We caught up with Yoshimi to discuss her remarkable volunteering efforts:
How did you get involved in the clean up effort Yoshimi?
Volunteers began helping in the area soon after the earthquake and I started sending money and drinks to them. The trains were suspended and it is a long trip to make by bus, so my first trip to Yamamoto cho, the disaster area, was at Christmas time. I then started going every weekend.
Did you volunteer as part of a group?
Yes, the group is called Schopdan. It was started by a man whose friend died in the Tsunami. He began helping clean people’s homes and encouraged others to get involved, at one point it attracted 100 members. It is an informal group which has few rules, except ‘Treat each house as if it were your house, clean as you would clean your own home.’ We meet at the station at a set time on Saturday morning and bring our own cleaning things.
Do people request a clean up of their home?
There is a local politician who acts as an informal co-ordinator. Families who have had their homes destroyed go to him, and he in turn contacts our group to ask for help.
One of the things I am most proud of is the fact that there is very little looting or theft in Japan. When we go through the remains of a house, some 12 or more months after the earthquake, there are still valuables left in amongst the rubble. We have even found envelopes full of cash.
Have you been able to retrieve personal items for the families?
Yes, we are sometimes able to find a family’s keepsakes and mementoes in their houses - it depends on how badly the house was damaged.
Some families are able to move back into their homes after we have thoroughly cleaned it. Others are unable to either because the house is not habitable or because it contains too many bad memories.