On the morning of June 7, at the Yanagida Branch of Noto Town Hall, the first aid distribution event began. | Photo courtesy of Wan-ting Yen | Japan | 2024/06/07

Since the New Year Day earthquake, Tzu Chi volunteers from Japan have been on the ground, providing hot meals and running a Tea House to bring comfort to the locals. Word has spread about this charitable organization from Taiwan, which has been consistently offering support to everyone affected by the disaster. Recently, Tzu Chi has also started distributing aid funds. On May 17, Tzu Chi conducted the first phase of relief fund distribution in Anamizu Town. From June 7 to 9, a second wave of distributions were held in Noto Town, with a total of five sessions over three days, benefiting 722 affected families.

Residents have shared that after the earthquake, they were left with almost nothing. However, Tzu Chi has brought much-needed aid. Now, they can purchase daily necessities and even cover the costs of home repairs. They expressed deep gratitude for this love and kindness from Taiwan, which has given them the strength to rebuild their lives.

The town of Noto, located at the northern part of the Noto Peninsula, is known for its serene environment and natural ecology. For over 1,300 years, the town has primarily been an agricultural hub, recognized for its unique farming culture that emphasizes coexistence with nature and is listed as a World Agricultural Heritage site. Due to its coastal location, fishing is also one of its main industries.

Spanning 273.27 square kilometers, Noto is home to 7,020 households and 14,671 residents, according to the town government's June 1 census. The town faces challenges of population decline due to declining birth rates and aging population, with more than 52% of its residents over the age of 65. While some seniors were fortunate enough to have their homes spared from the earthquake, others lost their homes completely and now find themselves without a place to live.

Unconditional Aid

Following the earthquake, Tzu Chi volunteers quickly mobilized to assist the affected areas. Upon returning to Taiwan and reporting the situation to Tzu Chi’s founder, Master Cheng Yen, a discussion arose about whether the amount of aid should be based on the Japanese classifications of house damage: completely destroyed, partially destroyed, moderately damaged, and sectionally damaged. Master Cheng Yen reminded everyone that damage is damage, regardless of its extent, and aid should not be differentiated. Additionally, she emphasized that those in need, regardless of age or slight age differences, should be helped as necessary.

Given the low population density and the dispersed nature of the communities in Noto, the distribution method was designed to be convenient for the elderly. While there were fewer households in Noto compared to Anamizu, five distribution events were planned at the Noto Town Hall Yanagida Branch on June 7, the Noto Town Hall Uchiura Branch and Noto Town Hall Ogi Branch on June 8, and the Noto Town Hall and Noto Town Hall Ukawa Branch on June 9.

Effective Collaboration

Tzu Chi’s relief efforts in Noto Town involve close collaboration with the local government. In Japan, where privacy is highly valued, obtaining resident lists is challenging. However, understanding Tzu Chi’s disaster relief principles of directness, priority, and practicality, the local government facilitated the process by arranging for public servants to verify the identities of the quake survivors upon their arrival.

Once identities were confirmed, Tzu Chi volunteers guided the recipients to the aid distribution service area. The relief amounts were categorized based on household size: 130,000 yen (approx. 830 USD) for one person, 150,000 yen (approx. 957 USD) for two to three people, and 170,000 yen (approx. 1,085 USD) for households with four or more members. To ensure accurate distribution, a color-coded system was used: blue for single-person households, white for two to three people, and green for four or more. This system was designed by Tzu Chi Japan’s staff, Angeline Fransisca (施美君), and the volunteers, to prevent any confusion during the distribution process.

Recipients filled out basic information, as required by government regulations. | Photo courtesy of Wan-Ting Yen | Japan | 2024/06/07

During the second verification stage, volunteers confirm the recipients' disaster certification and ask them to fill out some basic information. Although Tzu Chi is required to report aid distribution as a registered charity, respect for the survivors' privacy remains a priority.

Japanese-speaking volunteers attentively listened to the earthquake victims' current situations and concerns. | Photo courtesy of Wan-Ting Yen | Japan | 2024/06/07

After confirming the amount was correct and receiving the blessings from Master Cheng Yen and Tzu Chi members worldwide, Japanese-speaking volunteers checked in on the recipients, quietly listening to their experiences after the earthquake. While words of comfort might be limited, their silent companionship provided a sense of support, helping to ease the recipients' burdens and fostering a belief that there is still hope for the future.

Bringing Warmth and Relief

Grandpa Yoshimatsu Yokochi (right) repeatedly asked, "Is it really cash?" | Photo courtesy of Wan-ting Yen | Japan | 2024/06/07

At the start of the distribution event, a 76-year-old man, Yoshimatsu Yokochi, arrived early, unsure if the notice he received was genuine. He repeatedly asked, "Is it really cash?" When he heard it was cash and not a bank transfer, he became very emotional, saying he couldn't believe he was receiving 150,000 yen, which would greatly help his life. His house had collapsed, making it uninhabitable, so he was currently staying with friends. He had discussed with his son, who works in Kanazawa, about rebuilding their home, saying, "But this time, just a single-story will be enough." The fear of the earthquake still seemed to linger in his mind.

Many people found it incredible that Tzu Chi could distribute cash directly into the hands of disaster survivors. Often, you could hear people at the scene saying, "This is great, it won't go to waste."

Eighty-one-year-old Sachiko Matsuda recounted her experience and situation. She lives with her husband, younger daughter, and granddaughter, while her eldest daughter works out of town. When the earthquake struck, she was cooking in the kitchen. Her husband, Soto Norio, shouted for everyone to run. After just a few steps, they couldn't stand, so he grabbed the door tightly, Sachiko held on to him from behind, and their daughter and granddaughter clung to her. The four of them huddled together.

Soto Norio recalled thinking, "It's over! The house is going to collapse! There's no hope." Reflecting on the event, he said, "It's a miracle we're still alive and together as a family. We're incredibly lucky."

The Matsuda family lived in a traditional Japanese house on a small hill in a forested area. The earthquake caused extensive damage, with walls cracked and entire sections fallen. They have hired a contractor to repair and reinforce the house, focusing only on the essential living spaces—a bedroom and a kitchen—at a cost of over 2.8 million yen (about 17,870 USD). Fully repairing the entire house could exceed 10 million yen (about 80,000 USD).

Sachiko expressed her gratitude, saying that while the house repairs are complete, the contractor hasn't billed them yet. The money from Tzu Chi will help cover these costs, making their life a bit easier. She is "very thankful."

Volunteers like Mayumi Tada, the daughter of the owner of in Shuran no Sato, where the volunteers stayed, and Miwako Kitamura, highlighted the warmth and personal connection Tzu Chi’s direct cash distribution brings, a stark contrast to government aid which is typically transferred into their bank accounts.

I will strive to live my life well

For 75-year-old Grandma Yukiko Hiradachi, not only was her home affected by the earthquake and tsunami, it was also destroyed by a merciless fire. She sadly recounted her story: she moved into a temporary housing unit on June 2, only to be terrified by another major earthquake on June 3. Receiving the aid funds brought her immense joy. During an interaction with the volunteers, she drew a Jing Si Aphorism card that read, " After much suffering, blessings will come." She exclaimed, "Oh my! This is so accurate; it perfectly describes my situation. This saying has enlightened me, and I will always remember it."

Amid expressions of gratitude, she beamed a radiant smile and cheerfully told the volunteers, "I will definitely strive to live my life well." Learning of all the challenges that she had endured; the volunteers greatly admired her for her optimism.

Doing Tzu Chi’s Work Together

Katsuyoshi Shuden, a farmer from Anamizu Town joined the volunteers to help with the distribution in Noto Town. He shared: “When I was informed that people from Taiwan were coming, I decided to meet them. But I never expected there would be an aid distribution. Initially, I wondered what you were planning to do here, but I was surprised to receive aid myself. I found everyone to be so kind. I'm deeply grateful for the assistance provided to the residents of Noto. How could those of us living here do nothing in return?”

Katsuyoshi Shuden | Photo courtesy of Tzu Chi Foundation | Japan | 2024/06/08

“Although my farming duties are not complete, I still want to volunteer. Seeing everyone's bamboo coin banks reminded me that I have a lot of bamboo at home. If I could make bamboo banks for Tzu Chi, then we could promote the practice of saving a little each day in Noto Town. Just as Master Cheng Yen teaches us to contribute fifty cents a day, we can start with ten people, then a hundred, and grow to a thousand. This is how we can come together to do Tzu Chi's work just like everyone else.”

The Noto region is known for its warmth and hospitality, and Tzu Chi’s efforts aim to deliver genuine care and support to the residents of Noto, reinforcing the message that they are not alone and that there is hope for the future.