Pushing a wheelbarrow through sleet to aid refugees

Fukushima Prefecture, Aizu-Wakamatsu City 60 year old Tokiko Kitano aids through the sleet.  She embodies the Japanese spirit of aid.

This is my mother-in-love.  She pushes a wheelbarrow of blankets, futon, towels, and so on around to the 17 refugees that have shown up at her door step.  They hail from Iwate, tsunami destroyed houses where their families are still missing, and evacuated from next to the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plants.  The Kitano family first got a call for help from their youngest son’s friends who had looked after him while he went to school near the power plants.  They welcomed the couple.  Then a trail of friends and acquaintances of 15 joined them along the pilgrimage to Aizu-Wakamatsu to the Kitano home.  Naturally, they were all welcome with open arms.

Aizu-Wakamatsu may be the haven for many victims of the earthquakes and tsunami and nuclear power plants as it has been the most accessible town for people to run to in Fukushima with electricity.  Those, at least, who were able to make it.  My friend’s relatives-in-law were not able to make the trek.  Their home had been washed away and they were all huddled up in an uncle’s half-standing house.  Simply put:  it’s hard to evacuate.

Hourly aftershocks and continuing daily earthquakes in Fukushima can rattle anyone’s spirit.  Tokiko keeps her mind and body busy by making rounds to collect and distribute items to keep them warm.  She tromps through snow and sleet like a good postal person should, even though the post office can’t make deliveries to home addresses now.  She has become a pivotal person in the community because she can walk to the post office to pick up supplies sent to them to distribute.

“Most can’t get to the city rescue centers to pick up necessary items.  The things arrive and then they are gone shortly.  But the people who need them the most can’t walk to the evacuation centers.  They are too far away.  Fuel is dwindling.  The temperatures are freezing.  So, I do what I can.”  She humbly says in Japanese.

She doesn’t worry for her own family, as she makes her own miso soup paste from soybeans and it has fermented by now.  They also had enough rice well before the quakes began.  As long as they have rice and miso, they are fine.  Others are not.  The roads were blocked and the motorways are still blocked, so stores could not get food in.  This week they have limits on how much they can buy.  The Kitano family doesn’t even try to go to the store because as soon as the trucks come in, the food is gone.  It’s getting better though.

A few weeks ago when we were visiting, I suggested that Motoaki Kitano try Twitter.  He’s been using Skype to talk with Yuji Kitano in New Zealand where he lives and goes to school.  Thanks to Twitter and Skype, when cell phone service in Japan was cut during the big earthquake, we knew everyone was fine.  It’s been our means of connection during a time when they can’t get out and we can’t get in.

Always optimistic and positive, they see recovery just around the corner.  It may just take an extra load in the wheelbarrow.

If you are in Japan, and would like to help, you can post items to:

Tokiko Kitano
1-14 Nishisakaemachi
Aizu-Wakamatsu-shi
Fukushima-ken
965-0877
Tel:  0242-28-6150

You can see her daily blogs in Japanese:  www.motoaki.biz

Follow her husband on Twitter: @tontonkitano