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