Americans Providing Assistance In Japan
Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, April 7, 2011
Here at the Pundit, we’ve been fortunate to have the contributions of Jack Bayles, owner of the Alishan Organic Center in Japan. He has contributed to many articles including these:
Too Many Concerns Still Exist Over Organic Certification In China
China Scare ‘Off The Charts’ In Japan
Jack has been integral in the efforts to aid those lacking food due to the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. And he was kind enough to connect us with many involved in the relief effort.
This is a note from Mark Bartsch, who is a Mennonite Missionary in Japan with the Mennonite Mission Network and heads up Christian Education at the Kobe Union Church in Japan and who was struggling to bring aid to the needy in the immediate aftermath of the natural disaster:
3/23/11 Day One:
We drove up to Sendai last evening through rain, snow and sleet. But despite it all, we made good time and arrived in the Sendai valley just in time for a 5.5 level earthquake. A nice hello to the situation.
We arrived at Sendai city staging area and were given the option of resting but everyone in the group was ready to get going so we packed up and drove to the affected area.
Wow. It is one thing to see on TV but a whole different thing to see with your own eyes. Cars all over the place, sea water ten miles inland swamping farm land and mud everywhere. Along with mud the stench of rotting fish thrown inland and other rotting things.
We set up at a Russian Orthodox Church, which is located in the poorest part of the affected area and we had tons of food, water, clothing and supplies. Within two hours, it was all taken by very needy people—mostly the elderly and young parents with children that did not have money to evacuate. We thought that rice would go fastest but quickly learned that people did not have electricity to cook rice and wanted bread and things that they could eat without too much prep. Of course, every scrap of food was taken because people are hungry.
Lines are everywhere and the line for gas is the longest. Two hours for 4 gallons if you are lucky. Half will not get gas. All restaurants are closed, and I do not know if it because of lack of supplies or lack of power or lack of employees because so many people are looking for loved ones but that puts an added stress for people looking for food. And this is ten days after the fact.
Obviously people are in different levels of shock from the experience; not one person was clean, which for those who know the Japanese is unheard of. We got back to the staging area, which is an upscale elementary school and were informed that we needed to leave because they need to get the school ready for their students next week. So we are looking for a place to crash (no pun intended).
Because of the need for food, we are looking at driving to Tokyo to find a Costco to buy as much food and then transport it back to Sendai, but we need to find a Costco that is open.
I have overheard a few missionaries trying to look at the big picture and hoping to make a big impact here in Japan for Christ, but I do not think this is about that. I think it is simply helping people in a time of crisis because I think that is What Jesus Would Do. Maybe I have never been too interested in doing anything but that.
We are all tired and dirty, but our spirits are high because we made a difference today.
PS If people are interested in helping, let us know how much and we will put that on our personal credit card and deal with the payments later. But prayer right now is the most important thing.
Sorry if this is a little scattered but here is day two.
We finished up the first day tired, dirty and exhausted. We found a Chinese restaurant that somehow was the only place around with both power and food. I am not sure if we were really tired and hungry or if it was really good, but it was one of the best meals I have had in a long time.
One of the most profound moments for me was a conversation with a 4-year-old girl. Her mother was in line trying to get food that we brought, and my section has already been picked clean because I had gas canisters and batteries. Anyway, I was asking this little girl how she was doing and gave her some candies that I had bought for myself. (Note to self: When going into disaster areas, bring some sweets or small games for children).
She told me that the wave took all of her dolls and stuffed animals, and all of her manga are ruined because of the water. Little children face different struggles than adults; they are remarkably resilient, unlike the older victims, but they feel the effects as acutely as everyone else. In another conversation, I was talking to an old grandma (80-plus) and she had not eaten in a day or so and she told me she was concerned for the old people. I knew as she talked that she did not include herself in that group and had a fire in her that I want to have when I am her age.
That evening we processed what we needed to do as a group. After lengthy discussions we realized that people needed food more than anything else and yet all the local relief centers were out of food. Ed (a member at Kobe Union Church—where we also attend) and I volunteered to drive out of the affected area to purchase food. We said a prayer and then 12 of us slept on the floor like sardines at a local store front church. Every guy there snored, but I was so tired I slept through most of it.
The next morning we prayed and had a reading from 1 John 3:17-18 and sang some hymns.
“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”
It felt very like God was speaking directly to each of us through this passage.
At that point, we drove out of the disaster area for about an hour and a half and found that we needed gas. About half the gas stations were closed and the others had lines of up to 3 hours or 3 or 4 miles lines. We were only allowed 4.75 gallons of gas 18 liters at 3,000 yen. Or about 7.90 $US a gallon.
We found a large super store and were shocked at how empty the shelves were. We bought about $1,000US worth of groceries, which did not endear us to our fellow shoppers. We could not tell them all that we were NOT buying for ourselves but buying this stuff for others.
We then drove back to the disaster area having to fill up again and only getting another 18 liters. Then because the other group got stuck in the disaster area and would not be able distribute the food because of darkness (no power), Ed and I decided to drive back to Kobe so that we could be ready to take another shipment of food on Saturday. We got back at 4 AM on Friday and will be taking another truck load up on Saturday (3/26).
The good news is that the supplies are slowly, slowly reaching people. Within the week, the efforts will start shifting away from the immediate needs of food, clothing and heat to the long term clean up and care needs. Thank you all for your prayers and your support.
Akihiro Monden is a former trade journalist who covered the automotive industry and who changed mid-life to importing flax seed and other specialty oils. He lives right in Sendai. Monden has also been involved in organizing fairly high level interfaith religious meetings in Japan and elsewhere. An unusual activity for in homogeneous Japan.
He sent this report which highlighted the activities of an Israeli medical team attempting to provide aid:
Dear All My Friends:
It has been already two weeks since the giant earthquake, tsunami, and an exposure of nuclear power plant in Fukushima. Of course, our lives have drastically changed since then in both dark and light ways.
Last seven days, thanks to an arrival of the Israeli medical team who wants to deploy a mobile hospital in Minami Sanrikucho, where a half of population — 10,000 — were missed and killed in the tsunami, I have had a chance to walk with its initial investigation team from North to South along the Pacific Ocean where the tsunami killed more than 15,000 people in our county.
All my friends and I admire the brave challenge of the Israeli team. There are many foreign teams who want to come into Japan; however, it is so complicated to do, so because of the system and structure of Japan. Thanks to a very strong and straightforward leadership of Ambassador Nisshim, Israel Embassy for Japan, and its counterpart Ambassador Katori, Japanese Embassy in Tel Aviv, we could have this happen.
Jews certainly know not only their own difficulties but also real sadness; they understand the pains of others. I want to tell you, it is not only Israeli, but also American, and other medical and rescue teams are still willing to enter this difficult area. I hope we could really have these loves to blossom in our sky.
A beautiful Sendai Airport, that many of my friends know, is totally destroyed and we saw ruined, thousands of vehicles in that area as well as we saw several airplanes drifted from a runaway. One of my friends, Mr. Takasaki, who has been supporting imports and exports of our company—we buy oil, wines, honey, etc., from U.S., Canada, Israel, New Zealand and Italy—and processes customs at the airport, could escape from Tsunami as he is old enough to take several minutes to evacuate from Tsunami.
He was in the 2nd floor of the building and went up to the third floor, instead of going out to run away. He told me young staff who did go to escape in cars were killed in the tsunami. He was slow enough to escape from the first tsunami. Then, he decided to move out of his building and to move to a main airport building where he spent a week before being rescued.
He told me as soon as he escaped from the building, there was another tsunami that made his car explode in front of him. Mr. Takasaki escaped to Tokyo where he originally came from but decided to come back to Sendai to help its recovery.
This Wednesday I could find my laundry, so they are re-starting business. I was indeed so much impressed by a smile of the lady of the store—she told me, with her husband’s help who decided to wait for overnight in 1km waiting line for receiving only 10 L gasoline (our city has experienced explosion of gasoline tanks after the earthquake and we lost storage of our gasoline) she could come to the shop which is over 30km from her damaged house near the ocean. Her charming smile really relieved us.
My son was so much impressed by love and encouraged calls from customers throughout Japan and particularly those from Fukushima, Ibaragi, and other areas where radioactivity effects are prominent. They say, Ganbaro together!
We really hope our upset nuclear power plants will calm down over a weekend, and we do hope this region of Japan will not spread this problem to the rest of the country any more, nor to the rest of the world.
Thank you so much for your Love.
— Akihiro Monden
Jack Bayles has been tireless in arranging donations to help Japan and the Japanese people. He also serves on the board of Second Harvest Japan, and we asked Mira Slott, Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, to speak to the organization’s Executive Director and find out more:
Q: Through your dedicated work at Second Harvest Japan, could you shed light on issues affecting the produce industry post tsunami?
A: The concern is that farm and dairy products produced here can’t be sold, and no one can use them. Japan only has 40 percent food sufficiency, so 60 percent of its food, the majority comes from outside the country.
Q: Are food shortages significant? Will Japan need to increase imports to compensate for certain items, such as spinach from the region being banned? If so, are imports from the U.S. flowing? What impediments exist for bringing in and distributing food?
A: From a broad perspective, when the earthquake happened, in Tokyo almost all food was emptied from stores. It looked like an end-of-the-world movie. Bread, fresh vegetables, rice, milk and pasta were missing because a lot of people were panic-buying. But as time went on, some of the warehouses weren’t opened because they were damaged or being checked for damage. We ran into that problem. We had food in warehouses but the owners felt the facilities were not stable enough to take out food.
A lot of the available food has been going up north to support the people in need. This week for the first time, I went into a convenience store and saw shelves filled with food. They are still rationing up north. Stores that are open have been limiting what people can buy — 10 or 20 items only.
Several refineries used for crude and diesel were damaged and not operating, so that produced shortages with the inability of moving things around.
Before the disaster, with just-in-time service, convenience stores might have three deliveries a day, but now because of logistical problems those aren’t taking place and stores aren’t getting replenished so that has been an issue.
In our case, we had issues obtaining fuel to get food to people in need. It didn’t stop us but we had to adjust our strategies. Another company that sent aid relief up north couldn’t get gas for its trucks to come back.
Q: For perspective, could you describe how your operation generally works and what has changed post tsunami?
A: We collect salvageable food, not expired or damaged, which is still safe for consumption guaranteed by the donor or manufacturer. It goes to orphanages, for single mother support, residents in need. Like a wholesaler, we deliver large quantities of food to different agencies that can use them.
What changed since the earthquake and tsunami was the huge need up north. We’re able to get products. Right now roads are toll-free, two weeks from now, a round trip to Sendai and back will cost $250 and $300 in tolls. That will have an impact.
We’ve had large amounts of product donated from generous food manufacturers. Several manufacturers, such as Kellogg’s, chose to go through the national government. Kellogg’s is a close friend of ours, but in this case chose to go through government channels to different evacuation centers. Another manufacturer sent 10 tons of curry to us directly.
Q: What about fresh produce?
A: As usual, for the first two weeks after the earthquake, we were still getting the donations of produce that come into us. I saw the boxes come in—about the same amounts we were getting before the earthquake.
On a weekly basis, we get 200 or 300 kilos of fresh produce from Costco, mostly imported. Costco has a unique model here in Japan. It is a direct importer and also goes direct to its stores, which is a very different model than other stores in Japan, giving them more autonomy.
Q: Do you continue to receive consistent deliveries from Costco? Have Costco’s logistics been impacted?
A: I’ve not heard any issues with them getting stuck with logistics. They had an over abundance of water before the earthquake; in fact one of our logistics employees said they were scrambling for extra warehouse space for the extra water.
There was a run on water after the earthquake contaminated drinking supplies. Even Costco sold out of their water, but they have eight or so containers coming over right now.
Q: After hurricane Katrina in the United States, Wal-Mart was very helpful by capitalizing on its powerful logistics capabilities. Is it helping in Japan where it owns supermarkets?
A: Wal-Mart has made donations directly to those in need, and also is making donations to us.
Q: Could you provide a better understanding of the various factors impacting the recovery? What are the key challenges?
A: We are confronted with several bottlenecks in getting food to those in need. There are 400 kilometers from the south to the north on the coast. It varies from area to area. It could be less then one kilometer from the coast inward where buildings were in tact. It wasn’t the earthquake that destroyed buildings; it was the tsunami.
On one side of the road, all houses are smashed, and on the other side no damage at all, but the city isn’t functioning. Stores aren’t open, gas stations aren’t operating. People by the coast are more of a car society. If their car was swept away, they can’t move around. You may see a lot of destruction on the news, but if you’re on the ground here you see things differently.
The very first thing that struck me, when I arrived in Sendai city, all buildings were in tact with no broken glass, a testament to the high standards Japan has for earthquake-proof buildings. There was some minor damage, but as I mentioned, you didn’t see broken windows or buildings toppled over. So we have two categories: those trying to survive in areas essentially shut down with little or no services, and those in evacuation centers where their houses were swept away.
Q: How many people are dependent on the evacuation centers, and have you been successful in distributing food there?
A: At the beginning, 450,000 people fled to evacuation centers from south to north. Now there are approximately 230,000 people, so a lot of people have left evacuation centers for different parts of Japan.
Getting food to these evacuation centers requires going through the policy of local governments. They will direct you to a distribution center. In one city where they are servicing 10 different evacuation centers, three 10-ton trucks of blankets weren’t being distributed.
What we heard was that the distribution centers aren’t distributing food unless they have enough for every evacuation center. We went to an evacuation center 20 kilometers from a nuclear reactor. We asked people, what are you eating? The answers were disheartening; one man told me, two rice balls at every meal plus something to drink. I had 3000 meals in my truck, but they wouldn’t distribute them.
Q: Why not? That sounds like a travesty, especially because those meals are perishable and will have to be thrown away…
A: This is part of Japanese culture. Everyone is going to be treated fairly and equally. Instead of distributing the available quantities, if there is not enough for everyone, the government doesn’t distribute any. This is more of an issue that they don’t want people to complain or feel bad.
That’s kind of ridiculous. If an evacuation center needs 250 meals and we only have 150 meals, I’m sure there would be a consensus among people to feed the elderly and children first, and share the remaining food. A fair and equitable solution would be figured out, but that decision is taken out of their hands.
Then we are heard of another trend… some distribution centers are holding on to supply until they accumulate two to three months’ worth and then they will release it. They are trying to stockpile for the future, anticipating problems will continue for some time. It is difficult for those in need to see big piles of rice and they can’t get it.
There are also a vast number of people living in their own homes because they’re not damaged, but can’t buy food because they have no gas for transportation, or they only are permitted a limited supply, 10 or 20 items from the store.
There’s a city 30 kilometers from the reactor, with 15,000 people, primarily older people, living there. Not a single store is open and there are no gas stations. We brought food there, but when we went down to city hall to arrange distribution we were turned away.
This is one of the frustrating things for us as a non-profit. We approach the government, what do you need, and they say we don’t need anything. They don’t want extra work and the officials are not used to working with non-profits.
Q: Are you brainstorming solutions to circumvent these problems?
A: If we can open up a free market, in a flee market fashion, people could choose up to 10 or 20 items. That would be a way to give directly to people rather than going to the distribution center where food will be held two or three months.
Some people have gas and some don’t; some have electricity and some don’t. If we give rice to people in a place with no running water or heat, they can’t cook it. We have to keep in mind what makes sense now compared to a month ago.
Q: Have you orchestrated any free markets?
A: On the free market concept, we had an opportunity in a city further up north. We had gone to the city hall and they said, “We’re doing fine and we don’t need your help.” We walked out into an open area, where the non-profit center there had a market, but we didn’t know this before hand. If we had gone out on another street, we would have missed it.
We were able to provide bread, fresh bananas, and blueberries, things people could eat right away. There were many different organizations there, about 11 big trucks. People were waiting in line since 6:00 in the morning in rain and snow, and we just started distributing at 11:00.
Food lifeline is a term used in Japan, like all the utilities connected to the house; yet volumes of food go to waste. Five million tons to nine million tons of food are destroyed every year. Our goal is to create a better infrastructure to get the food out to people. And to create a food safety net so people have access to emergency food when they need it.
One way is business-to-business and the other is business-to-consumer. The models are different.
Q: For perspective, could you make comparisons to the U.S.?
A: We go to the U.S. for training and to visit other food banks. I’ve been in Japan 20 years now. In graduate school, I compared nonprofits here and in the U.S.
Japan’s non-profit sector is far less developed than the Philippines, Bangladesh, and India. In terms of acceptance, Japan doesn’t even hold a shadow. This is very reflective now of how things have been handled during this crisis.
In the U.S., non-profit centers compete with the market for pay. You can make a career in a non-profit center and raise a family. That’s not necessarily true in Japan. Also, non-profit organizations in America become stronger as knowledge is carried over from one generation to the next.
In Japan, non-profits experience a high turnover rate of employees. Realistically, non-profits only started in 1998 when civic groups were granted legal rights to form non-profit entities. Relationships are practically non-existent between
non-profits and business and non-profits and government. Non-profit is used as a pejorative here.
Q: What are the most effective ways our readers can help Second Harvest Japan in its mission to distribute food?
A: Your American readers who are interested in helping could make tax deductable donations through our website. Those funds will eventually come to us to support our activities. Last year, for every dollar donated, we were able to distribute 10 dollars worth of food. That’s pretty consistent with food banks in the U.S.
The cost of getting the food over here might erode the impact. We’ve had people do food drives in the U.S. We appreciate their efforts but suggest instead they donate half the calculated postage of the cost to send it. Sometimes we have offers for food donations that make sense. Jack Bayles arranged for 10 pallets—a 20-foot container—of shelf-stable organic milk. It was hard for me to turn that down.
Jack Bayles is a faithful, faithful supporter. In 1996, I did an exhibition about the homeless. I never met Jack, but he had read about what he was doing in the newspaper. He called and said, “I’m sending you 100 cases of organic cheese,” and he continued to donate ever since. I didn’t meet Jack in person until the year 2000, yet his generosity was forthcoming without anything in return.
Q: How did you come to play such an important role at Second Harvest Japan?
A: I first came to Japan in 1984 in the military and stayed to attend undergraduate school here. In 2000, I was one of the founding members of the food bank here. A couple of people came together and talked about gathering food for their own food kitchen. I introduced the concept of a food bank and pioneered it. We’ve been very lucky to have people like Jack supporting us. This is not a fertile ground for non-profits.
One of the fundamental things about Second Harvest is our different approach to a non-profit. Prior to the earthquake, we never asked for food or money. We always believed in developing relationships first.
When the earthquake hit, our big donors came to us. It’s a partnership where we monitor necessary contributions together. We don’t define our food bank as helping impoverished people. We think it is fun to save product from getting thrown away and putting it to good use. Some people have misunderstand that we’re here to save people but that’s not who we are.
Q: Why don’t you want to be seen as helping those in need?
A: No one talks about poverty in Japan; no one talks about hunger. In the U.S., these are big issues. These are nonstarters for the Japanese. Talking about hunger is a nonstarter. This is not on our website as a frontline issue. In Japan, you don’t see posters trying to squash out hunger. People are not connected to it.
Q: But is poverty a significant problem in Japan?
A: The poverty rate is actually substantial; 20 million people live below the poverty line but it is not discussed. We’re the national food bank and our slogan is Food for all the People. We have a blog on our website that your readers can follow.
Q: Do you ever consider going back to the U.S.?
A: I’ve been here 20 years. I had plans to go back to the States, but my daughter was born with a heart defect and we chose to stay here, where we could use our health insurance to have her surgery here.
Then the earthquake struck. I went up to Sendai and met with people confronted by blackouts, water shortages and radiation fears and became overwhelmed with my love for the country. This is not the first time the Japanese people have faced a situation where we had to rebuild. Whatever challenges we must overcome, I feel deeply optimistic about the future.
America knows no better friend in the world than Japan. The fact that we were able to go from arch enemies in World War II to such close allies today is an inspirational story providing hope that all human conflict can find resolution.
Of course, Japan is a technologically advanced society and a wealthy one as well. Indeed the fact that so few perished in the earthquake points to the great effectiveness of Japanese engineering and law.
Yet the problems with the tsunami and the nuclear plants also show that societies inevitably make choices and trade-offs, and now, our good friend is in need of help.
The US has technical experts trying to brainstorm with the Japanese on how to resolve the crisis related to the nuclear plants.
The proud Japanese ask for little, but that doesn’t mean help is not appreciated.
There is no question that the disaster will transform many things in Japan including trade patterns and partners. Whenever 20% of the electrical generating capacity of an industrial nation disappears, there will be change. Whenever a way of life suddenly seems very dangerous, there will be change.
For now, though, we take special pride that Americans, such as Jack Bayles, Mark Bartsch and Charles McJilton, are working with Japanese, such as Akihiro Monden, to alleviate suffering and lay a foundation for recovery.
If you can help, please consider doing so. Money is needed and the Kobe Union Church will facilitate its use in an efficient and effective way:
Second Harvest is seeking food donations. Some of the big shipping lines and airlines are willing to provide free freight on larger shipments, and Jack Bayles and others are helping to provide free freight in containers they have coming to Japan and are working with the Japanese government to waive duties.
From a pallet to a container, a food gift from America is a powerful present to our friends in Japan: