Disasterology 4: Disaster Candy in Japan

October 7, 2013

For survivors of Superstorm Sandy in the U.S. Northeast, the Sendai tsunami in Japan and the massive earthquake in Chengdu, China, the scars of disaster are still palpable. I’m part of a group of journalists brought together by the East-West Center in Hawaii to see how the people and environments hit by these catastrophes are faring, one year,  two years and five years later. We began our tour on Sept. 29. Here are the other posts in the series:

A fair featuring cartoon frogs and rhinos, baskets of toys to trade and hands-on crafts might sound like the answer to a parent’s prayer on a rainy weekend. But this was a fair with a difference: the annual Bo-Sai Expo in Tokyo, an event meant to prepare young families for disaster.

Two-and-a-half years after the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident that devastated parts of Japan, hundreds of kids showed up on Oct. 5 and 6 at the Gas Science Museum and an adjacent upscale shopping mall for the fair. Strangely enough, it wasn’t grim.

To put children in the mood to participate, they were encouraged to bring a toy to trade, and there was a thriving toy bazaar inside the entrance to the museum. The plan, according to Toshinori Tanabe of the non-profit organization Plus Arts, is to get the young ones interested right away and then point them toward various disaster skills workshops – though that’s not what they are called.

There’s a big stack of used newspapers, where they can learn practical origami to make containers to use as plates or bowls. Another station has kids and some adults use 20 plywood rectangles and a collection of bolts to build a dome-shaped shelter. A shopping game lets children grab a basket and fill it with the foods they’d need for the first days after disaster strikes, with the message to eat the perishable stuff first, then go for the shelf-stable items.

Because not everybody knows how to turn the gas back on after a disaster-prompted shut-off, the gas company provides a bottle of candy with instructions printed on the side on how to switch the gas meter back on. Another station offers tips on teeth-cleaning without water: use oral hygiene wet-wipes designed for nursing home patients.

Kids earn points for completing various drills and then gather for a toy auction at the end.

Even the name of the expo is a play on words in Japanese. While Bo-Sai means disaster prevention or reduction, sai alone means rhinoceros, so there’s a stylized drawing of blue rhino in a hard-hat on much of the publicity for the event. The toy exchange is called Kaeru in Japanese, which also means frog, so there’s an icon of a smiling kid in a frog helmet on the flyer too.

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