RSY vol.3 - The Launch of Ochanomi Café  Your Place for Chatting and Relaxing
by Voices from the Field Admin - Sunday, 4 September 2011, 03:36 PM

A Space to Relax and Refresh was Needed.

We opened Ochanomi (Tea Break) Café in the common space on the first floor of Volunteer Center Kizuna-kan on April 26th (Tue).

Foot bath volunteers picked up the following voices at the evacuation shelter set up in the Public Hall; “I can hardly move around in the evacuation shelter.”
“I have nothing to do during the day.”
“Spending all day with others has become too much for me these days.
Hearing these words and recognizing that the evacuees needed a space to relax and refresh, we decided to open this café.

While deciding on the opening date, we learned that a flea market would be held in front of Kizuna-kan for one month starting from April 26th. We therefore scheduled the opening of our café on the same day.

From the evacuation shelter, it takes only a few minutes to reach the café in Kizuna-kan, even if you walk slowly. We offer a set menu of a cup of coffee, black tea, or green tea with some sweets for 50yen.

We opened the café at 1:00 PM on April 26th.
“I guess it may take a while for the local people to step into this building, since they seem to be rather shy and hesitant to a ccept outsiders. If one customer comes, let’s say OK for today.” I said to myself.

Then a woman came by. “How about a cup of tea? We’ve opened a café.” I said, inviting her to step inside. “You have tea? Sure, I’ll come”, she said and came back with two of her friends soon after.


After that, people came in one after another. By the end of the first day, 15 people had visited our café.

People Started to Share the Experiences

Here are the voices of the people who visited us in the last two days.

“My house is by the sea. Because of the tsunami, nothing but the foundation remains. When the earthquake hit us, I was at home. I saw my next-door neighbor’s house swaying from side to side together with the ground. I w as really sca red. It’s just impossible to remove the scene from mind! First, everything shook with sudden jerks, and then roof tiles fell and crumbled. That repeated three times. As I fled to the heights by car, I saw the sea waters engulfing the houses ferociously. When I went back after the tide had ebbed, nothing was left. Nobody knew where everything had gone. “

“I’d never thought such an awful thing could happen to me. I experienced the tsunami caused by the Chile Earthquake 50 years ago, but this last one was much worse. A ship was carried straight toward my house at a tremendous speed. Out of my window, I saw it coming. I thought I would be finished. I prepared for the worst. But the ship stopped just one inch from my house. I was lucky.”

“The terrible tsunami, my house that was swept away, the lottery for temporary housin g, etc . I have too many worries to bring myself to do anything for now. It might have been better to have died at the time than having to live like this. Every ni ght I have nightmares. In my dreams, I’m chased by something. Fire is just behind me and almost swallows me up. I’m startled to wake up at midnight. I can’t sleep well.”

“The image of the tsunami haunts me. Even when I close my eyes in bed, the image comes back to me and wakes me up.”

“The power of the ebbing tide was just extraordinary. When the first tide ebbed, the sea bottom was exposed. Seeing that from the 2nd floor, where I had fled up, I felt alarmed and ran away. If I had stayed there a moment longer, I would not have survived.”

Everyone expressed fear of the tsunami, grief of losing their home, and uncertainty about the future. At the moment, many people are worrying, “What should I do, if I don’t win the lottery for temporary housing?” But when they were leaving the café, most of them smiled and said, “I’ll come here every day as long as it’s open. I can drink coffee even at the evacuation shelter, but here I can feel refreshed.” “I’ll save money to come here frequently.”


The volunteers working at the sites also drop by this café. Not only the local volunteers, but also the people from many other places in Japan, like Shizuoka, Nagoya, Toyohashi, Kyoto, etc. have visited us. They talk on various topics; from earthquakes to their own local specialties. This café has become an indispensible part of the relief effort, a place for people to meet, exchange information, and, most importantly, take some much needed time to relax.

The original is here.

Reported by Ai URANO, Rescue Stock Yard (based in Nagoya), from Shichigahama, Miyagi, Northeastern Japan.

(Edited by Yoko Matsuda - original submission Thursday, 30 June 2011, 08:05 AM)

Picture of Kim  Meyer-Cech
Re: The Launch of Ochanomi Café  Your Place for Chatting and Relaxing
by Kim Meyer-Cech - Thursday, 14 July 2011, 10:40 PM
Congratulations on this project.
I believe it is important to not only give the people a place to relax as is explained in the article, but also to try and recreate a sense of community and being part of the whole, which this new meeting place obviously does. I think a pleasant atmosphere will facilitate the return of hope and courage.
I understand it is run by volunteers. How is the rest funded (e.g. rent for space, beverages)?
Picture of Yoko Matsuda
Re: The Launch of Ochanomi Café  Your Place for Chatting and Relaxing
by Yoko Matsuda - Monday, 18 July 2011, 10:39 AM
To carry out such a project, much more efforts are taken for preliminary management since various donors and stakeholders are involved. For this case, the land for the building is rent for free by Shichigahama Town, the building itself is offered by Nippon Foundation, foods and beverages are covered by donation goods from Aichi Co-op, and of course the cafe is run by local and external volunteers. Volunteers are not paid but it costs to transport them to the site. This cost is covered by donation from people.

Drinks in the cafe are NOT offered for free (50 yen / 30 cents per cup) intentionally. FREE drinks (or goods) seems sometimes "imperative" to the survivors. I would like to introduce another old woman's voice heard in the evacuation center.

"I sneak into the kitchen and cook vegetable bought at the market. I feel really sorry since they offer me free foods everyday."
Picture of Sharon Corologos
Re: RSY vol.3 - The Launch of Ochanomi Café  Your Place for Chatting and Relaxing
by Sharon Corologos - Friday, 12 August 2011, 11:53 PM
This cafe must be so important to its patrons. It's not only a place for tea and social relaxation; it's a place to mentally recharge. In the transcripts of the patrons' comments, I read a lot of mental anguish. I only hope the sharing of experiences help heal the patrons.