Contribution to “Chugai Nippo”, and “Things newly happening in Tohoku”

There is a newspaper called “Chugai Nippo”, a newspaper that reports the activities of various religions. I would like to introduce an article of which I Naoya Kawakami wrote and was published in this newspaper.

The content includes the subject on various religions cooperating in times of disaster. I have attached the entire post of this article for your perusal.

As a Christian we aid. This includes are intention, of cooperating with other people for support.

As for our beliefs “Christianity”, are we going to make this obscure? No, of course not. In fact it is the exact opposite. We having the dignity of being a Christian, work with people of other religion. We testify Christ while in the midst of people of other religion. We think that this is in a real sense “Preaching the Gospel = Showing the Way”. Actually, it is a field of serious match on “honorability”, when conducting support activity with people of other religion.

Thinking thus, I’ve contributed the article. Thereupon I received the questionnaire from a newspaper office. This questionnaire related to the constitution. While answering to this questionnaire, I recalled the Symposium, which was held on September 29th in Sendai together with people of other religion, on thinking about nuclear power generation from the constitutional side. We adopted one “Appeal” at that time. This appeal became a clear milestone toward the World Council of Churches Busan Convention starting at the end of this month. I would also like to introduce this convention on the right side of this article.

I think something new is happening in the disaster-stricken Tohoku area. I’d very much appreciate if you would go through each article one by one.

(October 11th 2013 written by Secretary General Naoya Kawakami)


Responsibility towards disaster victims for those who have a religion: Disaster-affected areas / at the site of radiation exposed area
The United Church of Christ in Japan Sendai Citizen Church Pastor Noaya Kawakami

There is a word called “Responsibility of disaster victims”. Disaster victims receive many aids, and they want to thank to all the favor. These kinds of motives are called “Responsibility of disaster victims”.

On March 11th 2011, I was living in Sendai City Wakabayashi Ward, the area where half of it was washed away by tsunami. Many places I often used to drive by car were covered with debris.

A week later, I became the general secretary of Christian Relief Organization “Sendai Christian Alliance Disaster Relief Network (Tohoku HELP)”. Supply materials and volunteers gathered from all over the world. It was the day when it seemed a miracle was happening. I marveled at the vastness of human' good will. The opportunity was there, where I too felt that I wanted to accomplish this “Responsibility of disaster victims”. Now what I would like to do here as an individual with a religion, is to verify the current situation, and sort out what could have been done till now, and point out a pathway to face the current situation.

First I would like to briefly give an account of the current situation of disaster-afflicted area

Tsunami struck, and then it left. The disaster incurred by the tsunami is now gradually converging. Daily life is absolutely returning, and this seems even cruel. Deep pain has been left like a scar in the soul of each person. The pain aches in the basal life. The day of daily life starts with pain. The memory fades in time. People who have strength become self-supportive, and not a few people become isolated.

On the other hand of tsunami disaster ending and daily life returning, reality of being exposed to radiation is making its appearance. The number of extraordinary deaths caused by earthquake disaster (Deaths related to earthquake disaster) is projectingly increasing in Fukushima. And the leakage of polluted water is discovered. Silently fear gnaws the hearts of people. These things are not said of Fukushima only. In South Korea, a site titled “Fukushima’s ghost story” gathered many pictures of various deformed plants, and this attracted the eyes of many people. Also a friend of mine told me that in South Korea, only 10% of the fresh fish sells out compared to before.

There was a thing we who have a religion could do in the midst of tsunami disaster. And we should work on this by mobilizing all the strength we have. Having this determination in heart, I will now briefly summarize the incident of earthquake disaster.

We Tohoku HELP, now cooperates with “Tokyo University Disaster Relief Network” and “Miyagi Prefecture Certified Clinical Psychologists”, to hold a conference every month, to inspect the movement of disaster response since Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995. Indeed from the time disaster of Great Tohoku Earthquake overtook, it was said that it was somewhat related with the Great Hanshin Earthquake. And people who have a religion all thought the same.

After the disaster by earthquake, the failure experienced at the Great Hanshin Earthquake was verified and shared among the people having religion. Many people die of great disaster. Because of its exceeding numbers, many of the deceased were just cremated without a proper funeral or burial. In order to cope with such sad situations, religious people stood up. This was the same on Year 1995 and Year 2011. However in the Year 1995, religious people and the government clashed severely. The people who were there in the Year 1995, and experienced such situation started a funeral volunteer by taking initiative of Sendai Buddhist Corporate Judicial Person. The priest related the experience of Hanshin, to us Christians who joined them. In order to learn from their failure we started working together with them.

As we cooperated with them, assigning of roles and responsibilities to each team started. We the Christians are directly connected to the network in the whole country and in the whole world. Utilizing these connections, we Christians were able to discuss on certain things directly with the government. On the other hand, Buddhist apprehends the local parishioner network in detail. The situation of ever-changing on-site, were reported to these network in real time. The direct connections of on-site and the whole country, up to the whole world tied up because of this. Great possibility was produced. This bore fruit for the funeral of the unidentified person.

We who have a religion, received permission from the government to establish a “Mental Counseling Corner” to give counsel of funeral at the crematory, and worked together with the medical staff, Counselor, and Social Worker. It became our role to receive request here, and then accompany the funeral and the cremation. And then one day, several unidentified bodies were brought to the crematory. The only people who escorted the body were the police and staff at the crematory. At a quiet time when no one was around, 3 bodies were cremated all at once. We were on site and were there in readiness. The furnace was closed and the cremation starts, and the funeral started right in front of the furnace. Intoning and chanting started on one side, on another side Shinto prayer was recited, and then in a different place singing of hymns. The quiet crematory without relatives and common people of these unidentified bodies became a symphonic place of various religions. I myself will never forget its sight.

What did we do there? We were not able to do anything, except but to have a funeral. We were not able to save lives, nor give counseling; neither could we give counseling on how to re-establish daily life. We prayed and had a funeral service only. However we were able to have a funeral. Cooperation made this funeral possible. This was something meaningful.

Death could be anywhere. People die daily, and no one can stop. Death comes all of a sudden. This is the same with the patient for whom the doctor gave every medical treatment they could, or with those who were swallowed up by tsunami. We cannot outcome death. Our limit is revealed in front of the reality of death. At that time the meaning of living is seriously inquired to us again. Despair silently creeps up.

But in those kinds of times, we are able to pray. We are able to call out to thing which surpasses all things that could be seen, or our feelings could become as if we hear a voice from such things. This might seems ridiculous, but we in this way resist despair. And in order to support this resistance, human perform ceremonies, chant sutras, and sing. In this way we remember how to rise up above the world. Prayer and ceremonies becomes a dim pathway that connects to transcending.

What are we doing by praying and having ceremonies? In those times, we are staying close to the people who were in critical despair. This has a significant meaning in the end.

Despair is contagious. The reason human tend to stay away from those who are in critical despair. That is why despairing people become isolated. Thus, despair settles in the inside of a human being. Strength for living is deprived in this way. Someone should have stayed close to a person in critical despair, but how? --- Here is an important role for us who have a religion.

Exposing limitation yet we are here. This is very strange. Someone is having me exist here. We are led to recognize that in the midst of exposing limitation, we are still being made to exist. Things called transcendence is verified in this way. However when a person is isolated, they cannot recognize this. If someone powerless stays close to them, then and through him only can they recognize the existence of transcendence. “If this person is allowed to exist, why not me?” may the person in despair thinks, and then maybe this person could find a clue to resist despair.

People who have a religion are able to stay close to them who are at the depths of despair. Prayer and ceremonies are a technique for it. By performing a ceremony and through prayer, the people who have a religion could stay powerless yet exposing the limitation, are able to stay close to a person who is in critical despair. Showing transcendence at the verge of despair, this is the funeral people with a religion could perform. In order to perform this funeral, cooperation of people with a religion was essential. Through this cooperation, people with a religion were able to perform what was in their power to do.

I would like to verify again the above said things, with the new reality called radiation exposure. Huge damage cannot be seen with the eye, yet people are seized with pressing fear that knows not when it would come, and cannot be fathomed. (Hoping, that this is an imaginary fear as certain intellect says!) And facing this fear, I find myself powerless ---- this is the reality of Fukushima. Despair creeps up in ease here, and that is why there is also a role for the people who have a religion. To hold our ground together with the people, we resist despair. Groaning we pray, and though it seems ridiculous we perform ceremonies, thanking God or Buddha that we are allowed to do thus, and having a vision that our powerlessness would open a way to transcendence.

Relating the incident which we experienced at the disaster-afflicted area, this is the “Responsibility of disaster victims”. And the day for giving account on this responsibility is already at hand. A thing which is asked of us right now is for various religions to cooperate, in order to resist despair and to open a way of transcendence through prayer and ceremony.

Authors Profile: Naoya Kawakami. Born in Hokkaido, in Year 1973. Doctor of Theology (Systematic Theology). Currently pastor of the United Church of Christ in Japan, Sendai Citizen Church, General Secretary of the Sendai Christian Alliance Disaster Relief Network (Tohoku HELP), a part-time instructor at Tohoku Gakuin University / Sendai Shirayuri Women’s College, Management Committee Chairman of Contribution Course at Tohoku University “Practical Religion of Science”, Management Committee Chairman of Foodstuff Radiation Level Measurement Station “Inori”, Executive Committee Chairman of World Food Day Sendai Convention.

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