Aid poured in from 133 countries and 39 international organizations, and included personnel as well as supplies such as water, food, blankets and clothes. Delays and other problems plagued the distribution of foreign aid. In many cases supplies that showed up were not what people needed.

In Japan a number professional athletes, film and television actors and other celebrities engaged in a number of events to raise money for survivors and lift the spirits of the nation. Boston Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzka donated $1 million. Teenage golfer Ryo Ishikawa promised to give all his winning for the entire 2011 season. Internet and cell phone tycoon Masayoshi Son donated $125 million. His company Softbank gave $12 million. Among the largest foreign contributors was Coca Cola which promised $30 million for disaster relief. Workers at Google devoted “20 percent of their time” to build technology to help with the disaster in Japan.

In Hong Kong, Jackie Chan and other Asian stars raised $3.2 million for Japan relief in an event called “311Love Beyond Borders.” “Songs for Japan” — with contributions from Madonna, Lady Gaga, Bob Dylan, Beyonce and Bruno Mars and began with John Lennon’s “Imagine” — was the top seller on Apple’s online shop in 18 countries. Proceeds from sales went to Japan Red Cross. Lady Gaga and South Korean actress Choi Ji Woo made large donations and raised money for victims.

In November 2011, AFP reported: Actor Brad Pitt praised the “tenacity” of Japan in its post-quake recovery efforts Thursday, as the star brought his partner Angelina Jolie and family to a nation still confronting a nuclear crisis. “You are bringing everything forward to rebuilding and reclaiming the lives for yourselves and for others. It’s valued and inspiring to us,” Pitt told a news conference ahead of the Japan release of his new movie “Moneyball.” “Your tenacity and perseverance and survival has a great effect on us, to the world community, and I applaud you all for that,” he said. Pitt’s visit to Japan, together with Jolie and their six children comes nearly eight months after a 9.0 magnitude earthquake.The global community is “greatly and painfully aware of the cataclysmic catastrophe,” Pitt said. “Our hearts and thoughts are still with you who have been touched by this event.” At the Moneyball’s preview, Pitt gave autographed balls to 10 teenage baseball players from the quake-hit northeast. [Source: AFP, November 10, 2011]

Many countries provided various kinds of assistance to Japan after the disaster. China and South Korea sent over rescue teams and donated fuel with days after the quake hit. The United States mobilized a large chunk of its military force stationed in Asia to provide help. Israel sent medical teams. Russia said it would boost natural gas supplies. Even countries such as India, Turkey and Indonesia that are usually the recipients of earthquake relief aid provided earthquake aid to Japan. Kuwait donated 5 million barrels of oil to Japan. South Koreans donated $51 million in quake relief. North Korea and Kim Jong Il donated $100,000 to the Japan Red Cross and gave $500,000 to pro-Pyongyang Korean residents in Japan. As of early April, 1,000 rescue workers from 20 countries had been dispatched to Japan .

Volunteers After March 2011 Earthquake and Tsunami

Volunteers from all over Japan — many of the university students and people in their 20s and 30s’showed up in the quake-stricken area to help out. Among them were survivors of earthquakes in Kobe and Niigata that came to offer expertise learned the hard way from their experiences. Reflecting the bonds of human relations, which came under the spotlight in various ways after the great disaster, the kanji character "kizuna" (meaning bond or tie) was chosen as the kanji that best expressed this year's social situation in an annual ceremony at Kiyomizudera temple in Kyoto. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun]

According to the Japan National Council of Social Welfare, about 59,000 volunteers worked in the three devastated prefectures in March 2011 alone. As of late April, 130,000 people had volunteered to help in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami in Iwate, Mikago and Fukushima prefectures with about 2,000 to 3,000 people offering their services each day during a usual work week, with up to 8,000 a day volunteering during the holidays. Some places such as Ishinomaki received more volunteers than they handle and told people not to come but others, especially places near the troubled Fukushima nuclear power plant, had difficulty getting enough people. By late 2011 the number of volunteers has been on the decline. In February 2012, the number was about 16,000, less than 10 percent of the peak number in May 2011.

John M. Glionna wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Legions of volunteers who have responded to Japan's worst natural disaster, swarming the stricken northeastern coast to clean up wreckage and pound nails into new homes, carrying word that outsiders care about what happens to people here. There's the Japanese American who sponsored a summer baseball league in the tsunami-hit area; the Tokyo photographer who takes family portraits, turning them into postcards that survivors can send to loved ones; and refugees from Myanmar and Uganda who want to assist the residents of their new homeland. "Many have been politically persecuted back home. They know what crisis is," said Shiho Tanaka, a spokeswoman for the Japan Assn. for Refugees. "They want to show that even though they're not Japanese, they can help their new society." [Source: John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times, December 06, 2011]

In recent years, many younger Japanese, especially those laboring long hours in the big city, had lost their tasuke-ai no kokoro, or spirit of helping, some say. March 11 changed all that. "The event woke up many young people to the old ways," one volunteer told the Los Angeles Times. "Especially when you see the support that the rest of the world has offered Japan, you know you have to do something for your own people."

Volunteer Package Tours

Package tours that include volunteer activities in disaster-hit areas of the Tohoku region are part of efforts by the tourism industry to support hotels and inns there whose facilities were damaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

On her experience volunteering Fumiko Endo wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: The fee for my three-day, two-night trip was about 20,000 yen, which covered return bus fare, Saturday night accommodation in Akiu hot spring in the prefecture (Friday night was spent on the bus) and volunteer insurance. There were about 40 people in our group, mainly office workers in their 20s to 40s.” [Source: Fumiko Endo, Yomiuri Shimbun, July 17, 2011]

After arriving on a night bus from Tokyo at their destination, Okada, a female volunteer coordinator who had been working in the district for a while told Endo’s group. "We want to ask your group to do four different kinds of jobs..First, we need 10 people to remove wet sludge that has been here for more than three months. It's very tough work. The second job is clearing away mud at a temple. That's for about 10 people. It's relatively hard..."

Endo wrote: “Considering my physical ability, I applied for the second task... In the temple grounds, we saw toppled gravestones and a severely bent metal handrail near the temple's main building, the most sacred place in the compound...Wearing masks, helmets, rubber boots, gloves and goggles, we slipped into the crawlspace beneath the floor of the main building, through a gap where some floor panels had been removed.

Approaching the temple, we saw houses whose ground floor, walls and interiors had been totally swept away, leaving only a skeleton of wooden beams. The second floors, however, were virtually untouched. A volunteer coordinator said, who had been based in the temple for a while had told us over lunch, "On March 11, local residents ran into the temple compound. Those who rushed to the second floor of the residential building were safe. But the people who went to the one-story main building were swept away by tsunami.”

The gap between the floor and the ground was only about 60 centimeters. I dragged myself along with my elbows and knees while lying on my stomach, like soldiers do. My plastic goggles fogged up immediately. I rolled over and lay on my back, and began scraping mud from the wooden beams and boards under the temple floor with my hands. It was caked on, and had become quite dry. Stuck in the mud were pine cones and straw that had been carried by tsunami from the coast and nearby paddy fields.

I was often struck by large falling chunks of dried mud, and my head had a close call with a protruding nail. The goggles and helmet provided good protection. "On March 11, local residents ran into the temple compound. Those who rushed to the second floor of the residential building were safe. But the people who went to the one-story main building were swept away by tsunami. We finished the job at about 3 p.m. A woman who was related to one of the temple priests gave us small chocolates and apple cakes made by a local firm. We were touched by her showing such kindness despite her emotional pain.

On Sunday, we left the hotel just after 6 a.m. to go to Minami-Sanrikucho, where more than 540 residents have been confirmed dead and about 660 are still missing. The scenes we saw through the bus windows were shocking. Stretched out before us was a field of debris, even though almost four months had passed since the disaster. A fishing boat sat among a pile of debris from shattered houses.

In a large tent that served as a volunteer center, we cleaned photos found amid debris by Self-Defense Forces personnel and other workers. The Minami-Sanrikucho municipality puts these photos and other recovered belongings on display in a former school building, hoping they will be returned to their owners or their owners' relatives.

Some photos were in better condition than others. Some albums were waterlogged and covered by green and yellow mold that had an odor strong enough to penetrate my facial mask. We spent about two hours cutting away the wet mounting paper so the photos would be better able to dry.The pictures contained a trove of memories, from group holidays to wedding ceremonies.One photo left a particularly strong impression on me. As I cleaned away the dried mud with a paintbrush, an elderly woman's smiling face slowly emerged. Looking at her, I realized the importance of the job.

Japan’s Youth Rise to the Challenge and Volunteer

Many Japanese teenagers and young adults were affected by the earthquake and tsunami and offered their services as volunteers. Describing the scene at Saitama Super Arena, where local teens who usually come for rock concerts, Hannah Beech wrote in Time, “By 9:30 a.m., the emergency center has reached its maximum of 500 volunteers, most of whom are young. An additional 1,500 waiting for a chance to help will have to come back tomorrow. Masayuki Ishii, 18, is one of the lucky ones who scored a volunteer spot. He wears a big grin and is holding a sign that says 60s. His friend is holding another that says WOMEN. Together they form a duo that is organizing evacuee women in the 60-to-69 age bracket to go for their daily baths. "Some people say that young Japanese don't have a good spirit," says Ishii, stamping his feet in the frigid weather. "But when it comes down to it, we want to help, not just with money but with real work." [Source: Hannah Beech, Time, April 4, 2011]

Other young people are battling a bureaucracy so swaddled in red tape that it has strangled attempts to provide speedy aid to quake survivors. "We've always thought that, even with our problems, Japan is No. 1," says Tomoko Yamashita, a 29-year-old employee of Peace Winds, a Japanese NGO that was one of the few local groups to immediately assess the needs up north. "But we have staff who've worked in places like Haiti or Sudan, and we've discovered that Japan's plans for emergencies are not adequate and need to be changed."

Still others are contributing just by changing their personal priorities. Many older Japanese — like 78-year-old Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara, who initially called the earthquake "divine retribution" for the country's consumerist excesses — fulminate against the material addictions of the young. But there's not much sign of that where you would most expect to see it. In Shibuya, the nerve center of Tokyo youth, a self-described freeter named Hikaru Tanaka giggles with her girlfriends in a usually neon-dazzled square now dark because of power cuts. With her designer handbag and geisha-style slathering of makeup, the 20-year-old looks like the ultimate material girl. But Tanaka bats her false eyelashes and says she has happily reduced the heat at home to save electricity and has sent a donation up north. "I know it's a small thing, but I want to do all that I can," says Tanaka. "Japan may be dark right now, but if we all come together, it will be bright again." (See pictures of stagnant Japanese economy.)

"Often it takes a huge crisis to make a society change," says Toshihiko Hayashi, an economics professor at Doshisha University in Tokyo, who has studied the legacies of natural disasters. "For Japan, even two lost decades after the bubble burst were not enough to fundamentally change the country's economic and political systems. But this crisis is different. It could be the catalyst that finally changes Japan."

Perhaps the biggest problem is a lack of leadership."The sad fact about many young people today is that if there's one person who leads the way, they will follow and work hard," says Ayumi Yamamoto, a Tokyo graduate student who has volunteered to help earthquake survivors as part of a newly formed group called Tohoku Rising. "But right now I don't see that one person stepping forward on the political stage."

Returned Money After the Tsunami

Tom Miyagawa Coulton and John M. Glionna wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “The unmarked envelope floated into the living room of the home in northeastern Japan, riding the wave of tsunami floodwaters. Inside, the astounded resident found $40,000 in yen notes. More money has been found in wallets, paper bags, and other containers swept away from their owners and scattered across a landscape ripped apart by the March 11 earthquake. One woman found $26,000 in a purse she had spotted atop a pile of debris. One police locksmith opened the heavy door of a recovered safe to find $1.3 million in yen notes. [Source: Tom Miyagawa Coulton and John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times, September 22, 2011]

What followed is a testament to a culture of honesty and altruism: The Japanese have turned over more than $48 million in loose cash to authorities."People tell me they just want the money to go to its owner," said Kouetsu Saiki, a Miyagi prefecture police officer who oversees the collection, identification and return of salvaged money and valuables. It will never be known whether the less altruistic pocketed what they found. But add the $30 million collected from recovered safes, and Japanese citizens and authorities in the three main prefectures damaged by the tsunami have helped salvage a stunning $78 million.

Just as remarkable, authorities say, some finders have waived their right to the money even when the rightful owners cannot be found in a region where 25,000 people are either confirmed or presumed dead. According to Japanese law, any unclaimed money reverts to the authorities after three months. It was unclear whether the government was planning to offer the uncollected proceeds to a general victims fund. Police officers and firefighters scouring the debris recovered much of the lost cash, but individual citizens have also done their part. "Everyone wants to help each other in any way that they can," Saiki said. Of the $24 million that has been turned in to police in Miyagi prefecture, authorities have managed to return $21 million to owners.

Brigitte Steger, a researcher at England's University of Cambridge, recently spent a month observing the daily lives of people displaced by the tsunami who were still housed in evacuation shelters. She found that residents were driven toward honest behavior by what she called the social balance that provides the cohesiveness of any community. "That social balance would be destroyed as soon as you're caught stealing someone else's belongings," Steger said.

Saiki said the case that moved him most didn't involve cash, but something more valuable: a set of lost family photo albums. When the owner saw the pictures, he broke into tears. "His family and his home were all lost in the tsunami," Saiki said. "The photographs in the safe were the only connection he had to his life before the disaster."

Returned Safes After the Tsunami

A total of 5,700 safes had been recovered or brought to police in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures in the period between the March 11 disaster and July 10. The accumulated money contained in the safes totaled more than 2.37 billion yen, according to the National Police Agency. Of the total amount of money, 2.27 billion yen, or 96 percent, has been returned to its owners, the NPA said. The majority of the safes, which mostly belong to households and companies, were found by police in the three prefectures during searches for missing persons. Ordinary citizens and Self-Defense Forces members also recovered safes while clearing debris, according to the NPA. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, August 17, 2011]

Tom Miyagawa Coulton and John M. Glionna wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Many safes were spotted by residents who summon police to provide the muscle needed to lift the heavy objects. In privacy-conscious Japan, the names of the finders and the people who have seen money returned have been kept confidential. But Saiki says the stories continue to amaze him. [Source: Tom Miyagawa Coulton and John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times, September 22, 2011]

So far, all but $500,000 of the $30 million found in the safes has found its way back to the rightful owners, Saiki said. One recovered safe money belonged to the owner of a local company whose offices were swept away. All of the cash, police say, was given to company employees. "He was so grateful to have his money back," Saiki said. "He didn't keep it but distributed it among his workers and their families. It's not about personal gain here. Everyone has suffered in this tsunami."

Crime in the Disaster and Evacuation Zones

There were incidents of robberies and crime in evacuated areas. Parts were taken off damaged cars and gasoline was drained from gas tanks. The incidents just weren’t not widely reported in the media. June 2011, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “In Burglars are apparently targeting houses left vacant because they are within 30 kilometers of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.The National Police Agency said the number of burglaries in Fukushima Prefecture totaled 695 from March to May, an increase of about 40 percent from the same period last year. Fukushima prefectural police have set up a special security unit consisting of about 300 police officers to patrol these areas in cooperation with the Metropolitan Police Department. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, June 11, 2011]

According to the NPA, the number of crimes recorded in the three months in the disaster-hit prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima, was 10,394, about 17 percent fewer than the year earlier. Of them, 18 were serious robberies, down 36 percent from a year earlier, while there were eight rapes, down 47 percent from a year earlier. Many heinous crimes have decreased. There were 8,355 other types of theft in the three prefectures, about 11 percent fewer than a year earlier. In Fukushima Prefecture, these types of crimes fell 21 percent from a year earlier.

However, burglaries at houses left vacant in Fukushima Prefecture increased by 207 over the same period a year earlier. As the 695 burglaries covered the whole prefecture, it is unclear how many were carried out near the nuclear power plant.According to Fukushima prefectural police, there were 42 burglaries within the 20-kilometer-radius. In the burglaries, thieves usually broke through glass doors to enter the houses and stole such items as Buddha statues, precious metal and cash.

In 274 cases, donation boxes for disaster victims have been stolen from shops and other places around the country. In a vicious business scam, fake drugs and water have been advertised as effective against radioactive substances. A senior NPA official said, "We've instructed all prefectural police headquarters to expose criminals who take advantage of the earthquake victims."

Theft in the Evacuation Zone

Fifty-six ATM thefts have been reported in the three disaster-hit Tohoku prefectures since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, with the amount of money stolen totaling 684 million yen, according to the National Police Agency. About 420 million yen, or 60 percent of the money, was stolen from within 20 kilometers of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Deserted in the wake of the disaster, ATMs in convenience stores and financial institutions in the area in particular have become targets for theft. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, July 16, 2011]

According to the NPA, further ATM thefts are unlikely to occur as cash left at empty stores and banks has now been collected. Arrests have been made in connection with only one of the thefts. On Wednesday, the Miyagi prefectural police arrested five male minors on suspicion of stealing 13 million yen from an ATM.

In Iwate Prefecture, about 27 million yen was stolen from ATMs at two convenience stores, while one financial institution was the target of an attempted theft. In Miyagi Prefecture, ATMs at 14 convenience stores were robbed of about 165 million yen in total, and about 15 million yen was stolen from ATMs at five financial institutions. Most of the ATMs had been knocked down by the March 11 tsunami.In Fukushima Prefecture, 34 cases of theft from ATMs were reported, with a total of about 480 million yen stolen. Twenty-eight cases took place in the zone within 20 kilometers of the crippled nuclear power plant, which was largely deserted after an evacuation advisory was issued on March 12. The remaining six cases involved ATMs damaged by the tsunami.

One reason for the police's lack of progress in investigating the thefts is that alarm systems and security cameras at many stores and banks were not operating at the time of the robberies, due to power outages caused by the disaster.

Meanwhile, 169 robberies of empty houses within 20 kilometers of the Fukushima power plant were reported between March 1 and June 30, a massive increase from the nine home burglaries reported during the same period last year. Similarly, with most offices in the area also abandoned, the number of office robberies rose to 25 from one.

In many cases, evacuees discovered their houses had been burglarized when they briefly returned home after their initial evacuation. The number of reported home robberies is likely to increase, as 16,000 households that have requested permission to make a temporary return home have yet to do so.

A 37-year-old company employee of Tomiokamachi, Fukushima Prefecture, who returned to his home temporarily on July 6, said he was shocked to find windows on the first floor broken and all the drawers inside his house open. Credit cards and his wife's ring had been stolen, he said. Keiko Saito, a 60-year-old housewife of Minami-Soma in the prefecture who has evacuated to Saitama Prefecture, said she was told by a person who visited the 20-kilometer zone in early April that someone had apparently broken windows at her house. She has not yet checked her house personally, because aftershocks have made her hesitant to return home.

Statue Lost in Tsunami, Found Afterward — Twice

Kyodo reported a Buddhist statue in a small fishing neighborhood in Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, has led a charmed life, repeating history this year when it was washed away in the March 11 tsunami disaster and then recovered. The 24-cm wooden statue of Kannon, the goddess of compassion, was also lost and found after powerful tsunami devastated the town in 1933, killing more than half of its 613 residents. [Source: Kyodo, October 21, 2011]

This time, resident Toshio Kasai, 64, found it stuck on a sea wall in late March. "It was not tainted (with mud) so I was able to spot it," Kasai said.He asked 70-year-old Sayoko Chiba to keep the statue in her house, which stands on a hill and survived the tsunami. "The Kannon statue is an emotional pillar for local residents, and some people come to my house to bow in veneration to it," Chiba said. "When houses (in the area) are rebuilt, I want to build a temple hall and enshrine it there," she said.

Following the 1933 tsunami, the statue was found by a 5-year-old boy on the coast about 4 kilometers outside of town. Chiba recalled how the statue was worshiped by residents back then who survived the disaster."I remember how a mother who lost her family in the tsunami used to come and give offerings to the statue almost every day," she said.

The fishing town also saw a bizarre repeat of history, only in a more tragic fashion. After the 1933 tsunami, residents moved to higher ground and built their homes to avoid any possible tsunami.The temple hall that housed the statute was also moved to a higher location near those houses. But as memories of the 1933 disaster faded, many locals started in the 1950s to move back down toward the shoreline, and the temple hall was moved there as well. They were all destroyed by the March 11 monster tsunami.

Unusual Rise in Piano Sales Linked to Earthquake

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The number of pianos, other than electronic pianos, sold in the country last year totaled 18,164, up 11 percent from the previous year, marking the first rise in 17 years, according to an instrument manufacturing association in Shizuoka Prefecture. The Hamamatsu-based association, which takes statistics of domestic piano sales and production, said piano sales increased as a result of robust demand for replacements after many pianos were destroyed or damaged in the Great East Japan Earthquake. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, February 10, 2012]

Piano sales in 1992, when the association started taking such statistics, stood at 113,500. However, sales began to drop since 1995, with only 16,356 sold in 2010. The association said the slump was due to a low birthrate and an increase in the number of people buying low-priced and high-quality electronic pianos.

Asked about the recent surge in piano sales, an official of Kawai Musical Instruments Mfg. Co. in Hamamatsu said, "Piano sales in Sendai and other disaster-hit areas [in 2011] exceeded those of the previous year because of replacement demand after many pianos were destroyed by the disaster."

Image Sources: 1) U.S. Navy

Text Sources: New York Times, Yomiuri Shimbun, Daily Yomiuri, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Kyodo News, National Geographic, The Guardian. Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, and various books and other publications.

Last updated April 2012

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