Delivering "Nozomi" to Noto

We recently brewed and distributed 望み (Nozomi, meaning “hope” or “wish”) to areas affected by the January 1st earthquake in the Noto region. We decided to share a little about what we saw and heard.

With New Year’s Day in Japan usually being a time for families to spend peacefully together, and a time when positive thoughts turn towards the year ahead, on Jan 1st of this year a strong earthquake hit, one that we could feel even in Kyoto. When looking up, however, it wasn’t even in Kansai but 6 hours away, just off the coast of Ishikawa’s peninsula.

In the time after the earthquake, we tried to offer some support, even if just a little, through donation boxes in our taproom and sets being sold online, with all profits going to relief efforts. It wasn’t a great amount, but we sent what we had as soon as we could.

We happened to have some friends deeply connected with the area. One KBC member had a close friend in Suzu, and another of us is also from Suzu, with her parents also located there. Another friend, Kobo Brewing's head brewer, Kot’as, lived there for many years while working for Noto’s Nihonkai Club brewery, and has been regularly visiting, bringing supplies and helping people, ever since the quake happened. Talking to these people, we learned a little about just how bad the situation was, at the time over 2 months after it happened. It hasn’t got a huge amount better since.

When thinking a little more about whether there was anything else we could do, we thought about delivering a little bit of a message, along with a gift of beer, to people in the disaster-stricken area. We were able to research and find some organisations who were able to help with distribution, but we also felt that going there to see for ourselves the situation, and bring some other more critical supplies, was something that would mean a little more.

We brewed a double batch (approx 3000L) of Belgian blonde ale with our house yeast, wrote a message on it that we wanted to get across to people, and looked to set out on our trip, which we did on March 27th. There had been heavy rain the day before, something else that probably wasn’t ideal for those in the disaster area, but on the 27th the skies opened up.

After having spoken with local Kyoto authorities about the city’s efforts up in Noto, we first stopped off at Nanao, where Kyoto City employees were helping run an evacuation centre. With support ending at the end of March, final preparations were being made to move the inhabitants to temporary housing. Whilst well maintained and clean, the sight of people living in a gymnasium, with each family being allocated a modestly sized tent to live in, was an early reality check.

Aside from the displacement and signs of damage on the roads, Nanao seemed to be a somewhat functional town, with stores open, water running in most areas, and somewhat of an air of normality, making us wonder if things had recovered more than we had imagined.

Driving deeper into Noto, the signs of damage increased, with heavily roads having been mended in any way that they could, meaning that driving slowly over the band-aided surfaces was a necessity. Landslide areas were a frequent sight, and many blue-sheeted roofs, as well as partially or totally collapsed houses.

We arrived in Wajima, the first of two badly affected towns we were visiting, to learn that water supplies were returning gradually, starting from the area around the hospital. This was a new development, having happened just a few days earlier, but it was clear how much of a relief that had been for people. We went to Wajima City Hall and passed some relief supplies and cans of Nozomi to the person in charge of Peace Boat, an NPO providing local support, who we had coordinated with before going. She indicated that basic supplies were important, but people would appreciate sweets and other items that would give them a little sense of normality again. As we left, she recommended that we get a sense of the situation within the town, so we decided to do that during the afternoon.

We had heard about the fire at Wajima Morning Market, a popular spot for visitors, and a central part of the city’s local economy, and so headed towards it. Having never visited before, we hadn’t been aware of just how big the market was, but we could tell when we arrived that it had been huge. Had been, because there was nothing left of it any more, and it’s no exaggeration to say that it was akin to images of heavily bombed World War 2 cities.

Unsurprisingly, the place was deserted, aside from a few people clearing things out, and one or two people, presumably those involved with the individual establishments that had existed, looking for a few items in the rubble. We moved away wondering where one might start in thinking about next steps here.

As we walked around further, we saw a more intact building with a sign saying “recovery food”, that had clearly closed for the day. We saw some figures in the back, and so stepped inside to talk to them. Despite the local situation, there was a bright and positive energy amongst the people, that stopped momentarily as we interrupted them and explained a little about what we were doing. When we said we were providing beer, their faces lit up as they said “gabu gabu nomimasu” (“we’ll gulp it down!”). As we talked to them about their activities, we learned that they’d been working tirelessly Since January, providing free food to local disaster victims, and also offering ¥500 meals to those visiting the town. The money they received would then fund ingredients for the following days. The most chatty of the group, a gentleman named Tanabe-san, was the owner of a Spanish restaurant that he ran by day, and a short bar that he operated at night, and like many stores had been affected firstly by the damage, and subsequently by the fact that people are largely not in a position to eat out.

Other members were restaurant owners and workers who felt that, with their profession being food, they were positioned to help. Others weren’t in the same industry, but were unable to work due to the temporary closure of their workplace, and so had chosen to volunteer. Some had even returned to full-time work but were giving up every free moment they had to helping out.

While but a small gesture, it felt special to be able to directly offer some beers to people working so hard.

After Wajima, we moved towards Suzu on the Eastern edge of Noto peninsula, and a town impacted heavily by both the earthquake, and in areas by the tsunami as well. Many of the other vehicles on the rapidly repaired road were carrying iron plates and other materials; it was clear that construction was the priority. Cracks in the road, and breaking down of even the recently repaired areas, meant that it was a nervy ride that required a lot of concentration.

We went to the far (north-east) side of Suzu to start with, to a place called Sadamaru Village. There we met with Azusa Takeshita, an active organiser who we contacted through social media. Takeshita-san is not working with any government organisations, but is instead gathering people together to try to make a difference in the places they feel they can impact most.

In front of her spacious home, which has now become filled with essentials that her organisation distributes, the beautiful coastline looks out towards the Noto sea and the snow-capped Toyama mountains beyond. We were helped in unloading the essentials that we had packed into our van by volunteers who had come up from Kanto area to help for 3 days. Seeing their activity, whilst talking and joking brightly, we felt that both the local and inbound volunteers were bringing both needed help, and some much needed light relief and positive energy into the disaster-stricken region.

Suzu is still over 90% without water, and a lot of places that had it had only managed to get access to it again from a few days before we arrived. The government wants to get volunteers into the town, but water restoration is making sanitary camps for volunteers difficult to manage. Takeshita-san’s house has a well, which provides water for non-drinking purposes, and while she wasn’t originally planning on grouping together large numbers of volunteers, she has been inundated with offers for help, due to the government’s reception desk being unable to function properly. As a result, one of her main activities right now is building a camp that can accept volunteers on a larger scale and act as a base for providing greater aid to the area.

Having made the trip from Kyoto, we wanted to do what we could, however small, and so spent the following hours helping with the cutting down of bamboo bushes to clear the land. Takeshita-san’s plan is to build huts for volunteers to stay and relax in, as well as to create fields and plant crops in some areas, thereby promoting self-sufficiency on a community scale. Although the situation is tough, she has an ambitious plan in her head that will help many people both directly and indirectly.,

“This activity”, she says, “is going to need to go on for years. At the beginning, we somehow thought that it was going to be a couple of months before some normality was restored, but we are now 3 months in and without water in most areas”.

Aside from using the space she has, she is also storing relief supplies in a nearby vacant house, and distributing them to people who are unable to receive government provided supplies. If you cannot get to the pickup location at a designated time, or if you are in a difficult to access area and too old to make it to the town hall yourself, receiving these supplies can be an issue. For this reason, she has made a station in the remotely located village within which she resides, providing a regular kitchen, which we saw in action, with locals coming in to eat. Here, our beers are to be offered along with the food that Takeshita-san’s group cooks up and offers to locals who at home have been living off little but instant noodles.

After leaving Sadamaru Village, we headed into Suzu city to an Italian restaurant called Kodama. This is the home of Kanemori-san, a former student of one of our employees, Shizuka Inoue. After studying at the cooking school where Inoue-san was working, Kanemori-san returned to her home to start up a food truck. Kodama is one of the few restaurants to restart local operations again. Having lost their pizza oven in the earthquake, Kodama are using a temporary one now, while trying to put together money to restore the original. They are providing relief food to those who need it, and also opening for business to others in less dire need, providing them a little piece of normality to return to. Kanemori-san will be distributing our beer along with their relief food in the area, as well as offering it to those coming into their restaurant. Many of the younger and more mobile Suzu city citizens have left the town, feeling there is nothing there for them right now. Small parts of life like being able to go out to eat and drink, is an important part of trying to make the town not just inhabitable, but liveable.

After central Suzu, we went along to another area within Suzu called Ukai further along the coast. This area was more directly hit by the Tsunami. While smaller in size to the tsunami in 2011, the destructive force of the wave was enough to destroy the entire seaside area, with, we imagine, none of the buildings that we saw recoverable, even if they were one of the ones left somewhat standing. There were few people we saw there, a handful standing in front of what had been in their homes, and a few buildings with volunteers clearing some things out. With reports of water coming back to the region, and lower prevalence in the news, it is easy to imagine that the situation is improving now. It is for some, but for those displaced, it means either a new life elsewhere, or a long wait and much work before a return is possible. Indeed, it is hard to imagine where they will start in some places.

We drove towards Kanazawa from Suzu processing what we had just seen. We had agreed to visit Chizuru Kinoshita, of Kinoshita Kogyo, a construction company in Ishikawa’s capital. Kinoshita-san has been supporting the activities of volunteer organisations as a disaster prevention advisor for the prefecture. While researching relief organisations, the volunteer association of which Kinoshita-san is the executive director caught our attention. When we inquired, the association readily agreed to provide beer on their supply trips out to the region.

Kinoshita-san’s place is currently acting as a supply support base for supplies coming in from all over the country, with supply vehicles stopping off to load up then ship out. Despite the large amount coming in, it is going out just as fast. While far from the most important thing being provided, we were told that Nozomi will be very welcome for those volunteering as well as cheer for those getting by day-to-day.

Kinoshita-san’s organisation is also taking mobile showers out to the areas where recovery has been slow. Having heard stories of some of the more immobile disaster victims having been unable to wash at all since 1st January, we could imagine that the ability to wash would be a huge relief for many. Another important part of making life more enjoyable is giving people some more choice as to what to eat. People have been eating a lot of instant food, often repeatedly the same meals, and providing diversity is now something that Kinoshita-san is passionately trying to provide.

As with other volunteers on our trip, we felt Kinoshita-san’s unwavering positivity and warmth must be as valuable a commodity as anything else being provided.

While our trip to Noto only reinforced the reports we had heard about how dire the situation is in Noto, it was also inspiring to see the strength and determination from the helpers, and the positive energy that they are donating to the cause. We were also left with the realisation that Noto needs support now more than ever. The evacuation centres are closing in many areas as of the start of April. While people are being moved to temporary housing, with the high percentage of older residents, and a remaining lack of supplies, Human Resources, as well as limited water in many places, all sorts of help will continue to be very welcome.

We hope that we can do more to help going forward, and also implore others to support in any ways they can as well. The message that was told to us from many people was repeatedly the old adage that “every little helps”.