One of the great things about returning to volunteer in Miyako was that I got to visit a couple of places I had helped at in October. On Wednesday, November 30, we went to a temporary housing facility in Taro, which is a more rural part of the city. As people gathered at the housing facility, all I had to say was “Do you remember the takoyaki?” (Takoyaki are small dumplings with bits of octopus and other things mixed in) People immediately remembered the time when another volunteer group I was with prepared this and a noodle dish for the residents. It seemed to mean a lot to them that I had remembered them and had come back for another visit.
Once again I played my banjo. This time people were eating a simple lunch as I played, and at times it seemed like they weren’t really listening. But afterward one woman spoke of how music really speaks to her heart, and how little music is available in the temporary housing facility.
We were joined by David and Naomi Robbins, missionaries with another organization who work in Nagano prefecture. They came with boxes full of winter clothing, jackets, and scarfs and hats knit by a woman in their church. The residents were very excited to have the chance to look for things they could wear as winter approached.
David and Naomi also brought supplies for making Christmas wreaths. As Naomi taught the residents how to do this, and David provided assistance, we could see that everyone was excited to have something to brighten their living quarters. I would assume that most of them had lost not only their homes to the tsunami, but also pictures and decorations. Making their own wreaths and putting them up in their new (if temporary) homes seemed to bring a glimmer of joy.
Matt and I were available to help with distributing food and cleaning up afterward, as well as to provide whatever assistance David and Naomi needed with the wreath-making. Let me say a word about Matt. He came along with me to Miyako not knowing what help he could offer, but with a willingness to do whatever he was asked. Michio Nagata told me that he was just the kind of volunteer who was most welcome. Matt cheerfully responded when asked to do something, and tried to find other things to do without being asked. He only spoke a bit of Japanese, but I’m sure his good attitude communicated much to the other volunteers as well as the residents of the temporary housing facilities.
One other note. I saw one addition to the housing facilities, and that was that each apartment had its own “front porch”. Just a small enclosed area with a sliding door attached to the front door, this kind of porch will serve in the winter as a place to brush snow off coats and boots, and will be one more barrier against the cold. I didn’t see any of these on any of the temporary housing buildings in October, so a lot of time and effort had gone into building them. It was a reminder to me that a very long and cold winter is coming, and made me wonder how these residents will fare.