Soldiers helping Japanese 'clean up' in disaster zone
HIGASHIMATSUSHIMA, Japan — “Japan Army no good, water cold,” said the naked man as he stood in a tent clutching a towel sheepishly, covering himself.
Little did the tsunami survivor know the U.S. Army had actually provided the shower block he was attempting to use at the Ono Civic Center, or that the problem was simply that he wasn’t turning the shower lever far enough to get hot water to come out.
The American soldiers who were trying to get to the bottom of the problem didn’t speak Japanese, but with the help of an English-speaking Japanese soldier, the scrubbing soon commenced.
The U.S. troops, which recently moved north from Sendai Airport, are based alongside thousands of personnel from Japan’s 6th Division of the North Eastern Army near a sports arena in Ishinomaki City. The U.S. military’s Logistics Task Force 35 will have 160 personnel by the end of the week, officials said Thursday.
“Our assistance at Sendai Airport was complete, and the majority of our school clearance and kerosene distribution was up here,” said Lt. Col. Stacy Townsend, 43, of Dawson Springs, Ky, who commands the task force. “Being here makes us more responsive to help the Japanese.”
The soldiers — along with a few airmen helping with water distribution and Marines who are operating the heavy equipment — are delivering relief supplies to evacuation centers, clearing tsunami debris in Ishinomaki and setting up the showers.
So far, the soldiers have constructed four sets of male and female showers at evacuation centers and they will soon add two more, Townsend said.
The shower units include 3,000 gallon water supplies, generators that heat the water, and separate areas for males and females to shower in 12-stall blocks.
Master Sgt. Gloria Porter, 45, of Rocky Mountain, N.C., said the Japanese bring their own soap, towels and other accessories when they come to bathe.
“They like taking a bath daily,” she said. “They are very adamant about staying clean. If we don’t open on time they get a little antsy.”
To please their customers, the U.S. troops make sure the shower blocks are sparkling clean before they open for business, from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.
When the showers are open, there are at least three U.S. soldiers on site, two males and a female, to make sure things go smoothly, said Porter, who also set up shower blocks in Baghdad from 2003 to 2004.
One of the bathers, Nobuko Toyokawa, 59, who is living on the upper floor of a house that was flooded in the tsunami, has had three showers in the American facilities since the tsunami. Before the Americans came, she was washing herself with a cloth dipped in boiled water, she said.
“Japanese people are accustomed to washing themselves in a bathtub, so a shower isn’t ideal but it is still nice,” she said.
Another bather, Takeshi Kato, 38, said he needed a shower after working all day in a fish factory and riding a bicycle home.
Kato, with a week’s growth of stubble on his chin and decked out in a coon-skin cap he found in a basket of relief supplies, warmly shook the hands of the soldiers.
“You can tell after they take the shower that they are relieved and so happy,” said Staff Sgt. Jason Schriner, 28, of Inglewood, Calif. “It brightens up their day.”
Elena Sugiyama contributed to this report.