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Wednesday, Sep. 19, 2012

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Washed away: A scene from "The Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011 — A nursery teacher's hard struggle," an English-subtitled DVD collecting accounts of child care providers in the areas hit hardest by the disasters, shows the ravaged Kiri Kiri nursery school in Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture. IWANAMI AUDIO-VISUAL MEDIA INC. / KYODO

3/11 teachers' stories help others prepare

DVD proving popular in Japan and overseas


Soon after the magnitude 9.0 earthquake hit on March 11, 2011, teachers at a nursery school in Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, crammed children onto handcarts to escape the oncoming tsunami. But the packed carts were too heavy and would not move.

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Preparing for the worst: Nursery school teachers discuss how to better protect children in disaster scenarios after a July screening of the DVD in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo. KYODO

"Thankfully, people from a company nearby came and helped us push the carts. That really saved us," one of the teachers recalled.

A collection of similar accounts by child care providers in the hard-hit prefectures of Fukushima, Iwate and Miyagi detailing how the teachers and children escaped and survived the aftermath of the tsunami has been compiled for a DVD — "3.11 Sonotoki, Hoikuen wa," with its English version titled "The Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011 — A nursery teacher's hard struggle."

The DVD's Japanese version, released in September 2011 by Iwanami Audio-Visual Media Inc., has been gaining attention both domestically and abroad, providing valuable lessons on disaster response and prevention.

In response to requests that it also be made available to overseas child care providers, Iwanami has also produced an edition with English subtitles that will go on sale later this month.

The recollections were gathered by a team led by Tamaji Amano, an associate professor specializing in child development at Japan Women's College of Physical Education.

The team members, making their way through towns still littered with debris from May to July 2011, interviewed child care providers at 14 nursery schools in the three devastated prefectures.

"Even the emergency backpacks were soaked (by the tsunami)," one interviewee says in the DVD. "But because the contents had been wrapped in plastic bags, snacks and diapers inside could still be used."

Another child care provider recalls how the teachers and children survived in the immediate aftermath on a three-day supply of canned food and other items the school had stored for emergency use.

Other teachers tell heartbreaking stories in which some children died in the tsunami after family members picked them up. The children would likely have survived had they stayed at the schools or sites to which they had been evacuated.

Soon after the DVD was completed late last September, Iwanami received requests from various nursery school operators, local authorities, universities and other organizations saying they wanted to use it for study or training sessions, the company said.

The video had been shown more than 70 times, as far as Amano is aware of, in locations ranging from Hokkaido to Kyushu.

During one of the screenings in July, the participants in a Tokyo refresher training session for nursery school teachers engaged in a lively discussion afterward about how they would react in a similar emergency.

One of the topics they talked over was whether it's better to hand children over to relatives who have come to pick them up or to recommend that they stay at nursery schools.

Some companies are also making use of the video as a reference tool.

A branch office of Chiba Prefecture Yakult Hanbai in the city of Narashino, which sells fermented lactic beverages and has nursery schools attached to all of its sales outlets, circulated the DVD among its staff, prompting a re-examination of its facilities and evacuation routes.

"Having realized (from the accounts on the DVD) the importance of close ties with neighbors (in the case of such emergencies), staff members are putting in even more effort than before in greeting and paying courtesy visits in the neighborhood," a Yakult sales official explained.

Among comments received from students studying to become nursery teachers, some said they were moved by the strong sense of duty seen in the DVD.

Some also said that thanks to the video, they now have a better realization of the immense responsibility of the job, including protecting the lives of other people's children.

For a number of nursery teachers featured in the DVD — many of whom lost family members and homes in the March 11 disasters — their responsibility to care for children helped them cope.

"I had meant to be the one protecting the children, but in fact I have been saved by the smiles on their faces," one of the teachers said.

Many others shared similar comments.

When part of the video was shown at an international child care conference in Australia in late July, it drew a round of applause, with some in the audience moved to tears, according to Mari Ogi, a scholar who arranged the screening.

Koharu Hayashi, the former head of one of the disaster-hit nursery schools in Miyagi Prefecture and one of the people interviewed in the film, expressed amazement over the attention given to the DVD, not just in Japan but also abroad.

"I hope (the DVD) can convey the 'spirit of child care providers' to protect lives," Hayashi said. "It was an excruciating experience, but (I'll be glad) if it will be useful to others."

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