Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Quick Report on Fukushima

Although short, I must say that my stay at Fukushima Aiikuen (FA) was a very moving experience and an adventure for me.  Leading up to this project, I knew that the very fact that FA had given me permision to visit their home to take pictures was a very rare opportunity.  During my internship at the Japan America Society of Southern California, I learned that FA has had complications with visitors in the past and as a result has many privacy policies in place to protect their children from outside interests.  As such, I will be very reserved and cautious about the pictures I post on this blog until I receive direct permission from FA for their distribution and will not be posting any pictures of the children for the time being.  

Note that I am currently working on my official report.  This post will exclude all pictures of the children until I receive feedback from the staff of Fukushima Aiikuen.  This will just be a reflection of some of my impressions about my visit.

Coming into this project, I was not sure what to expect in regards to the amount of freedom I would have when interacting with the children of FA.  I suspected I might have set times where I would be able to interact with the children under the constant supervision of staff or face other understandable restrictions during my stay at the home. 

However, upon my arrival my concerns were immediately cast aside as I was greeted with open arms by the very friendly staff members of FA.  Mr. Hasegawa, a senior staff member at the home gave me a tour of all the homes facilities including the 8 separate homes for the children.  These staff members made it very clear that they wanted to help me in whatever way they could with my photo shooting and that I was a welcomed guest at their home.   Even though the staff members of FA only spoke Japanese, we were still able to hold conversation and plan out my schedule for my 3 day project.  

My arrival at the home.
A map of Fukushima Aiikuen.  

The entry hall to one of the houses.
During my stay at Fukushima Aiikuen, I was given the freedom to visit the 8 different homes as I pleased and the opportunity to personally meet and talk with the children of the home.  As it was Spring vacation for the children of the home, I also was fortunate enough to have been able to join some of the field trips with the children to places such as a park where we saw cherry blossoms in bloom.  Fukushima Aiikuen had even prepared a private room for me in one of the guest houses on the facility.   
The wonderful hospitality of Fukushima Aiikuen allowed me to get to know the children and staff on a very personal and meaningful level and in a way that was very enjoyable and comfortable for myself as well.
Director Saito of Fukushima Aiikuen

During my visit to the 8 houses at FA, I met many wonderful and bright children such as the 10 year old girl in this picture.  Despite her young age, she was able to introduce herself in English and express her interests and hobbies such as piano.  I had asked her if I could hear her play, but she told me that since it was still early in the morning, she couldn't play due to the noise.  Later in the day she actually found me in the cafeteria and asked if she could play for me then.  The songs she played were beautiful and done without any sheet music, I was very pleasantly surprised by just how brilliant the children at FA are.  
The view from the office of Fukushima Aiikuen.  Much of the forests and fields in this picture have not yet been decontaminated and are unsafe for the children to spend extended periods of time in.  

During my time speaking with the staff, I learned about the family structure that Fukushima Aiikuen strives towards to help their children gain a sense of family in this home.  In Fukushima Aiikuen, there are 8 different houses that each house 6-10 children each.  The children are mixed in age and have separate rooms for the boys and girls.  There are also house mothers and fathers in each of these homes that the children call "niisan" or "neesan" (older brother, older sister).  These 'parents' live in the houses and are always there for the children.

Further, all of the meals eaten at Fukushima Aiikuen are done so in the individual houses, not in the cafeteria.  Mr. Hasegawa told me how in the past, meals were eaten in the cafeteria, but in order to create a more family oriented home, meals were organized around a dinner table in the individual houses.  Having not had meal with my family ever since I came to Japan nearly 8 months ago, I really did feel a sense of nostalgia when I joined the children and host parents in one of the homes for breakfast.  It really did feel like a family.

A picture I took during my time speaking with the chefs in the cafeteria who cook for the 94 children in the home. 

I also helped many of the children with their English homework during my stay.  

A machine measuring and displaying the radiation levels around the office of FA.  

My report on how the children cope with restricted outside playtime will be included in the later report I am preparing.  It will be easer to convey these restrictions with the pictures I have.  However,  I can say that FA has adapted well to the challenges of radiation and the restrictions children face were barely noticeable to a visitor like myself.

Some of the staff members of FA that I spent time talking with during my free time.  
The morning staff meeting at FA.  
Overall, I cannot express my gratitude to the staff and children of Fukushima Aiikuen.  They have given me a wonderful opportunity during my 3 day stay and I will put forth my best effort in the construction of my official photo narrative report to share their story.

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