Stress, lack of privacy in evacuee shelters taking its toll


One topic not often covered by Japan's mainstream media is the increasing stress for the thousands of quake and tsunami victims in emergency shelters in three prefectures. In a 3-page feature, Newsweek Japan looks at their plight. The magazine says that ever since 2:46 p.m. on March 11, we have all become used to hearing the phrases “Tohoku people are strong,” “We are all one,” “You will never walk alone” and “One nation one heart.”

But what is the reality behind these words? And even more importantly, how do victims of this tragedy really feel? A Newsweek journalist quickly found out during a visit to a shelter. “Hey, you, over there. Who are you?” an old woman demanded to know. “I’m afraid of strangers. There are many thieves. Someone stole my food from the shelter and they steal other things too, like my tissue box" she tells the reporter.

In a normal situation, not so many would care about their tissue box being stolen. But this is not a normal situation. While many would say that the woman is over-reacting, the reality is that this woman is one of hundreds living in cramped shelters alongside strangers in many cases. There are no coin lockers nor deposit boxes. All personal possessions are exposed for everyone to see. The prolonged stay, inability to foresee one’s future and growing impatience, is starting to result in distrust toward one’s cohabitants, as well as strangers.

According to the central government, as of April, 108 out of 536 shelters have no partitions between evacuees. Unable to cope with this situation, there are many cases where evacuees have tried to build their own private place at the corners of the facilities. But this does not always go by unnoticed and sometimes even becomes a cause of trouble between evacuees.

Privacy is a major issue for women too, Newsweek reports. In Miyagi shelters, it was only recently that changing rooms for women were provided. Up to now, they were changing in crowded and non-sanitized toilets together with many other evacuees. Because of this, many women have refrained from changing not only their clothes but underwear too. For other sanitary needs, a set of napkins is distributed every month, but when extra ones are needed, they are either all taken or women are too shy to ask for them in front of strangers. The same applies for underwear.

Another area of concern, says Newsweek, is that a number of Japanese entertainers and celebrities have constantly been on the run thinking of various ways to help without really stopping to think whether this is actually welcomed by the evacuees. For example, a popular Japanese actress (name not revealed) involved in charity work for a long time, visited a number of evacuee shelters and her presence there was continuously reported on TV.

But in Newsweek's interview with an evacuee, it became rather clear that her goodwill trip was not seen as such. “She started smiling at us only after the camera was on her.” In addition, it was also revealed that the child she was shown encouraging on TV was not a child from that shelter, even though it was announced so.

The same is true for the media as well. In many shelters, evacuees have developed the so-called "media allergy" caused by the constant media presence and aggressive attitude. Random photo shots and video taking of evacuees sleeping take place without their agreement. In other cases, reporters have been seen disturbing someone's rest to try and get a quick interview.

"We are all one" sounds appealing, concludes Newsweek, but it may be better to remember that we are all individuals first: each with his or her own needs, fears and things to say.

© Japan Today

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The more I read the post-earthquake news the more I'm afraid of my own life here in Japan.

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You mean some of these "geinojin" have ulterior motives? Shocking! (Not!) Anyone who needs a camera following them to help other people obviously doesn't really understand the true meaning of volunteer work.

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Idea-has the prefectural or national government considered taking over hotels and turning them into temporary housing for the evacuees while cleanup and reconstruction occur? Might require zoning changes but that would provide some privacy. There'd also be a need to make decisions about common elements/gardens/storage but the privacy part would be immensely helpful.

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Idea-has the prefectural or national government considered taking over hotels and turning them into temporary housing for the evacuees while cleanup and reconstruction occur? Might require zoning changes but that would provide some privacy. There'd also be a need to make decisions about common elements/gardens/storage but the privacy part would be immensely helpful.

Prognosis (just love these power point presentations - I feel so scientific-y!) - Very lovely flowery idea, but utterly naive and simple. How will u force hotel owners to give up their livelihood? How many people will this actually help? Won't this actually hinder logistics having the evacuees spread out everywhere? Change a Japanese zoning law overnight? very funny. Common elements/gardens/storage areas?? If I didn't read it, I wouldn't believe it. Be specific please.

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Thing is, many of these people have been offered up places to stay else where. However, they don't want to leave the area so... Help is out there but many won't take it.

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I hate using a toilet with people waiting outside the door urging me to hurry up. I just go out doors is that is the case.

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They need to give more attention to getting them more privacy and hurry the hell up with the individual homes for them to live in.. they need privacy NOW!

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I wonder if relocating to an family home farther inland is unappealing for evacuees because it would make them ineligible for temporary housing, or at least a second priority that is now given to elderly victims, people with special health problems, or families,

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You are right that is a consideration. If you can afford to relocate without goverment assistance a lot of benefits/assistance are automatically cancelled.

Even with the poor condition at the shelters, etc right now everything is 100% free. And the will need a lot of help to re-establish their lifes, furnish a new place, etc.

But also agree with others that more temporary housing needs to be made available soon.

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where has all this money gone? Stop building the roads and start with the people first. Seems the yakuza contruction companies are lining up for the money. I saw photos of destroyed roads fixed in 3 days, why does it take so long to build shelters?

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Naive and simple. Hoserfella. Most of the hotels up here are sitting empty because no one will travel to Fukushima. The hotel owners would actually benefit from evacuees being put up. Where are the billions of dollars donated by the international community being spent anyway? On the new Shinakansen line from Tokyo to Osaka? If it were you in the evacuation centres, wouldn` you like some help, some dignity after losing everything. This could be done so easily it would make your head sping. Please think about your response before being so condescending. Sorry, some actually care about these people. Skywards. Some people have been put in hotels but too many are still in the shelters.

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The Japanese commercial media are notorious for downplaying people. I hated to see all these silly reporters prior to the earthquake shouting at old people in some village "Obachan"... I only follow NHK, who, at least for my eye, have kept a decent approach to evacuated people.

And really the geinojin rally. In the beg. most of them stopped by at the Saitama Super Arena - no need to travel to dangerous Fukushima or Miyagi-ken - and had photos taken. If these geinojin want to do something, instead of going to the evacuation centers, they could donate money and urge other wealthy people to do so, too.

Re the money: Japan Red Cross has not given the money to the evacuated people yet. They have not figured out a way how to do it fairly. I think it makes more sense to donate for grassroots organizations like Peace Boat or JES or JEARS, who have been there since week 1 helping people.

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Hoserfella has a point, who will pay the daily room-charge for the evacuees, etc. The staff to do the cleaning, cooking, etc don't pay themselves, etc.

Yes, some Hotels made rooms available for refugees but they decided to take that financial loss.

At times it is cheaper to close for a period rather than run at half-capacity.

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EUcitizen, completely agree with you. The whole world has been donating to Japan Red Cross, but the truth is that they are so slow at distributing the money that it aches to watch them. They keep all the money in empty rooms, but have failed to distribute them. It took them a year and a half to distribute the money in Kobe after the 1995 earthquake. Wonder how long it will take them to do it this time. People need urgent help right now. They need temporary houses as soon as possible. Donating to NGOs like Peace Boat who are really working up there on the spot is much better than donation to J red cross. They are slow like all old-fashioned Japanese institutions.

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Yes it is-while those with the donations wring their hands over who gets what, the older folks will start shuffling off this mortal coil.due to the adverse conditions they are in.

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its the only killer so far

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