Two years after the 9.0-magnitude earthquake that killed thousands and laid waste to much of Japan's North-Eastern coastline, recovery still continues in the most affected parts of the Tohoku region. Many families who lost their homes are still living in government-provided temporary housing off the coast, and both the public and private sectors of Japan's economy are staging continued efforts to help those most affected by the disaster. Chief among them in the video-game sector: The Pokemon Company, which kicked off a major relief campaign almost immediately after the quake.
"These past two years have passed by in the blink of an eye," said Yoriomi Uego, head of Pokemon's "Building Children's Tomorrow" relief project, in an interview with Famitsu magazine. "We were primarily involved with supporting supply logistics right after the quake, but now we're concentrating on visiting affected areas and trying to provide children with something that stays with them. There aren't a lot of play spaces left in many areas, and we're helping create some more for them."
Among Uego's efforts is the "Pokemon With You Wagon," a van that has visited 100 locations (mostly temporary housing settlements and children's public halls) and reached over 10,000 children living in affected areas in Fukushima, Iwate and Miyagi prefectures. In addition to staging meet-and-greet events in each area ("The moment Pikachu comes out is probably the most exciting one for kids," admitted Uego), the van provides children with coloring books, papercraft projects, and Pokemon card game sets.
"To be honest, I have the suspicion that kids are under more stress now than they were in the first little while after the quake," Uego explained. "I think it's a bit of a chaotic experience for children to not have things like sports centers or other play areas; it's an environment that can easily lead to stress. They're also living in temporary housing that doesn't afford much privacy, which places stress on their parents that the children, in turn, have to deal with. Still, we're using the Pokemon With You Wagon to run around, give them some fun, and help them be more like the children they are. Seeing that in action makes me really happy."
Pokemon's efforts don't end with the van tour, though. In addition to opening a Pokemon Center shop in Sendai (the largest city in the Tohoku region) last fall, the company has held Christmas events and parades in affected areas, as well as Pokemon movie screenings and other events. A Pokemon-themed Japan Rail train has also been running along commuter lines in the region starting last December, a move that Uego describes as "partly about giving cheer to local people and also partly about encouraging people outside the Tohoku region to come visit and help support the economy."
Out of all these efforts, what has stuck out the most in Uego's mind? "I don't know if this will answer this question," he replied, "but the sorts of connections you make with people at the places we visit really stick with me; I think they're important. The sort of broad connections we need to make a difference are something that you get only by being in the affected areas. If we didn't do that, we'd just be seen as just some random outfit from Tokyo. With that in mind, I think it's been very valuable for us to set up a base in Tohoku and conduct our activities from there."
These efforts aren't winding down anytime soon, either. In an announcement released last January, Pokemon Company president Tsunekazu Ishihara stated that the outfit will use revenue generated by the Sendai Pokemon Center store to support their quake relief efforts "for a long span to come."
"I think the two facets of our activity in Tohoku go hand-in-hand," Uego said. "Being able to take our revenue from Tohoku and put it back into the community will let us best continue with what we're doing. We'd like to keep this going for a long time to come, so hopefully the two facets of our work will continue to work well together. We're also thinking of ways that people outside the affected areas can help by doing things like purchasing charity goods. If we all work together, I think we can bring smiles to children and help make Japan a happier place for everyone."