dogear

Japan beyond 3.11 Stories of Recovery

GREAT EAST JAPAN EARTHQUATE PROJECT NHK WORLD
Foreign Evacuees in Japan

This page is adapted from the original transcript of NHK’s TOMORROW, broadcast on December 15, 2014

Tomorrow Logo
Jason

November 2014. A unique evacuation drill is being held in Sendai. It is designed specifically for the city’s non-Japanese residents.

Earthquake simulator

Using earthquake simulation equipment, they can experience shakes resembling real earthquakes.

Jason

Jason Hancock visits Sendai to report on the training.

Foreign participants

“Hi. Where are you guys from?”
(Jason)

“Brazil.”
(Brazilian participant)

“Korea.”
(Korean participant)

“I feel very very impressive that how can that be real. I think those very good to know how strong it can be.”
(Brazilian participant)

Emergency drill

The purpose of this drill is to help the non-Japanese community understand earthquakes, particularly for those who have never experienced one.

Emergency drill

The city has been focusing on this activity since the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Evacuation centers

Immediately after the quake, some conflicts emerged between Japanese and non-Japanese evacuees.

Evacuation center

They occurred at this evacuation center in a Sendai suburb, where around half of the evacuees were foreigners.

Japanese evacuee

“The foreign evacuees would go without putting their blankets and other things away. They left half-eaten food scattered around. We couldn’t believe it.”
(Kuniharu Nikaido: Local Japanese resident)

Gulzar Asanova: Kyrgyzstan

“They said to me, ‘What can a foreigner like you do to help us?’ It was very disappointing.”
(Gulzar Asanova: Kyrgyzstan)

The problems between the Japanese and the non-Japanese groups included differences in customs and language.

Jason

“Looking back on my own experience, if something like this had happened if I had only been in Japan for few weeks or a few months, it would have been very,very scary. I wouldn’t know who to talk to. I wouldn’t know where to go. So I’m very curious to find out how those in that situation made it through and what they did.”
(Jason)

Indian participant

“Please help me!”
(Indian woman: Evacuation drill participant)

So how was the international tension eased? Let's see the efforts that were made.

Foreign Evacuees in Japan
Sendai, Miyagi

Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture, the biggest city in the Tohoku region. This is the residential district of Sanjo-machi in Aoba Ward.

Foreign residents

Many foreigners live in this district. They come from various countries and speak many different languages.

Jason interviews foreigners

“Hi. Do you guys have a minute? So I heard there is a big non-Japanese population around here. Why is that?”
(Jason)

“It’s Tohoku University student’s house. I guess this is the only reason around here.”
(Brazilian student)

“For foreign students, non-Japanese students? How long have you guys been for?”
(Jason)

“Three days.”
(Students)

“Three days, you’re brand new! Welcome to Japan!”
(Jason)

Jason interviews an Indian lady

“Do you have a minute, can I talk to you for a minute?”
(Jason)

“Ok.”
(Indian woman)

“Are you a student? How long have you been here for?”
(Jason)

“Actually just for two months.”
(Indian woman)

“Since two months ago, okay. Do you like it in this area?”
(Jason)

“Yeah. Very cold but suitable ‘til now.”
(Indian woman)

“Good. Have you felt any earthquakes?”
(Jason)

“Yeah! But it’s not too strong.”
(Indian woman)

“Ok. If there were an earthquake, do you know where to go?”
(Jason)

“Actually I don’t know about that.”
(Indian woman)

Jason walks

This is normally a rather quiet place, but it became chaotic when the earthquake hit.

Sendai station on 3.11

The massive earthquake hit Sendai at 2:46 pm on March 11, 2011.

Sendai station on 3.11

Utilities such as water and electricity were cut off and a number of buildings collapsed.

In Sendai alone, around 100,000 residents were forced to evacuate.

Sanjo Junior High School

The Sanjo Junior High School was designated as the evacuation center for Sanjo-machi.

School gym

The maximum capacity, according to the city plan, was 960 residents. The evacuees were supposed to spend a few days in various school buildings including gym and martial arts hall.

Evacuees

Let’s see how some of the foreign residents found out about this center and got there.

Md. Aminul from Bangladesh

MD Aminul from Bangladesh

Mohammed Aminul from Bangladesh was taking a lesson at a school 4 kilometers away from Sanjo-machi. He did not speak Japanese very well at that time.

“I was on the 6th floor of this building. I thought I was going to die when the earthquake hit because the building was starting to collapse and it was just chaotic.”
(Md. Aminul: from Bangladesh)

Filmed by Aminul

Filmed by Aminul

Aminul was understandably shocked as it was his first ever experience of an earthquake. What was happening? Where could he go? He had no idea. He was very concerned about his roommate who was also from Bangladesh.

“When I couldn’t reach him by mobile phone, I got worried even more. What had happened to him? Was he still alive? I was really scared.”
(Md. Aminul)

Aminul

Aminul thought he should go back to the dormitory in Sanjo-machi, with the hope of finding his friend there.

Foreign Students Dormitary

This is the foreign students’ dormitory of the Tohoku University in Sanjo-machi. About 400 foreign students were living there at the time of the earthquake.

Gulzar Asanova from Kyrgyzstan

Gulzar Asanova from Kyrgyzstan

Gulzar Asanova from Kyrgystan was one of them.
She was about to go out with her husband when the earthquake hit. The two of them raced outside.

Gulzar Asanova from Kyrgyzstan

“To tell you the truth, I thought we were going to die. It was the biggest earthquake I'd ever experienced. My friends who were there with me got very panicky. Seeing them made me even more nervous.”
(Gulzar Asanova: from Kyrgyzstan)

Foreign Dorm

As the aftershocks continued, Asanova thought about evacuating to some place safe. Then she recalled an evacuation drill she had participated in six months before.

Sanjo JHS

The Sanjo Junior High was the designated evacuation center. It was only a few hundred meters from her dormitory.

Gulzar

“When we got here, there were lots of Japanese people milling around this school.There were some over there, some here. Just all really close to school. There were several middle-aged Japanese men, in their 50s I suppose, standing here and directing people to go inside the school building. That kind of confirmed to me that the Japanese are really very well-prepared for disasters and know what to do. So when I saw that I felt a bit relieved.”
(Gulzar Asanova)

Fang Yu from China

“During the aftershocks, I was squatting like this.”
(Fang Yu: from China)


Fang Yu from China is a student doing university research who also lived in the dormitory. He held tightly on to a tree.

Fang Yu

He remembered the destruction caused in China by the Sichuan Earthquake.

“I just stayed like that. I didn't know what to do.”
(Fang Yu)

Photo by Fang Yu

An hour later, it started to snow and he moved to the lobby of his dormitory.

“About half an hour later, the caretaker showed up in the lobby. He said that I shouldn’t stay there because the power had been cut off. He advised me to head to Sanjo Junior High School.”
(Fang Yu)

Aminul

Meanwhile, Aminul finally arrived at his apartment. And he was reunited with his roommate. His friend was crouching down in the parking lot in front of the apartment because he was scared by the aftershocks.

With his roommate

They felt totally lost, with no idea where they should go. Then they saw several Japanese all running in the same direction, so they followed them and arrived at the Sanjo Junior High School evacuation center.

Kuniharu Nikaido

The heads of each neighborhood association were in charge at the center. Kuniharu Nikaido was one of them.

Evacuation center

He was surprised to see so many foreigners when he arrived at the school.

Kuniharu Nikaido

“I didn't expect to see that many people, especially lots of non-Japanese there.”
(Kuniharu Nikaido: Head of neighborhood association)

Evacuees

Around half of the 1,000 evacuees were foreigners. Some had got there by obtaining information via Twitter, others had received the information in emails from friends.

Food shortages

There was food available there for 600 people. Nikaido was concerned that they would soon run out.

“Foreigners kept arriving all through the night. Some people were using their mobile phone to tell friends that food was available at the school. I think some people came here in order to get food. That’s what I heard from the Japanese evacuees. And some were even coming here from Higashi Sendai.”
(Kuniharu Nikaido)

“Is that far?”
(Director)

“Yes, it is.”
(Kuniharu Nikaido)

Name list

These messages were posted at the evacuation center. Many foreigners wrote their names to let their families or friends know that they were safe.

Name list

Looking closely, you find not only Asian names but also European, Middle Eastern and other names.

Around sunset, Fang finally reached the center and was reunited with his Chinese friends. He was greatly relieved. But he also felt anxiety, not knowing what the future would hold for him.

Fang Yu

“Due to the power blackout, it was dark inside and outside. I was so scared and the aftershocks were making people shout out and cry. There were many Japanese there, but I only spoke to my Chinese friends.”
(Fang Yu)

Following the 3.11 disaster

Following the 3.11 disaster

This is how the evacuation life of the Japanese and the foreigners got started.

The next morning

The next morning. The atmosphere was already tense.

The next morning

A feeling of distrust was developing between the two groups due to differences in customs and language.

Kuniharu Nikaido

“The foreigners didn’t know the rules commonly understood by the Japanese. I was told one group had gathered around a stove eaten something and then left the garbage there. When I got there, it was still there, left as it was. That was hard to understand from our viewpoint. It seemed so rude.”
(Kuniharu Nikaido)

Evacuees

Nikaido and the school teachers asked English-speaking teachers to translate the rules on things like how to discard the garbage. But there were people from many different countries, so not everyone understood English.

Evacuees

Some foreigners were becoming increasingly dissatisfied due to the lack of information. Newspapers were distributed, but only some parts were translated.

Aminul

“They only distributed Japanese newspapers, so we couldn’t read them. We had no idea what was written. We were most anxious to hear updates about the nuclear power plants and the tsunami.”
(Md. Aminul)

Food requirements also different

There were also food issues, because some foreigners could not eat the distributed food items for religious reasons.

“I’m a Muslim, so I couldn’t eat some of the dishes. Some Bangladeshi evacuees started cooking food for themselves.”
(Md. Aminul)

Halal cooking

Muslims have dietary rules, such as avoiding pork, so they shared food to fill their empty stomachs.

Evacuees

There was also a certain psychological distance between the Japanese and foreign evacuees. One foreign woman found this situation problematic.

Asanova

It was Mrs. Asanova from Kirghiz. She and her husband offered to help.

“We asked them if there was anything we could do because we were willing to help in any way we could. When we said that, they looked at us with doubtful eyes, as if our offer was something of a nuisance. They seemed to be saying, ‘What can you foreigners do to help?’ We were very disappointed because we thought we were part of the community.”
(Gulzar Asanova: from Kyrgyzstan)

Evacuation center

In the end, they decided to participate voluntarily in running the center.

Pool

They scooped water out of the swimming pool and cleaned the toilets.

“They were so dirty and smelly, we couldn’t stand it anymore. So we kept on cleaning them.”
(Gulzar Asanova)

Portable toilets

Thanks to their efforts, the atmosphere at the center began to improve. Japanese and foreign evacuees started joining forces to help keep the center clean.

Evacuation center

Two days after the disaster.
As one of the center managers, Nikaido’s opinion about the foreigners gradually changed.

Kuniharu Nikaido

“At the beginning, I was scared. In tense situations like that, people get upset easily. As the number of people grew and the space got smaller, people naturally grew more excited. But as time went by, some of the foreigners became friendlier and approached me to give me some candies. So in return, I gave them some bread. I learned for the first time they were really good people. I wish I could have realized that sooner!”
(Kuniharu Nikaido)

Sanjo JHS

But the next day, evacuation life at the junior high suddenly came to an end.

Empty evacuation center

The electricity supply was restored, and the center was closed. It was just about the time when the tense atmosphere had finally eased.

Fang Yu

Three and a half years later...
Jason visits Fang, the Chinese researcher who experienced evacuation life at the center.

Fang's website

He is still at the same university continuing his research work. He has sends out details of his experience after the disaster using his blog and newspaper reports.

Ao Xiang: Fang's wife

“We gradually learned the Japanese rules of life after spending some years here. But when we first came, we had no idea. No one taught us about things like that.”
(Ao Xiang: Fang's Wife)

Jason

“I think the Japanese are extremely patient. They bear with something to the end while suppressing their true feelings. They could just tell us ‘no’ from the beginning, but they don't do that and put up with the situation. But at the last minute, they explode, and that is very shocking.”
(Jason)

Fang and his family

“Yes, I know I know.”
(Fang Yu)

“Do you think it’s a language problem?”
(Jason)

“No, I don't think it’s a language issue. Japanese are rather shy, I think.”
(Ao Xiang)

“When we were at the center, the Japanese there never told us what we should not be doing. I don't think it is a language issue.”
(Fang Yu)

Md. Aminul on the radio

Since the quake, Aminul from Bangladesh has been sending out information to foreign residents.

“Welcome to ‘Hello Sendai’!”
(Md. Aminul & Guests)


Today, he is a guest on a local radio show.

Aminul

He talks about rules and customs unique to Japan.

“How about when you want to get off the bus?”
(Guest woman)

“OK, I just press the button, like ‘pingpon’, and after that bus stops at my station.”
(Aminul)

He hopes his information will help foreign residents become assimilated into Japanese society.

Neighborhood Associations meeting

The neighborhood associations that were involved with the administration of the evacuation center have also started taking action.

Neighborhood Associations meeting

Based on the experiences they had at that time, they want to hold drill that Japanese and foreign residents together and establish joint evacuation center.

Neighborhood Association

“Many of them have to learn our culture first, before emergencies.”
(Neighorhood association member)

Neighborhood Association

“We have to include them in the plans, telling them that ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do.’ They shouldn’t just stick to their own ways using the excuse that they’re foreigners. We want them to participate in the evacuation training for them to be fully prepared and involved with the future center.”
(Chida: Neighborhood association member)

Neighborhood Association

“Many of them weren’t here in 2011.”
(Neighorhood association member)

Kuniharu Nikaido

“Of course there are various groups, such as a Chinese groups and a Korean group.”
(Kuniharu Nikaido: Head of neighborhood association)


Nikaido and the other men all experienced various conflicts after the quake. Their goal now is to live in harmony with the foreign residents.

Evacuation drills

9 am.
The first training to establish a joint evacuation center is about to begin.

Evacuation drills

Taking part are about 30 foreigners from 8 countries, including China and Indonesia.

Evacuation drills

First, the evacuation manual created since the quake is distributed.

Manual

It has been translated into 11 languages, including Chinese, Korean, and Nepali as well as English. The manual is easy to understand and shows how to be prepared for disasters and how to live at an evacuation center.

Drill

The biggest point they revised from the previous manual was how to run the evacuation centers. They decided to appoint some non-Japanese who are fluent in Japanese to join the management as evacuation leaders.

Kuniharu Nikaido

“Please try to write it fast. Each of you.”
(Kuniharu Nikaido)

Students

The first thing they need to do is make a list of evacuees. Each evacuee is requested to write down their names and addresses.

Writing lists

“Hi. Are you a Chinese student? Please write your name and gender right here.”
(Chinese woman)


With this list, they can easily check who is here when families or embassies contact the center. So it’s an indispensable task.

Lists

“Thanks.”
(Japanese man)

“You’re welcome.”
(Chinese woman)

Pork stew for some

The recipe for today is pork stew, which is a very familiar dish to Japanese.

Halal curry for others

In the meantime, Aminul has been appointed to prepare food for foreigners. He decides to cook curry that Muslims can eat.

Japanese students try it

He also wants the Japanese to try his curry.

“Attention please! Would you like to try the special curry I’ve made? This is Bangladeshi halal curry. Please try, please try a bit.”
(Md. Aminul: from Bagladesh)

It tastes good

“How do you like it?”
(Md. Aminul)

“It’s really good!”
(Japanese girl)

More people try it

“It's Bangladeshi halal curry, so Muslims can eat it. Anyone could eat this at the time of a disaster, right?”
(Md. Aminul)

“It’s good. Not too spicy.”
(Japanese woman 1)

“Very tasty.”
(Japanese woman 2)

Aminul

“I’m so happy they liked it. I guess many Japanese don’t know we Muslims cannot eat certain things, or we can cook something like this. It’s great that they’ve got to know that.”
(Md. Aminul)

International cooperation

By getting foreigners involved in the administration, the barriers between Japanese and non-Japanese are gradually coming down.

“Are you from America?”
(Japanese man)

“No, Brazil.”
(Brazilian woman)

“Brazil? Do you have curry and rice in Brazil? No? I see.”
(Japanese man)

Eating

“You don't have to be polite. Just eat as much as you can.”
(Japanese man)

Eating

“It’s delicious! It will be hot!”
(Chinese man)

“Yeah, it’s hot, isn’t it? I should be speaking in English!”
(Japanese woman)

Japanese lady

“I live near here and often see foreigners around. I've exchanged greetings with them, but I've never really had a conversation like this. I learned that we can understand each other if we try. Communication is universal, I think.”
(Japanese woman)

“I hope to see you again.”
(Chinese participant)

“We don't know where we might meet again. Just say Hi, ok?”
(Japanese woman)

“Thank you.”
(Chinese man)

Chinese students

“I've learned so many things. I'm so happy that I’ve had some interactions with Japanese people.”
(Chinese woman)

Chinese students

“What do you think is the most important thing?”
(Director)

“To help each other is the most important thing, I believe.”
(Chinese woman)

Foreigners with Kuniharu Nikaido

Helping each other can be the solution for overcoming a crisis or difficulties.

Kuniharu Nikaido

“The foreign residents were not acting like guests. They simply didn't know what to do. When we ask them to do something, they’re willing to do it. Today, they took the initiative whenever we asked. So we Japanese also have to be open so that we can better understand them. Then we can make changes. Today's activity was very meaningful.”
(Kuniharu Nikaido)

Jason summarises

“What was interesting was the fact that it wasn’t the words that was the barrier between everyone. It was the communication. Emergency preparedness and evacuation training that I saw that was in sendai was wonderful. I feel like its activity like that that are going to help the non-Japanese community know what to do in the situation. And also Japanese know how to interact non-Japanese community. And because of exercises like this in a future if ever emergency or catastrophe like this, it will go much smoother because of these efforts.”
(Jason)

*If you click these, you'll leave the NHK site.