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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Helping each other in times of emergency

Rika Kayama (Mainichi)

Various areas across Japan, particularly Kyushu in the southwestern part of the country, have suffered extensive damage due to days of torrential rains. Those who were hit hard by the disaster must be exhausted far more than they would have been had it not been for the fact that evacuation, rescue and cleanup have had to be carried out with novel coronavirus countermeasures in place.

Those who escaped and have arrived at evacuation centers are facing harsh conditions while helping each other out. Watching scenes on TV of people who are moving on to relatives' homes or elsewhere and those who are remaining at evacuation centers exchange goodbyes and words of encouragement as they shed tears, I feel a tightening in my chest. There seems to have been a lot of people who had been a part of each other's lives as neighbors for a long time.

As I thought to myself, "It must be a relief to know someone at the evacuation centers," I remembered the heavy rains in Amami Oshima island in southwestern Japan 10 years ago. In October 2010, mudslides that occurred as a result of intense rainfall had cut off roads. It was widely reported in the national media.

At the time, there was a nurse who was from Amami Oshima at the clinic where I work. Our colleagues all suggested that she go back home to help out her elderly mother, who lived alone.

But the nurse smiled and replied, "I checked by phone that she's fine, so it's OK. And in any case, her neighbors are much more reliable than I could be. In fact, when the rain was particularly bad, the people living across the street from my mother carried her on their backs and evacuated to a safe place."

According to her, community ties are very strong on the island. Young people sometimes leave the island because they find those very ties to be a bother, but when necessary, everyone apparently comes together to help each other out.

"Wow, that's amazing," one of our colleagues said. "Maybe I should leave Tokyo and go live in a place like that." Meanwhile, another colleague suggested, "No, it's much freer when people are uninterested in each other." For a while after that, we were constantly talking about whether it was better to live in a city or in a regional place.

Of course, no matter how much we discuss which is better, we'll never reach the correct answer. But in a country like Japan, which is highly prone to disasters, "mutual assistance in a time of need" is essential.

The best kind of relationship would be if we kept to ourselves for the most part in our everyday lives, but came together like relatives and close friends to encourage and help each other when circumstances required us to evacuate, or otherwise take action. But building such relationships is not easy. Watching the news about the series of disasters taking place across Japan, I wondered how I should be preparing myself.

(Japanese original by Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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