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    Posted April 5, 2011 by
    Tokyo, Japan
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Recovery in Japan: After the earthquake

    NickyWashida and 14 other iReporters contributed to Open Story: Earthquake strikes Japan
    More from NickyWashida

    Coming together for the people of Tohoku


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     'Imaginary boundaries have ... been smashed away by the tsunami,' says NickyWashida. A group of friends and family helped gather supplies on April 2.
    - dsashin, CNN iReport producer

    Pictures above show volunteers from the local neighbourhood of Tsukishima in eastern Tokyo gathering supplies to be taken north to disaster-struck areas.

    Like many big cities, Tokyo has had its fair share of criticism for its lack of neighbourliness. Many who move in from outlying countryside areas complain of the loneliness, the feeling of isolation, of barely being on nodding terms with neighbours and certainly not knowing their names.

    Tsukishima is one such Tokyo neighbourhood, perched on a man-made island at the northwestern-most tip of Tokyo Bay. Famous for its local dish of “monja-yaki”, cooked on the table in front of you and popular with Japanese tourists, it is an eclectic mix of high rise tower apartments and tiny jumbled houses crowded together, big thoroughfares and narrow lantern-lit alleyways, families who have lived there for generations, newcomers from all over the city and beyond, and a smattering of foreigners, lured by the convenience of being located in the heart of the city whilst at the same time an area retaining its traditional atmosphere.

    Reports are now emerging that the earthquake and tsunami that decimated vast swathes of the Tohoku region are having a big impact on areas as far away as Tokyo in a far more positive way. People who barely spoke to each other just a month ago are now getting together and pooling whatever resources they have between themselves. A new currency of a bottle of water for a few cups of rice, some yoghurt pots for a toilet roll has been in active use, and as life returns to some semblance of normality in the city, communities are turning their attention to those up in Tohoku struggling to survive.

    Abi & Roger Lowther, American missionaries who moved into Tsukishima last year with their 3 children, have become a central part of this mobilization effort in their neighbourhood. Last weekend, for the third time since the disaster struck, they loaded up three donated trucks with fruit, vegetables, kerosene, underwear, socks, rice, and other essentials to distribute to the worst affected areas, and enough provisions to sustain the 19 volunteers for the 48 hour trip.

    Their mission was two-fold: open a “free-market” for residents of two of the devastated communities in Ishinomaki and Minami-sanriku, and offer a temporary “restaurant”, cooking survivors a hot meal with a local flavor inspired by a café owner in Tsukishima originally from the affected area who wanted to return and help his native Miyagi-ken.

    As I talked to Abi for this article, a steady stream of neighbourhood women came knocking at the door bringing bags of towels, chopsticks, fruit, anything they thought would help the relief effort. Abi said the response has been incredible, even an elderly man arrived to apologise for his inability to donate any money or help with the work himself, but offering his skill as a masseuse to volunteers who are working 16 hour days making preparations for the trip.

    As word has spread, donations have come as far and wide as tables and tents from a church in Chiba, sake from a local brewery in Nihonbashi, pots for cooking from the Afghanistan embassy, to name but a few. As Abi says, “Yes, we are coordinating the effort, but none of this would be possible without the generosity of local people and businesses.”

    Their ultimate aim she says is to “fill the gaps” that the relief agencies and local government are not yet able to reach. Many people are not living in official evacuation centres, preferring to stay in their own, damaged homes in the midst of their disaster-ravaged neighbourhoods. Some fear the sickness spreading through the centres as people living too close together are spreading germs picked up during the tsunami. Others are too frail to sleep on a hard wooden floor, or are still desperately searching for missing relatives, or belongings often of value only to them. Some just simply cannot bear to leave the only place they have ever known as home.

    There is no water, no electricity, no fuel, no shops open to sell any food, indeed no shops left at all. Most cars and bicycles have been swept away or damaged, and there is no gas available to fuel them anyway. The scale of the disaster is so vast that local government and aid agencies have not been able to reach these areas and they are entirely dependant on communities like that of Tsukishima, getting together and filling a truck to take essential supplies up to them.

    At 11 o clock on Saturday night, 2 hours before departure, as I help a group of local men, women and even children haul the last of the supplies onto the back of the truck, I can`t help but feel a strong sense of satisfaction, not just in being a small part of the relief effort, but in seeing neighbours come together as never before and forge bonds of friendship that will last well beyond the last truck carrying the last bags of rice and boxes of water. Roger said “we will do this for as long as it is needed”, but if ever there was a silver lining to be found in this disaster of mind-blowing proportions, it is that the new bonds formed from this experience in the small communities that make up this vast city will strengthen and continue long after the last truck is waved on its way north.

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