The heated table in the middle of Mr and Mrs Kumagai’s tiny living room is loaded with freshly cooked vegetables, pickles and traditional glutinous rice sweets, or mochi.
It’s freezing cold outside with a slippery layer of snow and ice coating the paths of the temporary housing settlement in the grounds of a middle school near Rikuzentakata in Iwate Prefecture.
The Kumagais have made themselves as cosy as they can. In the kitchen, everything is neatly ordered, although there’s not much space left over between the domestic appliances, part of a package of six items, including a refrigerator, rice cooker and TV, donated by the Japanese Red Cross Society to every family living in temporary accommodation.
“It was really a great help to us to receive these appliances, because at the beginning, there was nowhere to buy these things nearby so we would have had to travel a long way,” says Mr Kumagai.
They also received cash grants from the money donated directly to the Japanese Red Cross, which helped them and many other families to cover their basic living expenses in the months after the disaster.
For the Kumagais, both in their 70’s it’s not easy getting used to living in such a confined space and an environment where they know far fewer people.
“I used to be able to go and visit friends for tea all the time. Here, I still have a few people I go and socialise with, but nothing like the number before,” says Mrs. Kumagai.
Her husband misses his vegetable garden, in which he used to grow about 12 different kinds of produce. They still grow a few things like tomatoes, cucumber and spinach in plastic tubs. But it’s not the same.
“We know the first 36 families who moved into the temporary housing quite well, because we used to meet up with them to collect our food each evening from the evacuation centre kitchen, but we don’t know the others so well.”
It’s not surprising, then that Mr and Mrs. Kumagai are keen to rush out for a few minutes to take part in a mochi-making and sweet sake-drinking activity at the community centre, just a couple of blocks away in the temporary housing community.
They still have no idea how long it’s going to be before new permanent housing is built. So they are making the best of things here for the time being.
Photo: Sayaka Matsumoto /Japanese Red Cross Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, Japan
Tsunami survivors Yuuki and Teruko Kumagai outside their temporary house. They are a little cramped and not as active as they would like inside, but thanks to support both from within Japan and abroad – including a package of six domestic appliances from the Red Cross Red Crescent - they make themselves as comfortable as they can.