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Fall Update from Japan

September 28, 2012

It has been a very hot and humid summer in Japan this year.

Now, the end of September, we are finally getting some reprieve and the nights are cool!

The Fall Semester begins tomorrow, and as always I don't feel ready! 

I just returned from leading a 10 day study tour with 12 students.  The study tour is a social work study tour to a rural part of Hawaii to learn how nonprofit agencies in the United States (particularly Hawaii) work to provide help to people in need.

Most people think of Hawaii as just a resort, but there are many social problems such as homelessness and poverty there. I did my graduate work in social work in Hawaii so have many connections there. The study tour is a part of a class I teach called "International Social Welfare." The students always learn so much on this tour.

Of course, we have time off to enjoy the beach as well, but it is a 'hard core' program and the students work real hard!!!

It is also a lot of work for me because I coordinate the schedule as well as do the interpreting and even driving the van!  I usually am in need of a vacation after we return, but I have to jump right into the busy semester!

A few weeks ago marked a year and a half from the earthquake and tsunami that hit northern Japan.  I am not sure if you hear much about this in the US anymore, but there are still many issues remaining and much work to be done to help people affected by the disaster.

Our church (denomination) is still very involved with helping in direct service in northern Japan.  Some of my students spent some time volunteering this summer as well.  (Our church conference supports students financially - giving them a stipend to help offset travel expenses to get up to northern Japan.) Although the emergency stage is long past, there are still houses that need to be cleaned, or work to clean up outdoors, in the farm land, rebuilding green houses, and other such work.

The other main issue, of course, is the nuclear disaster that has affected Fukushima Prefecture detrimentally.  Many people have been uprooted from their homes in areas considered unsafe because of the high radioactivity.  Even in areas that people are still living, children are not able to play outdoors (due to the higher radioactive count in the environment).

Fukushima is a beautiful prefecture (prefecture is comparable to a State in the US.)  with lots of farm land.  Many farmers have had to give up farming because of the nuclear disaster. Even if they grow crops, people in other parts of Japan will not buy the produce grown in Fukushima.

The suicide rate has increased in Fukushima because people have lost hope in the future.

It is hard to know how to help in such dire situations, but one thing I was directly involved in this summer was a summer camp in Kyoto (where I live) for kids from Fukushima.

The YWCA had a summer camp again this year for kids from Fukushima so they can have fun outdoors, without worrying about high radiation.  We did this last year as well and again in the Spring, so this was the third camp and it was a great success!

Also, citizens all over Japan are gathering to protest the government's Nuclear Policy. Japan has 54 nuclear power plants, but all of them were stopped after the earthquake last year.

But a few months ago, the government started up one of the plants. But many citizens are saying this is too dangerous in an earthquake prone country and are calling for the government to stop the reactor and to develop natural energy sources.

Every Friday there is a rally in front of the Prime Minister's residence, to say NO to Nuclear Energy. The numbers have grown to where there are over 100,000 people each week in Tokyo.

In Kyoto where I live there has also been about 700 in local protest here each week. The protests are very peaceful - lots of young mothers with children, students, and elderly as well participating.

It is unusual for Japanese people to rally like this, but this time the people are voicing their concerns and calling for a change.

I know there are lots of stakes in Nuclear Energy but I personally think that it is not the choice for Japan, so I am joining in this movement as well.

I continue to be grateful for your prayers and support. I have been touched by the many letters and cards sent to me over the past year.

May God continue to bless each of you and your church ministries within your communities.

Sincerely,

Martha Mensendiek

Martha serves at Doshisha University, Kyoto, Japan through the Council on Cooperative Mission.  Martha is a Teacher of social welfare.

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