National / Social Issues

Eight years after 3/11 quake and tsunami disasters, support groups for foreign residents at crossroads

JIJI

Eight years on, efforts among foreign residents in Japan to help one another after the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis have reached a crossroads.

In many cases, foreign residents who were affected by the 2011 disaster created groups to look after one another. But some organizations are struggling to continue their activities.

Experts have stressed the need for such groups to clarify their purpose, and build outside ties.

In February, during a show on a local radio station in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, three Filipino women engaged in lively chatter. The 30-minute show, which airs once a month on Radio Kesennuma, is hosted by members of the Kabayan Kesennuma Filipino Community.

The recording session was filled with laughter as the hosts conversed in a mixture of Japanese, English, Tagalog and Spanish. One commented that champorado, a Philippine chocolate rice pudding, seemed especially tasty on rainy days.

Charito Ito, 48-year-old head of Kabayan Kesennuma, started the radio program with others mainly to deliver information useful for everyday life, such as where they had evacuated after the disaster and how they found new jobs.

Now the show focuses on introducing events and highlighting cultural differences between Japan and the Philippines.

Despite various hardships, including a struggle to find time to record the shows outside work hours, the three said they want to promote a good image of Filipinos and help people to learn about the Philippines in depth.

While there are several communities of foreign residents established in Miyagi and neighboring Fukushima Prefecture to check people’s safety, share information and other purposes, not all groups are thriving.

One organization split due to conflict over the re-election of its leader. Several groups broke up after differences of opinion among members.

Meanwhile, the importance of emergency networks is growing, with a surge in the number of foreign residents, including technical interns, in the Tohoku region amid high demand driven by reconstruction activities.

A community of Indonesian people and others has seen its membership rise from 18 to over 300.

Iswahyudi, 44, one of the founders of the group, said the organization is doing well, as long-term residents keep an eye on other members, while interns and others take turns to play leadership roles for a year.

According to Iswahyudi, the group has many Japanese members.

“The challenge will be how the organizations let others know about their aims when the post-disaster situation settles down,” Takahiro Oizumi, a 49-year-old senior official of the Miyagi International Association, said.

“Cooperation with the outside, such as working with local Japanese groups, will be crucial for the continuation of the foreign communities from the viewpoint of multicultural coexistence,” he added.