Saturday, July 9, 2011

Lending a helping hand

To find some relief on a very hot and windy day, I dragged myself out of the apartment and up the street to Saizeriya, an Italian chain restaurant. One of the best things about it, besides the air conditioning, is the 270 yen “do-ri-n-ku-baa” or “drink bar” - all the teas, coffee, juices, and sodas you can consume.

Even with the increasing temperatures and humidity, we have stubbornly resisted turning on

the air conditioning. With the projected power shortages coming due to the loss of Dai-ichi “gen-patsu,” the nuclear power plant damaged by the earthquake and tsunami, we are trying to help in our small way. However, when walking past a store with the front doors open and frigid air pouring out to entice customers inside, one quickly realizes that there is still so much waste and inefficiency built into modern society. Right after the disaster, everyone in Japan was so energized and enthusiastic to help and to make difficult changes/choices, but sadly, like in many other situations, that resolve has faded somewhat.

However, I did not start this blog post to rant and rave about the coming energy problems.

Related to the disaster up north, I had an interesting experience last week I wanted to share.

A Japanese friend of ours is involved with a nonprofit organization that is helping with relief efforts up north, providing direct aid and resources to people and communities, separate from the government and all the restrictions of bureaucracy. There are disturbing stories of people still in difficult situations up north while huge amounts of money and resources are tied up in red tape.

A local, large onsen/spa had gone out of business and is to be torn down. I don't know the details, but our friend's group had one day to salvage as much as possible. The plan was to fill a very large semi-trailer truck with things that could be used for reconstruction efforts or to bring some relief and pleasure to people who are still suffering.

With classes later that morning, I only had a short time to help but still wanted to show my support. Ten of us met at eight o'clock and received a whirlwind tour of the cavernous, multi-story building. Basically everything was still in place: sheets and towels on the racks, reclining chairs waiting for tired bathers, beer mugs, menus on the tables, even the cook's clogs waiting just inside the kitchen door. All of it was up for grabs, and it quickly became obvious there was no way it would all fit in the truck. So some quick prioritizing got us started on the tatami –

traditional, Japanese-style floor mats.

From the first room alone, we pulled up and stacked over 70 tatami near the front door. There

were many more rooms to go. With no electricity in the onsen, we relied on headlamps and flashlights to find our way into deeper rooms.

Quickly, I ran out of time and had to bid farewell, leaving them to a long and sweaty day of hauling and loading. Joan was able to stop by later that afternoon to see for herself and gather

information for a potential article. The truck was already loaded and gone, but she was able to meet some of the people and see the shell of the onsen itself. Hopefully, she will be able to meet the director of the organization and learn the whole story. Stay tuned for more details...

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