As she stands in the porch of her temporary house, Masako Horoiwa holds her dog tightly. The poor terrier is shivering with cold, but that is perhaps only part of the reason for her tight grip.
“The dog was the only possession I managed to save when the tsunami came,” says the 72-year-old.
It was a lucky escape, but at the same time, it sounds traumatic. “When I realised the tsunami was coming, I knocked on my three neighbours’ doors. One of them came out and was able to escape. But the other two didn’t respond.”
They were among the hundreds of people in the coastal town of Miyako in Iwate Prefecture, who perished on March 11, 2011.
Masako lives with her daughter, who’s an administrator in a home for the elderly – and Meru, the terrier, who is soon distracted from the cold and starts to bark frenetically at the arrival of a black cat on the next corner.
She has just come back from a Saturday afternoon gathering organised by Japanese Red Cross psychosocial volunteers in the community centre of this temporary housing settlement.
The volunteers have been coming every week for the past few months, as part of efforts to reach out to the survivors, many of whom are isolated, having lived for most of their lives in closely knit communities which are now destroyed.
In today’s session, the mainly elderly residents practise massage on each other, and then lie down for a nap, to the accompaniment of an audio tape with soothing music and self-affirming messages such as: “You are important,” and, “be kind and gentle to yourself.”
“It does help me to relax,” says Masako.
Like many of her neighbours, she feels that she is suffering from stress. The living conditions in these tiny prefabricated houses are made as comfortable as possible with the addition of electrical appliances provided by the Red Cross from funding received through sister National Societies worldwide.
“Before, I had my own business, a big house and two cars and now I have nothing left, except the dog,” she says, petting her shivering terrier.
Masako is a member of the local reconstruction committee and she says she’s eagerly hoping for more decisions soon on the process of rebuilding the town. Like most survivors, she realises that it’s not likely to be a quick or easy process. But with luck, the support of the psychosocial volunteers and the company of her dog will help her through it.