Last June, I received an email out of the blue about a book called “One Month in Tohoku: An Englishwoman’s Memoir on Life after the Japanese Tsunami.” As someone living in Tokyo at that time, I wanted to know that story.
The author and of the book and the email, Caroline Pover kindly agreed to host a free online event for Brighton Japan Club members to hear an excerpt from her book, and to discuss her life and experiences in Japan and in the Tohoku region after the 2011 tsunami.
At the time of the disaster in 2011, Caroline had been a Tokyo resident for 15 years. Japan was her home and she loved it. This book tells the extraordinary tale of how the disaster turned her own life upside down, and how she found a unique and inspiring way to help
After the tragedy of Match 2011, Caroline asked herself, ‘How can I help Japan best?’. This was not an easy question to answer.
At the time, many foreigners had had to leave Japan. Then, there were many others trying to carry on as if nothing had changed.
In 2011, I was working as tour leader in Tokyo. The tsunami and nuclear crisis meant I had no work, and the whole idea of tourism seemed slightly obscene. I remember feeling completely helpless and inadequate. Every news cycle brought more sad news. My lifestyle seemed stupid. I vowed never to read manga again. (I broke it)
In June, 3 months after the tsunami, I had the opportunity to go as a volunteer for a week with Peaceboat to Ishinomaki. This helped ease some of my guilt and feelings of helplessness. Looking back, just being allowed to help was a gift in itself.
But even then, as a small cog in a large volunteer organisation, it was hard to see how much we were helping. Sometimes we were just in the way. Shovelling mud for a week was definitely important, but wasn’t there another way we could help?
I didn’t find it. But, Caroline found a way of helping in a way nobody else could do.
(Caroline about to distribute Valentine’s Day chocolates on Oshika in 2012)
She used her entrepreneurial and English skills. She flew back to the UK and raised money and educated people by running talks and events schools around the country. She then began travelling back and forth to Tohoku to deliver goods and also find out exactly what was needed by the locals.
Caroline directly connected the desire of many British people to give with the immediate material needs of the people living in the disaster area. She also didn’t wait for an opportunity to help, but took it upon herself to act.
During her time in Tohoku, on the Oshika peninsula Caroline distributed goods, set up free markets of clothing contributed by her contacts, raised money for and helping build a bus shelter, a library, the important local shrine repairs and helping with the wakame harvest and much much more.
As Caroline explains in the book, during the 1 month she spent on Oshika in 2012, she didn’t decide what was needed: she asked the locals. “I spent my days asking ‘What do you need?’ to every single person I met, and my nights saying ‘How can I help?’ to myself”.
This method was as Caroline states “incredibly effective”, and helped build a network of close contacts and on the beautiful Oshika peninsula that have lasted to this day. The book is full of stories not statistics. The many amusing interactions with Oshika locals show another side to Japan that is rarely seen in western media.
Her fundraising efforts in the UK and online then and since then have raised money for projects on the remote Oshika peninsula. The Oshika peninsula became Caroline’s home from home since 2011 after driving there from Tokyo to distribute supplies to a community that felt abandoned.
Caroline’s love for the Oshika peninsula, its inhabitants and traditions shine throughout this book. Her openness, honesty and self-awareness make it am inspiring, enlightening and at times startling read.
One Month in Tohoku is available from Amazon. Please click on the link below.