FUKUSHIMA KIDS DIVE INTO DOLPHIN ADVENTURE

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The children wept as they said goodbye to their new friends, friendships that are likely to last a lifetime because of bonds forged during a special week of camp. Yes, it was an emotional scene at the Takeshiba Ferry Terminal in Tokyo. One I will never forget, but one I hope repeats with other children in years to come.

This group of children from Fukushima, Japan, had just returned from the Fukushima Kids Dolphin Camp that was held August 15 to 19 on small, friendly Mikura Island. The group spent the week exploring nature, facing fears, sharing feelings and, yes, swimming with wild dolphins.

Longtime friend Toru Fujita and I held the first FKDC in 2014. It is a radiation and expense-free camp for children whose families were affected by the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant following the Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami on March 11, 2011.

Four years after the earthquake and tsunami devastated Fukushima and surrounding areas, there are still some places where radiation levels are checked regularly. In fact, some kids even carry a special device to keep an eye on the radiation level when they go to school. And some areas closer to the power plant are simply off limits. Houses are abandoned, and only the occasional stray
animal frequents those neighborhoods.

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Concerned about the radiation, even in those areas where people live and work which are considered safe, many parents in Fukushima have cut down the time they allow their children to play outside. And even though a couple of beaches in Fukushima are now open to the public, many families avoid them. So children like the ones who attended the recent camp no longer swim in their hometown.

That’s where FKDC comes in.

But before I go any further, I have to answer the question asked most about the camp: why do you hold a camp that features swimming with wild dolphins?
I spent two years working as a dolphin swim guide in Hawaii about 20 years ago.
I was amazed by the effect these wild, yet approachable creatures have on humans. I believe swimming with dolphins cannot only bring one closer to nature, but also it can bring out courage and confidence.

That’s what the camp is all about: giving children the courage and confidence to live a positive and fulfilling life. And let’s be honest, swimming with wild dolphins is a pretty cool thing to do.

So, Toru and I and other volunteers set up a four night, five day excursion to Mikura Island, located about 200 kilometers off Tokyo. It is also the stomping grounds of about 150 friendly bottlenose dolphins. It is one of very few places in the world where you can swim with wild dolphins under the watchful eye of professionals.

This year we had 13 children attend the camp. The campers, ranging from second to seventh graders, were selected based on essays they wrote about Fukushima and why they should attend the camp. We had dozens of applicants and it was extremely difficult to select who would attend. We didn’t want to turn anyone down, but the budget and space in the facilities we used were limited.

For those selected, it was quite the adventure: one that didn’t include their parents. They took a bullet train by themselves from Fukushima to Tokyo, rode a ferry with our camp staff and stayed in a bungalow with other children they had never met.

And they swam with wild dolphins.

Upon arrival and getting settled in, the campers were given a snorkeling lesson in shallow water. And then we boarded a boat and headed out to sea in search of dolphins. After ten minutes, the captain yelled, “Dolphins!” There was a pod of 30 swimming toward to us.

To say the campers were excited is an understatement. Jumping up and down and eyes almost popping from their heads as they stared at these friendly and approachable creatures of the sea, the kids were ready to jump in. So they grabbed their snorkels and masks, donned life jackets and jumped into the unknown.

“I am doing this“to give children the courage and confidence to live a positive and fulfilling life. Because children are our future.”

In the clear blue water, the dolphins slowly approached, checking out the excited children. I could hear the high-pitched sounds of “yeeew, yeeew” that dolphins made. They swam slowly and got within ten feet of our group. They stayed with us for less than a minute before swimming away, but it is a time that will forever be etched in the minds of these children.

“I saw a baby dolphin!” one of the campers yelled on the surface.
“Their eyes are bigger than mine, and they swam super close and I thought I was going to touch them,” said super stoked third grader Kanta Terauchi. “They were very gentle and I want to swim with them some more.”

During the entire camp, the children had a blast. They played to the max. They ran in their bare feet, snorkeled in the clear water every day, hiked in the mountains and helped cook meals. But most importantly, they bonded with one another.

But the reality of the life they live and the fears they face in Fukushima popped up on occasion.

One day during the camp, a local fisherman gave us a good-sized bonito he caught at sea. We made sashimi out of it.

“Is it safe from radiation?” one boy asked. Only after he was assured that indeed the fresh catch was safe to eat, did he chomp down on the raw chunks of bonito.

As I sat there and took in the scene, I was saddened that these children have such worries and can’t enjoy the sea or the seafood around Fukushima. For the past four years they’ve lived with the constant fear of radiation.

I have heard many stories of the healing power of dolphins. And I believe in them. The children traveled far to see dolphins and it took a lot of courage to swim in deep waters with these creatures of the sea. But the trip was more than just swimming with dolphins. It was about exploration, discovery, conquering fears and learning that it’s OK to dream.

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During the last night of camp, each child stood up in front of everyone and announced his dream.
“I want to be the strongest man in the world!” a boy screamed.

“I want to be a nurse,” a girl said with pride. “I want to be an Olympic swimmer,” chimed in another camper.

“I want to be a volunteer leader,” said another.

After each declaration, the other children yelled back in force, “You can do it!”

The campers were no longer timid and shy like when they arrived. They expressed their feelings thoughtfully but vigorously, shouting into the night sky. They had grown. They had formed their own pod.

FUKUSHIMA KIDS DOLPHIN CAMP

The camp is run with donations received from the crowd-funding websites Indiegogo and Readyfor. More than $8,000 was raised for this year’s camp. Folks from around the world donated, including from the US, France, Holland and Australia.

Funds for the 2016 camp are being accepted now.


To find out more about the camp, visit our website.
Web: www.kidsdolphincamp.com
Email: futurekidsadventure@gmail.com

【Living in Japan】FINDING A PLACE TO STAY IN JAPAN

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Whether you’re staying long or short-term, finding somewhere to stay in Japan can be a daunting challenge especially if you don’t speak the language and have just arrived. For travellers coming to Japan, hotels are one obvious option, but if you’re staying for more than a few nights, you’ll be burning through your travel budget pretty quickly.

Although I haven’t tried it myself, Airbnb, where people rent out their rooms and apartments, seems to be a popular choice nowadays. It’s usually cheaper than most hotels and depending on the option you choose, you could have an entire apartment where you can cook, use wireless Internet and perhaps even get some travel advice from your hosts.

Another website called couchsurfing.com connects you with hosts around the world on the condition that you also offer your place to other couchsurfers. This can be a great way to connect
with other travelers and organise trips together and basically allows you to stay for free anywhere.

Then of course there are hostels. Hostels alsooffer the ability to cook, but can often be noisy and sometimes rough or dirty. You also have to be careful about having your things stolen if you’re staying ina room with several strangers. On the positive side, they’re also a great place to meet people and canbe really memorable experiences. I once stayed in a really ratty hostel in Kyoto with about eight people in one room. People came in at all hours of the night and we all had to sleep in bunk beds. There was also a big communal shower room with no place to change. It was a rough couple of nights to say the least. But I’ve also stayed in some really nice ones as well, so make sure you do your research and read the reviews.

For those looking at a long-term stay, a guesthouse is probably the best option. There are several companies in Japan with English-speaking staff and websites where you can book a room by the month

ahead of your arrival. There’s a deposit of 20,000 to 30,000 yen, but you get most of it back when you leave, as long as you don’t trash the room. The rooms are usually furnished with a bed with new sheets and a desk. The kitchen and bathrooms are shared with your housemates. I’ve actually lived in a guesthouse for the past two years. It’s convenient and it’s fun to meet the people from all over who come and go.

Another advantage is that a lot of guesthouses are conveniently located near big train stations so you can live relatively cheaply in a convenient area where rent would typically be very expensive. Paying rentis also easy because all the utilities are included in one price. Learning to live with other people can be a challenge, but it’s a good experience.

Another viable option is doing a homestay. I spent my first two months in Tokyo doing a homestay with
a young couple who had two spare rooms. At first it was great having someone to talk to and dinner on the table every night. It was a great chance to see how Japanese people live and they organised a lot
of activities every weekend. I would say that for a two- week stay, a homestay would be perfect. Any longer than that, in my experience, seems to be wearing out your welcome. It became uncomfortable trying to be home on time for dinner and I always felt like I had to be careful about making noise or using the shower.

Homestays can also be quite expensive in the long term, but I would say it was a great experience for someone arriving in Japan for the first time. Also, both homestays and guesthouses are ideal places to use as a base while you’re searching for your own apartment.

Finding your own apartment presents its own set of pitfalls and challenges. First of all, you’ll need a bank account. But in order to get a bank account, you need an identification card and of course to stay in Japan you need some type of visa, for example a work visa sponsored by your employer. They’ll want to see proof of your income or employment such as a pay stub or a work contract. Even if you have a job lined up before you come, getting everything in order takes time, so I recommend staying in a guesthouse for a month or two so you can take your time to find a good apartment.

Most apartments in Japan require at least a two-year contract as well as up to the equivalent of one or two months rent or so in deposits and fees.

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“ Decide what’simportant for you depending on your budget and make sure to have ample time and money for your research and application. Then you should have tons of options.”

Choosing the right apartment in Tokyo is usually
a compromise between price, size or location. Rarely will you find a place that is ideal in all three. You have to decide what’s more important for you depending on your own budget. For me, living in a central convenient location, close to a station and my job is important but I also don’t want to pay a lot for rent. So I decided to sacrifice on space and privacy by just staying in my guesthouse.
Basically, the further the apartment is away from a train station, (i.e. less convenient) the more spacious or cheaper it will be. Some people decide to live outside of Tokyo altogether and commute into the city to save money on rent. For me though, not having to ride the crowded morning trains and being able to ride my bike to work is worth the extra cost of living in the city. I’m also able to stop home for lunch or go back if I forget something and I don’t have to worry about catching the last train at night on the weekends.

Hopefully, someone from your company or a friend will help you with the process at the realtor’s office. You might be shocked to hear that some or many of the landlords will reject you right off the
bat simply because you’re a foreigner. The most common reason is that they don’t want to deal with the language barrier, although in most cases you’ll never have to interact with them personally or even meet them. Most likely they’re worried you will have poor Japanese etiquette such as making too much noise or not disposing of your trash properly. Some foreigners also leave Japan suddenly without paying all of their last bills. Whatever the reason, this is one of the most frustrating parts about finding an apartment in Japan. However, they do seem to be more open if you tell them you can speak some Japanese.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you won’t have Internet for the first two or three weeks after you move into an apartment, while the telecommunications company changes the phone lines to your name. With proper research and planning, you may be able to shorten the waiting time by telling them ahead of time to get started on the process.

Make sure you budget ample time and money in your search for a place to stay. There are tons of options, and with a little planning and research, it doesn’t have to be a headache.