Volunteers Aid Lives Shattered By Japan Disaster

As Japan continues to rebuild after last year's devastating earthquake and tsunami, many Japanese are devoting themselves to dealing with the human costs of the tragedy. Almost 20,000 people died in the disaster, but many thousands more were left injured, homeless and destitute. Doualy Xaykaothao met a group of Japanese people trying to make a difference.

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

Let's go now to reporter Doualy Xaykaothao in Fukushima City, Japan. It's also in the north where thousands of volunteers are still arriving to help victims of the quake and tsunami.

DOUALY XAYKAOTHAO, BYLINE: The winter weather is beating down, but at least it's warm and dry inside the temporary government homes here.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONVERSATION)

XAYKAOTHAO: This 67-year-old woman from the town of Namie asked not to be identified. She and her son just settled in after moving six times trying to avoid the radiation from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Through translator) We have nothing to do right now. We just get up, eat breakfast, watch TV, and take a nap, and just sit. What to do from now on, that's what I want to know. So I'm so worried about the future, and I can't sleep.

XAYKAOTHAO: Making things worse - the anniversary coverage on television.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Through translator) I forgot some of things about the earthquake. But when I watch TV, I just remember some of the things that I forgot, and then I feel complicated.

XAYKAOTHAO: But she livens up when volunteers come to visit, as they often do. Hundreds of thousands, some estimate up to a million Japanese have given up their free time to help out in the disaster-struck northeast. Many thousands are still coming one year on. And their visits are much appreciated.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Through translator) Yes, when volunteers visit us, we just go outside and talk to them and we communicate to each other. But when they don't come, we just stay inside our house, so we feel depressed again.

XAYKAOTHAO: Sayuri Yamaguchi is one of the volunteers at the temporary shelters. She also plays and teaches kids orphaned by the disaster.

SAYURI YAMAGUCHI: (Through translator) I mostly communicate with people as a volunteer. I study psychology and related to that field. So I try to heal other people. I try to understand their feelings.

XAYKAOTHAO: A large number of volunteers are young people, including university student So Sato.

SO SATO: (Through translator) I feel I am needed by others, so that's why I have to volunteer, that's how I feel.

(SOUNDBITE OF CATS CRYING)

XAYKAOTHAO: Pets can relieve stress, too, and that's why some volunteers have been trying to reunite pets lost in the disaster areas with their owners. Asuka Ode, a volunteer with the Japan Cat Network, says most of these pets really miss people touching them.

ASUKA ODE: There are not many volunteers, so we don't really have time to play with them because we are busy for, like, feeding and cleaning and stuff. So there's not too much time to play with them. That's really sad.

XAYKAOTHAO: Another volunteer, Yuu-ko Yoshikawa, says they've rescued at least 400 animals from inside the radiation no-go zone.

YUU-KO YOSHIKAWA: (Through translator) There are more and more cats and dogs which need help.

XAYKAOTHAO: Many of the volunteers thought they would simply give up a weekend to help, but they've continued coming ever since March 11th. And some were so moved by what they saw in person that they have quit their day jobs in order to devote themselves to helping the survivors of the disasters.

For NPR News, I'm Doualy Xaykaothao in Fukushima City, northeastern Japan.

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