and staff include those from the States like myself, although many have been here for months and some will stay until April, when the project is completed. Their dedication is unwavering, even in this 0 degree (and sometimes below) weather. Their compassion speaks to the hearts of relief workers, especially those around long after the media fanfare ends.
Walls, mud and the like we removed from a house.
As one volunteer put it, the houses may have been rebuilt but people’s hearts are still hurting. Yet the homeowners we work with are likewise incredibly considerate, in spite of the damage they have suffered. The staff member whom I shadow explained that in the beginning, Samaritan’s had a difficult time finding houses to rebuild as families often declined help, urging the volunteers to find those less fortunate than themselves. As someone who has grown up in the States, I found this fact incredibly striking and believe it speaks volumes of the small cultural differences I have picked up in only my few days here. Tomorrow we will begin work on another house, where as a team of four we will tear all we can down. I am excited to get out in the field and learn more about the people who had lived here (now evacuated to temporary housing) in the days to come.
We continue working on the new house. Unlike the previous house, in which we mainly focused on removing the mud from the tsunami (or “mudding out”), here we are starting from the beginning, which entails breaking down the walls, removing insulation, and the like. It is striking to see the amount of debris that got stuck behind the walls – there is a distinct line delineating the water levels, above eye level. There’s this and then the family portraits, clocks, and other items nailed high enough to have escaped damage, hinting at what life used to be.
The next house we are working on – luckily only the first floor was damaged.
The water line, at about eye-level.
For two consecutive days, the homeowners come to visit us. They are a sharply dressed and incredibly kind elderly couple. It is heartening to know that they have managed to move on; currently they live in temporary housing and have continued to work. I wish I knew more Japanese but from the little I can gather, they are profuse in expressing their gratitude and bring gifts of food during lunchtime. Back at the base, we talk about the different homeowners, all of whom likewise have seemed to move on. There are a fair of stories to suggest otherwise though. One volunteer mentioned a woman who heard about the tsunami having run back to the office and hearing the radio. Because the power had gone out, no one else in her town had heard the warning. Luckily she checked her next door neighbor’s house, however, and rescued their family but still she had to leave the rest of the neighborhood in time to save themselves, knowing which of them were still home. She did a wonderful thing saving her neighbors yet understandably, she is still distraught.
Another carpenter mentioned a woman who refused to come back to her house after it had been rebuilt. While her husband was at work at the time of the tsunami, she was at the house so naturally coming back triggers significant stress. Her husband spoke with the carpenter team saying that they would move back anyways but I wonder if she will ever feel comfortable coming home. From what I can tell it is unlikely that she has received any professional help. Now when I work I can’t help but think of her.
My goal for the day is to remove “every nail in the house.” Somehow by dark, I come pretty close – it’s unfortunately a job much more difficult than it sounds. A lot of nails have rusted, and there are probably hundreds throughout the house. My fellow mud-out team members rip down the rest of the walls of the house and begin tearing out the floorboards.
The starting point: floor completely intact
Halfway through: paneling and nails removed
End result: all that’s left to do is remove the tsunami mud from underneath
For lunch, the family of one of the homeowners, Abe-san, treats us to homemade udon, onigiri, and Japanese pastries. As he welcomes us into his house, he tells us about the neighborhood – his best friend from elementary school used to live across the street, the person next door is a university friend – the list goes on and on. It’s clear he knows just about everyone in a mile-radius, and such a strong sense of community is both new and amazing to me. His wife, incredibly gracious, watches over us as we eat, refilling our bowls and collecting used utensils and wrappers. Having the family join us is incredibly heartwarming – sometimes it feels like we are merely working on a construction job as we get so caught up in the practical details but having that connection provides the context that makes this work meaningful.
Another day, for lunch, the homeowner of the first house we worked on, Ashikaga-san, invites the women of the mud-out team – a translator, Yuko, and me – to a room upstairs for lunch. She begins by saying that the earthquake was worse than World War II. At the time of the disaster, she was with her family exactly where we were at the moment, watching as the waves came in. Luckily, everyone made it safely; however, the months that followed proved to be nothing short of taxing. She and her husband, who suffers from a long-term terminal illness, moved from place to place until over the summer, when they found the temporary housing they live at now. Her husband had to be taken to the hospital to undergo four surgeries in the first month following the earthquake, including one on his liver – entirely coincidental she says – although the stress from the disaster made it difficult for him to keep any food down during that time.
While she used to work in rice fields, they were all destroyed by the salt of ocean water so now she spends her time taking care of her husband, growing her own vegetable garden (by which we pass daily), making dolls and meeting with her friends in the community.
A small selection of her handmade dolls
It’s her connections with others, she says, that keeps her afloat. When I asked about the role of psychiatry and stress in the aftermath, she says that while there were doctors available that did intake at the temporary housing facilities, they weren’t needed. Together, she says, the victims have moved on, as “if you’re depressed, you can’t do anything.”
One interesting story she offers related to this is about a feature written about her and her life post-earthquake in the Asahi newspaper. After the article was published, letters and gifts poured in from throughout the country, and she started to correspond regularly with some of them. Although the piece was published a few months ago, she still talks to one woman over the phone every week (but she hasn’t ever met this woman in person; in fact when she asked for a photo the woman on the other end declined). Ashikaga-san says that in this sense she’s grateful for the disaster, for giving her the chance to meet other people like the woman on the other end.
Later a member of the mud-out team tells me that inviting someone to your house, especially somewhere private like an upstairs bedroom is quite meaningful in Japanese culture. It is very flattering and just wonderful knowing that we can be helpful in more ways than one.
The morning begins with a car crash. It is snowing heavily and as we drive onto the main road, the truck suddenly swerves and we end up about a foot above a lake. It is one of those created by the tsunami, still filled with crashed cars and most likely decomposing bodies. As the truck was spiraling out of control, the only thing I could think of was how difficult it would be to escape the truck once in the ice-covered lake, if it would be possible at all. We are so beyond lucky that the truck stopped where it did.
The truck, barely above the lake.
It takes a couple hours before it can be towed. We are lucky that a number of team-members came out with us – they immediately call a towing company and pull in another vehicle from the base. We are also lucky that neither of us is injured. In the snow, and in the rural area that we are in, it could be quite some time before we are able to make it to the hospital or a hospital team is able tor each us. For the rest of the afternoon I am in a bit of shock: it is my first car accident and for a moment I was so sure that we would get hurt, if not die. I realize the extent to which I cannot even begin to imagine the horror of having been in an earthquake, when waves are rushing forward, high above your head…I am terrified on the way back, with the ice refrozen, that something will happen (thank God nothing does) but I am also a bit grateful to have had that experience. If anything, I know that it has afforded me more empathy and it made me realize that regardless of how collective of an experience the earthquake was, still the suffering must have been very individual. The ubiquity of pain has little correlation with its intensity.
On the way to lunch we pass a dead body. It is my last day on the job yet it is the first time I have seen a body – I don’t think it has anything to do with the earthquake but it’s only a few houses down from where we are working. The person is knelt before a bench, head down on the seat, and covered in snow. Regardless of the person’s circumstance, it registers that even though so much has been done to recover by sheer manpower, volition and spirit, much remains. I know that the staff and volunteers with whom I am working are projected to stay until the end of April but that project deadline has been pushed back a number of times. They are already hundreds of houses in but there are moments like these when it seems as if the victims have been largely forgotten.
Originally I was interested in going to Japan this winter to study mental health. However, not only was volunteering an extremely rewarding experience but also I felt like it allowed me to become much more intimate with a single community. By the end of my time there, I easily recognize families, as they recognize me and the rest of the team. And as one staffer put it, you can see the difference in their faces from when we first arrive to when we leave – the sense of renewed hope and happiness is almost tangible. For even this alone, I am proud to have been a part of the relief effort.
Dr. Tsugawa was one of panelists for Japan Forum Panel “Recovery and Reconstruction in Japan: Harvard Reports from the Field” which was organized by Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies at Harvard University on September, 16th.
Here is the article about the forum on Harvard Gazette;
2011.9.16: Report, Slide Show for Japan Forum Panel "Recovery and Reconstruction in Japan: Harvard Reports from the Field""
Boston-Japan Medical Relief Initiative (BJMRI) and Consulate-General of Japan in Boston planned a report session at Consul General’s Residence on Monday, July 11.
The sessions started with Mr. Hikihara’s greetings. Five doctors from BJMRI gave a report of what they have done for medical relief activities in Japan. Also, D. Russell S. Phillips, our advisory board, came to the session and gave us a speech.
It was great reporting session. We sincerely appreciate Mr. Hikihara (consul general) and Mr. Hirai (consul) for this opportunity.
BJMRI will still continue to support Japan for reconstruction.
Dr. Hashimoto, a founder of BJMRI, introduced general activities of BJMRI and gave a history of how BJMRI was founded.
Dr. Izumo talked about his first visit in Soma city in Fukushima in April and also talked about his recent trip to Fukushima prefecture. The purposes of his second trip were to follow up on residents of Minami-Soma City and to measure radioactivity in Fukushima prefecture.
Dr. Choe, a paediatrician, reported about her medical relief activity with Japan Heart Team. She was dispatched Watanoha districts of Ishinomaki City. She also gave us a story of what she did for her family who lived in Koriyama city in Fukushima.
Dr. Hosokawa, a psychiatrist, gave a report of his a month long medical relief activities in Ishinomaki city and Higashi Matsushima city in Miyagi prefecture. He told audience “ What we can do and what we should not do” for the affected area and the victims.
Dr. Tusgawa who just returned from his activity at Department of Public Health, Tohoku University. He conducted a health check-up for afflicted individuals at Ogachi city and Ishinomaki cityt in Miyagi Prefecture with his team and a cohort study of afflicted people, supported by Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.
Below is a report from a doctor who visited and provided medical consultation at Shelters in Ishinomaki city area.
Report is written in Japanese.
＊ 支援地区：宮城県石巻市 石巻地区（石巻港湾病院）、雄勝地区（明神避難所）、桃生地区（桃生小学校）、河南地区（遊楽館）、牡鹿半島桃浦地区（荻浜小学校）（月浦避難所）、福島県山元町（坂元中学校）http://shelter-info.appspot.com/maps