Babanakayama in Minamisanriku

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Babanakayama in Minamisanriku Projects

Wedding in Babanakayama

May 10, 2013

Wedding of Kaoru and Kanae Chiba

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On April 30, we had the privilege of attending the outdoor wedding and reception of Kaoru and Kanae Chiba in Babanakayama, Minamisanriku town. Even though we were the only foreigners among the over 100 people at their wedding, we felt right at home! For one thing, almost everyone except the bride and groom were dressed casually.

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They began with professional pictures in front of the Babanakayama evacuation center. Then they held a short wedding ceremony--all Christian--on the "Road of Hope" that Kanae and her sister had cut through the brush after the tsunami. The small road leads up a hill away from the ocean, making an escape route from any future tsunami that might hit the town. 

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Then, back at the evacuation center, they held their wedding reception with fun, Japanese traditional dancing and free flowing drinks. Instead of cutting the cake, they made the first slice in a tuna that was donated from the famous Tsukiji fish market of Tokyo. (Kanae's brother works there.) The tuna sashimi was delicious!

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One local lady told us it was so good to meet Christians like ourselves who have helped with the recovery of the town. In good Japanese fashion, she tried to give us a gift to express her thanks and repay the debt she felt she owed. We shared with her that we were thankful we could show the love of Christ without expecting anything in return. Grace is a foreign concept in the Japanese mind.

At the end of the wedding reception, after most of the visitors had left, we had an opportunity to maneuver our van among the tables and tents so as to unload the large dish cupboard we were donating for the Chiba's cafe. We also gave them a quilt Ann had made for hanging on the wall of their new cafe.

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Then we drove to the nearby cafe site to see the progress. The cafe is scheduled to open some time in May. We plan to visit Kaoru and Kanae at their new cafe when we visit Babanakayama again in June.

Cafe Canape Dream

April 23, 2013

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Kaoru and Kanae Chiba meet us every time we visit the Babanakayama district of Minamisanriku town. During our mid-March visit they showed us the place they want to set up a few trailer houses so they can make a community cafe and overnight accommodations.

They also showed us Kaoru's family's house. It sits right on the Pacific Ocean coastline and was inundated by the tsunami on March 11, 2011. But he and his parents have mucked it out, rebuilt the first floor, and are living in it. Kaoru's father owns a piece of property a few hundred meters from the family house. It sits on a bluff overlooking the Babanakayama fishing harbor where seaweed (wakame) is cultivated. This is where the Chibas are putting up their cafe and small "motel."

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The seaside bluff was itself covered by the tsunami - up to about 1.5 meter. So the Chibas are not legally permitted to build a permanent structure there. But they can put up temporary trailer houses. There is a hill just behind the property that makes an excellent getaway if another tsunami ever hits.

They hope their cafe will attract locals back to the town, including young people and children. Many have had to move away to temporary housing locations in the area. The local elementary school, just a few hundred meters from the cafe location, is scheduled to start up again in April 2014. As part of their cafe, they would like to put up a small playground for children. They hope this will encourage tsunami affected children to not be fearful of coming near the ocean. And Kanae has shared that she would like to create an environment where young people can come for a romantic date by the ocean!

When we attend Kaoru and Kanae's wedding reception and party on April 29, we will be delivering a large dish cupboard for the cafe. This will encourage Kanae as she sets up her cafe kitchen. We are also looking into the possibility of buying, shipping, and setting up some children's playground equipment.

Christmas Gifts for Babanakayama Children

December 25, 2012

Christmas gifts for the children of Babanakayama in Minamisanriku

Our seaweed cultivating sandbag project in the Babanakayama region of Minamisanriku was the first of what we hope will develop into other projects in this tsunami devastated part of Minamisanriku town. For example, we have an interest in 

working with the children of the town. Children are often overlooked in the ongoing tsunami recovery because getting companies re-established is the priority. The children of temporary housing units often have no place to play except on the streets in the area.


Mr. Chiba, who leads the crisis help center in Babanakayama, gave us permission to deliver gifts for the 25 children who are 12 years old or younger. In August we met Miss Kanai who had a similar interest in helping children. Her dream is to build a coffee/tea cafe in Babanakayama, with a children's playground next door. Since then the two have legally married and are together developing her dream. (We've been invited to their wedding reception in the spring.) We hope we can join them in their children's project.


As a first step toward bringing hope to the children of Babanakayama, we delivered children's Christmas gifts to the crisis help center on Dec 22. Parents and/or their children came by the center in the days that followed in order to pick up their presents. Each child received a bag of presents labelled with their name, including an age appropriate story book about the true meaning of Christmas.

May God use these gifts to open the door to his greatest gift--Jesus Christ himself! Our long range dream is to see a church in Babanakayama that loves the people of the town and proclaims the gospel.

606 Sandbags Delivered!

October 16, 2012

606 seaweed sandbags delivered


On Oct 12 we delivered 606 wakame seaweed growing sandbag weights, sewn by Ann and volunteers, to the Babanakayama district of Minamisanriku. The sandbags hold the seaweed growing ropes under the surface of the ocean. Seaweed seeds are placed into the submerged ropes and the seaweed grows out from those ropes.


The seaweed fisherman who accepted the sandbags, Mr. Saichi, was delighted to get them. The 15 families of Babanakayama who grow seaweed will receive 40 sandbags each. Each family could actually use about 300. Last year they were not able to harvest any seaweed because they did not have these sandbags. (The growing season is from Oct through May.) Their suppliers of sandbags were not able to make any. This year they have about 50% of what they need. Perhaps by next year the suppliers of sandbags will be back in business.

We had hoped to get a green light to go ahead with a community project such as building a playground or a small community center. But the families of Babanakayama (100 families before the tsunami; now 80) are all too focussed on their own survival and trying to rebuild their own houses to think about community projects. So perhaps our next step in the Babanakayama district of Minamisanriku is to distribute some literature and just stay in touch with the leaders until they initiate a project. So we continue to seek a good project for the EFCCM to effectively share the hope and love of Christ with tsunami devastated northeastern Japan.

Sewing Sandbags at MCC Again

October 1, 2012

Sewing seaweed sandbags at MCC in Tokyo (again)

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We returned to Musashino Chapel Center (Tokyo) from Sep 18-22 to sew more seaweed cultivating sandbag weights for the fishermen of Minamisanriku town. We need to sew at least 450 more sandbags by the time we deliver them to the fishermen in mid-Oct. At MCC in Sep we were able to sew another 438! That has to be a new record for one week of sewing.

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Ann once again led the sandbag sewing project, teaching everyone how to use the five sewing machines, helping out with sewing and machine problems, etc. The week of 9AM - 5PM days went so smoothly largely because of the coordinating skills of Yoko and Claire. They were great to work with! MCC members from both the English and Japanese departments enthusiastically participated.

On Sun, Sep 23, we updated the MCC English Department worship service on our tsunami recovery ministry as well as our future church planting project, Tokyo Multicultural Church (TMC). MCC is the primary partner church for our TMC project, so it is good to connect with MCC for our tsunami ministry as well as for our future church planting ministry in Tokyo.

Request for More Sandbags

September 5, 2012

Request for more seaweed sandbags

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On Aug 21 we drove 2 hours north of Sendai to the Babanakayama district of Minamisanriku town in order to confirm that the seaweed cultivating fishermen of the town still needed seaweed sandbags. Chiba-san, at the right in the pic, is the leader of the Babanakayama support center. On our last visit in July, he had set up his "office" in a shed. This time he showed us the evacuation center that the district built shortly after the tsunami in March 2011 and is no longer used for evacuation purposes. This is now where he discusses possible tsunami recovery projects with volunteers like ourselves. The evacuation center can sleep 12-15 people.

He had done his research regarding whether and how many sandbags the seaweed fishermen of Babanakayama needed. As a result, we were invited to sew about 500 seaweed sandbags. We gladly agreed to do so and plan to deliver the sandbags personally to the fishermen of Babanakayama in early October. We have already sewn about 500 sandbags for distribution elsewhere in Minamisanriku. We have made plans to return to Tokyo Musashino Chapel Center from Sep 18-22 in order to complete sewing this next batch of 500 seaweed sandbags.

Kanai-san, at the left in the pic, offers hospitality to volunteers at the evacuation center who come to the district to help with various projects. Her dream is to set up her own coffee shop in Babanakayama. She also would like to see a safe playground built (rebuilt?) for children. Chiba-san agreed there is such a need in the district. Caring for children who live in evacuation centers or in devastated towns is a recurring theme wherever we go. Recovery programs and community buildings seem to focus on adults, leaving the children to play in the streets or confined to their small homes and apartments.

Is it possible the Lord is opening a door for us to build a playground in Babanakayama? If so, how will we link that project to a church ministry in the area so that the project will have long term potential for reaching the area with the gospel? There has never been a church in Minamisanriku, but there are now plans to get one or two started.

Sewing Sandbags at MCC

August 10, 2012

Sewing seaweed sandbags at MCC in Tokyo

From Jul 31 - Aug 3, Tue - Fri, Dale and Ann were in Tokyo leading seaweed sandbag sewing sessions at Musashino Chapel Center - MCC (Tokyo Musashino Evangelical Free Church). Actually, Ann did the leading, teaching, and solving sewing machine problems. Dale was the driver and did some clean up.


With the enthusiastic participation of both the English and Japanese Departments at MCC, a little over 300 sandbags were sewn using the four tsunami ministry sewing machines and Ann's personal machine.


We have now completed almost 500 sandbags. Those will be distributed to the fishermen of Minamisanriku in early September through the Japanese volunteer organization (non-Christian) that first informed us of this project. That distribution will take place through the fisheries union of the town.


But now that we have personal contact with seaweed fishermen ("farmers"?) in Minamisanriku, we hope to give them the remaining sandbags that we make (another 500?). We will be taking another trip to Minamisanriku in the near future in order to work out the details.

Who Gets the Sandbags?

July 25, 2012

On July 23, 2012, Ann and Dale drove north from Sendai to the Pacific coast town of Minamisanriku in order to try to make contact with some wakame seaweed fishermen. We wanted to see if the seaweed bags Ann has been sewing were OK and where they might be needed.

Minamisanriku context

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Our primary and invaluable contact in still very much decimated Minamisanriku town is a tentmaker from Tokyo (an electrical engineer), Andrew Klaus, who has taken a leave of absence from work and has lived near Minamisanriku for over a year. He found us on the web, subscribed to our email updates, and initiated contact with us because of our seaweed sandbag project. He has compiled a list of more than 1000 people he has met. As we shadowed him in Minamisanriku throughout the day at two temporary housing units, one ministry center, and one devastated fishing area, it was obvious that his local credibility was high. We learned much.

We are planning to distribute 500-1000 sandbags through the Japanese volunteer organization that pointed us to this project. Those sandbags will go to one fishery association in Minamisanriku that will distribute them in a manner their leaders feel is best. But we have learned there are multiple fisheries in the Minamisanriku area. Therefore there is a high possibility some seaweed fishermen might not get any sandbags through the Japanese volunteer organization with which we are working because their connection is with only one fishery (post-tsunami politics?).


Most importantly, we made contact with a local resident of Babanakayama in northern Minamisanriku who connects that part of town with the outside world, mostly by his blog (in Japanese) that he updates every day. We left a sample sandbag with him that he later showed to a seaweed growing fisherman (see pic). The fisherman's response was encouraging: He would be overjoyed to receive these kinds of sandbags. Others are now saying the same.

Next steps?

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Is this a good opportunity to give a sewing machine to someone who can start their own sandbag sewing business in Minamisanriku (and teach them how to sew)?

Would it be a good idea to build a small building for sewing sandbags (or other fishing purposes) that could double as a gathering place for the fishermen (and for believers to share the love and gospel of Christ)?

Do we limit the number of sandbags we are sewing for the Japanese volunteer organization with which we are linked so that we will have more sandbags to personally distribute ourselves?

Need for Seaweed Sandbags


June 9, 2012

Minamisanriku town, about 60 miles (90 km) northeast of Sendai, is famous for its cultivation of wakame seaweed. The area has 31 ports with about 500 fishermen. The tsunami waves on March 11, 2011, caused extensive damage to all these ports, with many fishing boats destroyed or swept out to sea. Fisheries were also destroyed or rendered useles, with the ground level permanently dropping in some places by 3 feet.


The wakame seaweed growing fishermen need about 30 small sandbags for weighing down each seaweed growing rack so that it will stay submerged under the ocean surface. The bags needed are the three small ones in the pic at the left. Each fishermen can use about 200 bags for filling with sand. The bags are used at the end of August when the seaweed growing season begins.

It is estimated that 100,000 sandbags are needed. So far, Japanese volunteers throughout Japan have made 40,000. We are sure we can contribute toward making some of the remaining 60,000 sandbags by using our sewing machines purchased for tsunami recovery ministry.


We hope to sew the sandbags at Sendai Izumi Evangelical Free Church and invite volunteers from the church family and other places in Japan to help us. Ann will take the lead in teaching others how to sew the sandbags. We plan to make several trips to MinamiSanriku so we can meet the seaweed growing fishermen and deliver the sandbags as they are completed--and of course share the gospel of Christ with them.

We are in the process of finalizing this project and are hoping to begin sewing sandbags in early July. (dale little)