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Activity Reports

Staff Interview Takeda Nobuhiro and support for Fukushima

March 4, 2012

After going to Ishinomaki as a member of Peace Boat’s advance team in March 2011, then working as a volunteer coordinator in Tokyo, Takeda Nobuhiro is now working to coordinate support for Fukushima. He himself is also from Fukushima – from Koriyama City, also deeply affected by the 3.11 disaster.

Takeda Nobuhiro (24), from Koriyama City in Fukushima Prefecture. His nickname is “Goro-chan”
Q: You went to Ishinomaki as an advance member to prepare for receiving volunteers with Peace Boat on March 21, 2011, just tend ays after the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. Could you tell us how that started?

Takeda: Sure. I had been attending university in Koriyama, but left and was working in Tokyo. I joined Peace Boat’s 70th Global Voyage in 2010. Afterwards I returned to my parents’ home, which is where I was when the earthquake hit. Koriyama was struck badly, and water and electricity had stopped. But I was unhurt so I decided to help around the place, for example by going to the Kaisei-Yamano Baseball Stadium where the emergency relief volunteer centre was situated.

Because there were so many people gathered there was a lot of confusion, and I couldn’t help with anything particular. However I remember I was moved that there were so many people willing to help in my hometown. Later I offered some help to my high school teacher but he replied that “It’s all right here. You do what you can do.” After that I was wondering what I could do…

Later that evening, I got a call from a staff member who I had gotten to know at Peace Boat. He said, “We will start offering support in Miyagi Prefecture. We’d like to ask ifyou would go there tomorrow as a member of a preparatory party to accept volunteers.” I had heard a lot about the accident at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, but there was little I could do there. Although it was so sudden, I wanted to be able to do something and so accepted the offer. The problem was how to get to Tokyo. I told my parents that I would even ride a bicycle there but they naturally opposed. Just by chance, I heard there was a bus for Tokyo that night so I packed everything in a hurry and jumped on the bus. I arrived in Tokyo in the morning and was off to Ishinomaki that night after making arrangements. The Assistant Director Ichijo Kenji, who is still working hard in Ishinomaki now, was also with me.

Ishinomaki in the wake of the earthquake.

Q: I remember seeing you off that day. At that stage it wasn’t certain what kind of activities we could do; we just packed some cooking equipment and materials in the car and the members had the task of working out what kind of activities volunteers could undertake after arriving on March 26. It seems so rough thinking of it now, but the six members of the advance team were able to do so.

Takeda: The fact that we could get out of Tokyo was miraculous enough at the time, so I don’t think we even cared about that. After arriving in Ishinomaki, we prepared and served emergency food on the streets, set up tents for a headquarters, and investigated the extent of damage and  accessible roads.

It was extremely cold in Ishinomaki after the earthquake. Volunteers setting up tents at Ishinomaki Senshu University.

At that time, the reality faced in Ishinomaki was very terrible. Yet at the same time I was worrying about the situation at home in Fukushima, especially places along the coastline such as Minamisoma which were damaged both by the earthquake and the nuclear accident. As I was serving meals in Ishinomaki, I as always thinking what people in Fukushima would be doing, as they were told not to leave their houses because of the radiation.

Q: After going back to Tokyo, you worked to coordinate the orientations for volunteers going to Ishinomaki or helping at the Tokyo Volunteer Centre. Considering that sometimes there were more than a hundred people at orientation, this was a huge task. Yet at the same time, you were also returning often to Fukushima and considering how to provide support to people there also.

Takeda: That’s right. To be honest, even though I grew up in Fukushima I had never paid much attention to the nuclear power plants. I didn’t dare think of the danger of radiation until the accident occurred, and I felt very irritated about the fact that volunteers could not go to Fukushima easily. What I could do in Miyagi did not apply to Fukushima. I deeply regret this.

From left: Mayor of Minamisoma Sakurai Katsunobu with Peace Boat’s Kawasaki Akira and Takeda Nobuhiro.

Q: The Fukushima Youth Project held by Peace Boat last summer offered junior high school students from Minamisoma the chance to travel around Asia. This project was formed in the course of the talks between you and local groups there – how did this come about?

Takeda: When I visited Fukushima, I came to hear a lot of worries. I was hearing from those living outside the evacuation area. Like my parents, they were told “it’s up to you whether to evacuate or not,” but they didn’t have enough knowledge and didn’t know where to go. In those circumstances, mothers who had been sending their children outside to school were blaming themselves and crying. I got angry at myself for not having known anything about this and for having been indifferent to the nuclear plants.

In Minamisoma, we proposed several projects. The one we had been most uncertain about was the “Fukushima Youth Project,” as we thought people might not feel they were ready to organise such trips in summer vacation. Although there was not a strong response to other proposals, the local citizens greatly encouraged us to realise the youth project. I will never be able to forget their happy faces. It was a great surprise to me.

Junior high school students during the summer 2011 “Fukushima Youth Project”

The “Minamisoma Children’s Wings Project” coordinated a total of 17 temporary evacuation projects for children in Fukushima. These provide not only a safe environment and respite for the children, but also support for parents living under stress and with anxiety everyday . Furthermore, as Peace Boat’s project was to bring the children abroad, it meant not only temporary evacuation for children from radiation-affected areas, but also the positive experience of experiencing international exchange. 30 positions were made available to join Peace Boat’s ship; there were 49 applicants and Peace Boat accepted all of them.

Takahashi Mikako of “Tsunagaro Minamisoma” (connect Minamisoma), a key supporter of the Fukushima Youth Project.

Q: Peace Boat plans to organize the Fukushima Youth Project again in 2012. Of course, there were many difficulties – as any teacher who has taken children on a school excursion would understand! While that project stands out amongst Peace Boat’s various relief activities, could you share some of the other plans Peace Boat has to support Fukushima?

Takeda: Last December, the Fukushima Conference was held at Fukushima University. I participated in discussions at the Youth Conference, which was organised mostly by students from there. At the time, however, I was shocked to see that there weren’t many people from outside of Fukushima Prefecture there.

I may not have the right to say that because I would not have been interested in this kind of  topic if there had been no disaster. However, radiation will most affect us, the young generation, in the future. This is why I am thinking about how to get people from our generation in other prefectures interested in this problem.

The answer I came up with was this; “Not only wait for those who participated in that meeting or who are from Fukushima like me, but go to other places by myself and deliver the real voices”.
I believe that the newspaper or television is not enough to tell the whole story. There are things that can only be told by those who have experienced this particular uneasiness and fear.

Takeda Nobuhiro, introducing the activities of Peace Boat and talking about Fukushima in Yokohama on January 15, 2012.

Q: At the Global Conference For A Nuclear Power Free World, which was held in Yokohama in January, you organised events and talked about your experiences and activities together with “Tsunagaro Minamisoma” and “NPO Frontier Minamisoma”?

Takeda: At the conference, there was a programme held over the two days called the “Fukushima Room.” It was a place where many participants from Fukushima, people who have evacuated and moved to the Kanto area, and those who want to support could meet and talk as much as they wanted. For many in Fukushima who have kept losing since the earthquake, it was a very precious place and they were able to obtain now company, information, security. We had been preparing for this conference without much sleep but I am very satisfied that I did it.
It is impossible to prevent natural disasters, however we can prevent man-made disasters. I never want to experience something so painful again, nor do I want to ever see someone else suffer. I know it’s not so simple but I want to keep doing what I can do.

Participants in the Fukushima Youth Project with new friends in Viet Nam.