Wednesday, February 15, 2012

road trip to the Tohoku coast

Caught a ride up to Ishinomaki with friends Julia and KT and their 10- and 11-year-old daughters last weekend, to see how we might help out in some way with the ongoing recovery. The fine folks at 'It's Not Just Mud' put us up for two nights, in their house (base camp) in Watanoha, a suburb east of Ishinomaki city, in Miyagi prefecture. (INJM is a volunteer nonprofit organization founded by a 26-year-old Brit who quit his day job to assist the recovery effort full time - watch a short BBC News report about him here: )

When we arrived late Friday evening, Anna Swain, American volunteer extraordinaire (she's been living and working in Ishinomaki since May 2011) was there to welcome us and sort us out. She directed us to our sleeping quarters, a tatami room on the ground floor across the hall from another tatami room where INJM volunteers gathered for meals. In this communal dining room, there was a long low table with cushions around it, a sort of makeshift kotatsu - traditional Japanese setup where there's a heat source under the table, and a tablecloth down to the floor, covering your crisscrossed legs, only in the case here, INJM had a space heater and air hose pumping heat under the skirt. If you weren't around that table, you were freezing, unless of course you kept your puffy jacket, hat, gloves and long johns on...

Anna explained that none of the homes in the area - among the hardest hit by the March 11, 2011 Great Japan earthquake/tsunami - had heat. Japanese homes are typically poorly insulated (if they're insulated at all) and this winter had been particularly brutal.

The good news is, there is power, so electric blankets can make all the difference. Several weeks ago Anna posted an appeal on Facebook asking her 400+ friends to send some, and, amazingly, many have done so, ordering them from She waits until she has 20 or 30 or 50 in hand, then distributes them among residents of a particular neighborhood or temporary housing development in need. Nobody would accept one otherwise.

By the way, anyone can donate an electric blanket, and it's not too late - spring does not come early on the northeast coast, like it does in Tokyo. Here's how to do it:

Go to (click "view page in English" to make this easier) search for product "NA-013K" and that should bring up a single size electric blanket for 3,600 yen (about $45).

Buy and ship to:
It's Not Just Mud
c/o Anna Swain
Postal Code 986-2135
74-5 Sakaeda, Ishinomaki-shi
Miyagi-ken (Prefecture)
Tel: 0423667572 did not recognize me as an existing customer because my account is with But I was able to make the purchase on using my U.S. credit card and billing address without a problem. 

Do it!

Here's me with Anna (in the pink hat) outside the INJM house. We've all just signed the door and we're saying goodbye. Send her some blankets!
More about what we did that weekend in my next post...

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