Since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in northeast Japan, I have raised £170,000 and managed over thirty projects to support the remote fishing communities on the Oshika Peninsula. I return to Oshika every year, usually staying for a month, living and working alongside the fishermen, women, and children. I have been embraced by these communities, and the people there talk openly to me about their needs and worries. I am not really considered a “volunteer,” and am often touched to be referred to as a friend or family member. I simply listen to the people there, and encourage them to tell me what THEY think they need to rebuild their lives. Then I try to make that happen.
I draw upon a huge network of people around the world, who are all keen to support Tohoku in its recovery. This network includes individuals, schools, businesses, and community groups. There are a wide range of projects that have been supported, costing as little as ¥10,000 and up to ¥3 million. Donations do not go into a generic fund, but instead are donated with a specific project in mind. Money goes directly to the community benefiting from the project, or to a manufacturer or carpenter for example. Every donation has a specific purpose, and where at all possible, any items that need to be sourced are purchased locally.
This money has paid for school uniforms for incoming students from 2013–2021, shrine restorations, workwear for the fishing industry, the construction of a community library, a bus shelter, a farmers’ market, a shared kitchen space, three playgrounds, small business development, fishing equipment, festival items, gardening support, cherry blossom trees, bedding, home furnishings, musical instruments for the junior high school, educational software, AED units, and a trip to Disneyland with homestay for 19 children and their families. And not one penny (or yen!) has been spent on expenses, administration costs, or anybody’s salary. I do this on an entirely voluntary basis, and pay for all my own expenses, including my flights to and from the UK.
I documented my experiences of the last decade helping the fishing communities of Oshika, in my book, One Month in Tohoku: An English woman's memoir on life after the Japanese tsunami, released to mark the ten-year anniversary on March 11th, 2021.
I'm now working on plans for how to best support the region (still recovering) for the next decade. If you'd like to be kept informed, are interested in the book, or in volunteering in general — maybe you're interested in visiting Japan one day — please sign up to my Tohoku mailing list here.