Smiles to Ofunato

On Wednesday, May 4, the Socks for Japan team distributed 5,422 pairs of socks with care letters to survivors in Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture. Four volunteers made the journey: Sachiyo, Takako, Toshiaki, and I.

We arrived in familiar territory:

where “badly damaged” homes are simply gone:

and “damaged” homes look like this:

On top of losing their homes, cars, and other property, workers in the town’s once busy fishing and shipping industries are out of work, as the bay area where they used to show up each morning now looks like this:

Spirits are understandably low. It’s our job to change that. While survivors have received ample supplies of primary support, they’ve received little direct encouragement and few tokens to hold as evidence that somebody cares about them. We specialize in delivering such evidence, and we’ve seen the transformation it brings to their faces. Sad becomes happy. Despondent becomes hopeful. We don’t know how long the mood changes last, but string enough moments of joy together and a new life can emerge.

When we began, most of the smiles were ours alone:

As we progressed, more people gathered and spirits began to lift:

One elderly woman looked especially depressed when we arrived. Try as we might, we could not get her to perk up with jokes about cute socks or other light banter. She gratefully accepted her socks and letters, but without much pleasure. Here she is just after receiving them:

I watched her return to her futon and expected her to toss the socks aside and resume brooding over the situation. Instead, she carefully opened each package of socks, looked at them, held them against her feet, and read every word of the letters:

Through a hard day in the survivor shelter, the socks and letters worked their magic until she looked over at me and positively beamed:

Midday, we joined a community gathering center where survivors from shelters, neighborhoods, and outlying areas came to enjoy a food line and entertainment. The director asked us to distribute socks and letters at the entrance to the center, behind a supply truck with one side open toward the food line:

People looked happy to get fresh socks and letters along with their food and entertainment, and some of them suggested that we were the entertainment:

One lady shared her french fries with us:

This little supermodel posed for us:

I think I scared one of the littlest old ladies I’ve ever seen:

Our drive to the next shelter took us through rough terrain, to roads that proved impassable due to standing water and debris:

and past a shop that made me remember my sister, Emily, working at Red Frog Coffee in Longmont, Colorado:

I stood in front of it a while and thought, “What if Emily had worked here? Would she be alive today?” I considered that if just thinking about the possibility of losing her to the tsunami made me as sad as it did, how awful must be the lingering days in shelters for people who actually lost family members on that horrible Friday in March.

At our next shelter, some of the survivors lived in tents and I saw our socks on a mat inside an open tent flap:

We set up shop, and the sock festivities began:

At our last shelter, we arrived in time to set up the van for distribution where people exited after receiving dinner. It started as a trickle, but gained momentum quickly:

and brought out a lot of smiles:

Sunset bathed the disaster zone in a warm light, seen clearly from the shelter safely atop a hillside:

We left Ofunato in hopes that we did some good, but knowing that full healing will take years for the seaside town.

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23 Comments

  1. Adele Scott
    Posted May 21, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    Hi Jason and team,

    I have sent a small parcel today with some socks from Palmerston North, New Zealand. While I have been involved in several events locally to raise funds for Japan it was great to do this one small act which seems so very personal. The letter writing was hard as I tried to connect with those who might read them. You guys (and gals) are truly amazing. BIG hugs from downunder, and, as we say here in Māori KIA KAHA = がんばって!!.

    All the best, and thank you for the opportunity to share in your work
    Adele

  2. TimHand
    Posted May 19, 2011 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

    hello Jason and the A Team,

    What a wonderful job u do.I really appreciate the photos and updates.You have a pure heart and such kindness.I read 1 of ur books and bought 2 more just to get to know u better.u remind me of MOTHER TERESA and have follers like Billy Gram.I wish Oboma was like u and understood things better.I love the way the Japan people stand together and find it easy to see why their products do so well and are in such demand.Blessin to u and all ur team for the outstanding work u r doing there.”I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle.I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much”Mother Teresa
    God bless you !

    ur friend always,
    Tim

  3. Esther Fieler
    Posted May 17, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Hi Jason and Team,
    I mailed (through FEDEX) 343 pairs of socks from the students of Meadow Creek Elementary School at Bedford, Texas. These children are very happy to be able to help the people of Japan that were affected by the tsunami and earthquake.
    Thank you for the work you are doing. I’m glad that we are able to help and may God bless us all!
    I’m sure the kids will be happy if they get a letter from you…just to let them know you got the socks.
    Thank you again.
    Esther Fieler

    • Posted May 17, 2011 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

      Thank you, Esther! I’m happy to know your socks are on the way. I’ll see about a letter one of these days, but will certainly get a confirmation email to you guys eventually. We’re a little behind in that department, but we never forget.

  4. rose Yamauchi
    Posted May 16, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    Dear Jason,

    Thank you for continuing to distribute the socks. I hope the four boxes our group sent from California arrived safely. I would appreciate a word from your group if you did not receive them as sthe USPost Office will reimburse the group for our postage in that event.
    We are grateful that you and your volunteers continue the good work.
    The photos are excellent.
    Keep up the good work.

    • Posted May 17, 2011 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      We’ll get confirmation to you soon, Rose. So far, we haven’t missed a single shipment but it’s taking us a while to send confirmations.

  5. Michiko Kissinger
    Posted May 16, 2011 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    Thank you, Jason, and your team:)
    Your abundance of energy of love is felt in your words and photos. What you are doing is connecting us to all those people in northern Japan somewhere in our hearts, which otherwise we would not have had the privilege to….What may be difficult for one person to do, when we all come together, it’s possible. But, even if we all want to come together, it takes one person’s love, courage and strong belief to make it happen. Thank you!

  6. Mark Grzywa
    Posted May 15, 2011 at 6:12 am | Permalink

    You are doing great work there! Our prayers are with you & the people of Japan!

  7. Posted May 15, 2011 at 1:30 am | Permalink

    Thank you once again, Jason, for going “where angels (and newspeople) fear to tread” to bring back stories of hope (even if only a glimmer) and cheer for these victims of nature’s indifference. I sent two boxes of socks, which should have arrived by now. (I forgot to put my email address on the outside, so I will wait to hear when your team can open the boxes.) I have another box of socks (men’s and women’s, as directed) that I hope to have in the mail today.

    May Felix Salmon eat his words – and his socks ….. 😉

    In peace and wellness to you, your team and the people of Japan,

    Diane

  8. Posted May 14, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Hi Mr Jason. I’ve sent an email to you few weeks ago. A box of socks will be arrived at your office real soon. I’m looking forward to your reply. TQ.
    =D

  9. Esther Fieler
    Posted May 14, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    Hi Jason and Team,
    Thank you very much for the update and mostly thank you for the work you are doing. I will be sending (on May 14) about 300 pairs of socks…..collected from Meadow Creek Elementary in Bedford, Texas. The children are very happy to be able to help the people of Japan that was affected by the tsunami and earthquake. I will be sending you a picture of them.
    God bless you and the people of Japan. I wish I can be there to help.

    Sincerely,
    Esther Fieler
    from Texas, USA

  10. Posted May 14, 2011 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    What amazing work you are doing. I’m so grateful that you do this. I will try and help however I can.

    Jackie

  11. Mell M.
    Posted May 14, 2011 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    Jason & Crew,

    Thank you for the updated information.
    May God continue to watch over you and the people of Japan.

    Mell

  12. Warren Offutt
    Posted May 14, 2011 at 5:45 am | Permalink

    Well done, Jason! Compliments to you and your team …

    Elizabeth and I are happy that the socks we sent gave some happiness to the unfortunate victims of this tragedy.

    warren

  13. Donald Pesavento Jr
    Posted May 14, 2011 at 4:15 am | Permalink

    Thank you for spreading hope. When will these sites begin to get cleaned up?

  14. Birgitta Lindh
    Posted May 14, 2011 at 2:33 am | Permalink

    To Jason with friends. It´s amazing what you are doing.
    Today I sent a package with about 17 homeknitted pair of woolsocks to the people in the help-aid-area.
    It´s almost not beliveble how it looks in help-aid-area, total disaster.
    Me and my friends are continuing to knit socks, there will soon be winter again in Japan.

    Best regards and thoughts to you all volanteers in Japan from Birgitta with friends.

  15. George H Yama, M. D.
    Posted May 14, 2011 at 1:58 am | Permalink

    Dreadful, sad, and devastated. But, there must be more we can do. Any specific family, or organization that we can support directly? We need organizations that will give most to the survivors, and not used as “administrative” expenses. We will be glad to “adopt” a family and help, one at a time.

  16. Posted May 13, 2011 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

    Dear Jason and volunteers: Thank you so much for all your hard work, dedication and heart. You are making such an impact to help our Japanese friends bring smiles to their faces. You also are helping us to understand the devastation and heartbreak allow us to help out in a small but meaningful way. You all have such bright smiles on your faces and it shows that you love what you are doing which is spreading love, hope and joy, and of course, a fresh pair of socks! Keep up the awesome work!

  17. Lynne Mitchell
    Posted May 13, 2011 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

    Great pictures of the great work you are doing. Members of my church contributed and spent time after church during out coffee hour, folding cranes, adding letters prepared by a young parishioner, who had taught English in Japan, and adding then all to the bags with the socks.
    It was a great activity that brought together young and old.

    Thank you for all you are doing and let us know if there are other things we can do.

    Lynne D. Mitchell
    Church of the Nativity and St. Stephen
    Newport, Pennsylvania

  18. Posted May 13, 2011 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

    Dear Jason — I have been so moved by each of your stories and it has helped me to stay connected to the reality of what has happened in Japan.

    I have had many tears at the images of the destruction and the shock, sadness, struggle in people’s faces, and then smiles, witnessing their shift to joy and hope as you and your teams deliver the socks!! It has been priceless to experience this from the other side of the planet!!

    So, I started out on a list for your stock market books, and now you have turned into an “angel” in the “sock market”! How wonderful! I am so glad to receive your messages.

    Sending love and blessings to you and all of your angels! Keep up the great work! This is what makes people truly “wealthy” 🙂

  19. Suzanne Serio
    Posted May 13, 2011 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

    May you and your volunteers be blessed for all the good that you are doing. I can’t look at the pictures without an ache in my heart, but seeing those smiles made me smile , too. May you continue your great work!

  20. Michael Nettrour
    Posted May 13, 2011 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

    Great job! Can I use the existing paypal account for the Kelly letter to provide some money for fuel?

  21. Posted May 13, 2011 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    It’s really amazing what you’re doing!! It was so good to see those smiles on those faces!
    I watch NHK world every day and those images of devastation are now carved into my mind, I really would like to help more. I’ve been in Japan last year but the kindness and great respect of those people is still vivid in my mind as it was just yesterday.
    One thing…I was wondering if there are other things they particulary need, I would like to do more, maybe i could collect something here and send you a package.
    For the time being i’m sending my package with some socks, and i hope they will cheer up somebody.
    Thanks again for what you’re doing. If you need any help please don’t hesitate to ask!

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