On-Going Support for Tsunami Victims – Cocoro Charity

My involvement with COCORO charity grows stronger every day as we recognise the need for continued support to help these strong people cope with long-term depression and trauma. COCORO charity provides aromatherapy and positive touch to help bring comfort and peace of mind. We are also training local people to gain new aromatherapy and reflexology skills to share with others in the community.

Please take time to read this report written by Takiko Ando, founder of Cocoro Charity:


The Current Situation

Whole areas of Rikuzentakata city were damaged by the Tsunami and the plan is to move the whole town to the mountains. The wreckage has now been replaced by thousands of trees from the mountains. When we were there (May and July 2014) a huge pipeline to convey soil from the mountains was under construction along the coast.  This pipeline will save a lot of time as removing soil from the mountains was expected to take more than ten years if dumper trucks transferred it.

Pine tree 1

Some roads are sunken and some have not recovered yet, so there are limited roads in this town.  This leads to traffic jams and we saw lot of trucks from early morning till late night every day. With so much traffic, it seems very dangerous for children and the elderly to cross the road and even take a walk.  Some kindergarten teachers said some small children do not know the phrase “going for a walk” as they have never experienced it.

girls and hearts

The playgrounds of schools are still full of temporary houses. The children do not have anywhere to “play” and “walk around”.  It is stressful for all children.  Parents worry that their young children do not complain about it because they cannot remember how it was before. It is becoming normal. Some charity groups take children to the playground by the bus a few times a year but before the tsunami, children would be playing outside every day. Children laugh at the situation saying that when they forget their homework, they can be back home in a minute. One of the nurseries is being rebuilt in the area but it costs 600000000 yen, and is being supported by Malaysian Red Cross. It is so expensive because they need to flatten a mountain to create the land for building.

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Rikuzentakata city created more than 80 evacuation shelters, and at its peak housed over 10,000 people.  55 temporary accommodation areas still remain and 4722 people still live in there. (April, 2014)  This means that over half the local people have experienced the same stressful lifestyle since the disaster even 3 years passed. It makes continuing our work even more important.

We found people struggle with the ‘situation gap’ at the moment.  The ‘situation gap’ means the extent of their losses due to the Tsunami.  This is different for everyone.  If a lady lost her son, for example, the next person may have lost their whole family.  People cannot easily talk about how they feel. However, as time goes by, some may have more money than others, and some may have greater chance of moving away from the temporary houses.

ACW in temp house

Cocoro Ria – training local people in aromatherapy skills

The number of visits from other charities is decreasing, but there are other charity workers still continuing their work.  However, Cocoro is unique in that we have trained local Aroma Care Workers. (ACW). The idea of the project to teach the local people to heal the local people was a great success.  They told us that ONLY ACW have been trained after the disaster to work to heal the people in their own town.  They were very proud of themselves.  They also say there is great meaning in their work as they are not only just giving a massage, but also telling the story of how many people all over the world are supporting Cocoro.


ACWs normally work during the daytime in the temporary houses so most of the people they visit are the elderly people.  Some are looking forward to have a massage every month as ACWs have been already working for six months now.  I always believe that healing is not only actually giving something, but also receiving a lot of energy and love from others.  One ACW who has just retired as the principal of kindergarten told me that she had worked there for 40 years and many of the children were lost to the Tsunami. She said: ‘I could not even imagine that I would find something where I can be “myself”. It is my new mission to live for.’ Cocoro was working for that kinderkarten when she was still the principal.  As founder of Cocoro, it is so heartwarming to know that she is now GIVING a massage for somebody else.


Our visit in May 2014

The local members of Cocoro Ria, the Aroma Care Workers (ACW), told us there was a need for foot massage in the temporary houses especially for the elderly.  Therefore, we prepared a 2 day Foot Reflexology Course to teach them a new skill. Seven members of Cocoro visited in May 2014. One team worked together to run the courses. The other team gave aromatherapy massages to the teachers in the kindergartens and nurseries, and also the elderly people in the disaster area.

cocoro b and b
Foot Reflexology Course

We invited Ms. Reiko Tomino (Principal of International Medical Spa Institute in Tokyo) to Rikuzentakata to teach this course.  We were surprised at how the ACWs had become familiar with massage.  Last year, when they first learnt hand massage, their touch was like a feather, but now they have confidence and experience.  They have become very good therapists.  They are really motivated to heal the people in the town and 13 ACW out of 20 attended the two day weekday course.  I gave an hour’s orientation session and asked questions. They are our ambassadors and tell us the type of work that is most beneficial for the local people. We always listen the people’s views before we proceed to the next step.

ACw 11

Three therapists worked very hard to give 15 minutes hand / shoulder / foot massage for teachers and staff.  We were surprised to discover that many people are still taking sleeping tablets and tranquilizers.  Some people say they have just started to drink alcohol too.  This shows that time is not always the best medicine for people and they may need a little extra support.  Therapists realize that the people lower their voices when they talk about the day of Tsunami.  They can be more open about daily life with the ACWs but they still need therapists from the outside to enable them to be free to express their deeper emotions.

lady and heart 1

However, the ACWs have begun to tell us that the more and more people are requesting massage, and this has made them realise the deep extent of the mental trauma and how many people still need mental health care.  As a result, some ACWs feel depressed and burdened.  Through this period, we realized that they are also victims and probably need more care for themselves.

We normally visit the area every 4-6 month, but after our visit in May 2014, I felt it was important to visit again soon and so we went back in July.


Our visit in July 2014

The purpose to visit in July was to:

–       Share information

–       Motivate and support the ACWs

–       Make a plan for the future

This was the first time we had been to the area with the purpose of “sharing” something. Until now, we have visited in order to “give” something such as giving a massage and lectures.  We worked together with the ACWs in the temporary houses, and had a two hour lunch meeting and after-party to share their stories and their emotions.


At this time, I did not call upon volunteer therapists from other cities as we normally do. I wanted to connect the ACW and our supporters directly so that the ACW could meet and know more about their supporters.  I invited Mr. Aboshi, from Asahi Beer, and Ms. Iwata, from Asahi One Beer Club, who are our two main sponsors as a representative of all other sponsors and supporters

It was the first time that the ACW had met face to face with their Supporters. It was a great opportunity for everyone to talk to each other and understand how they are feelings. The ACW sexplained that Cocoro Ria has been popular not only because “the local people heal the people in their town” but also because “they can deliver the message from the world through touch and aromatherapy” and this is important.  Supporters told the ACWs
that they cannot come to the area as easy as they would like to, but they are always thinking of people in the disaster area and hope every small step forward will be helpful to continue their great work. This was apparently a great success for both ACWs and Supporters.


Many of the ACWs explained that the work holds great meaning, and that making someone happy is actually making them happier.  One of them told me she lost the will of living after the disaster, but this is the motivation for her to continue this work.  The other ACWs who live in the temporary house told us that the community feeling that had built up after the disaster was now dispersed again.  Everyone lost so much after the disaster, but now they can see exactly who lost what and who did not.  Many people feel lonely, insecure and depressed.  Supporters also said they could understand the importance of local people taking care of the local people. It is clear that regular care is needed but this cannot be achieved by visiting a few times a year. Therefore the presence of the ACW is making a big difference.

ACW copy

Daily stories of Local Team, Cocoro Ria

We were surprised that a lot of elderly people in the temporary houses are still working.  They say they are afraid for their future, so they would like to earn as much as possible.  Even those around 70 years of age are working in the daytime.  So we met a lot of people who are over 90.  One man who is 97 years old hardly talks about himself but always comes to our massage.  This was the third time we had seen him.  He lives in a temporary house on his own and always stays on in our massage room when his massage has finished.

takiko and elderly man

Elderly people over 90 often tell the ACWs that they might end their lives in the temporary houses as they have already lived there for four years. Many told me they enjoy a massage now and they look forward to Cocoro Ria’s visits. They say they can sleep well after a massage and also they can laugh more than they can in a normal day. Despite the intensity of their emotional and mental pain, they say they are happy to be alive and that they feel more connected with the world through Cocoro.  They always enjoy seeing the photographs of people holding the red felt hearts from around the world.


In the temporary houses, I could also feel how they are benefitting from massage. They only needed a few seconds before they began to feel relaxed.  It was a great sign that they know how to relax and their body remembered the enjoyment of massage.  This made me very happy.  Some made a joke saying it is not enough at all! Cocoro Ria’s work is spreading in the town by word of mouth and they work every week and sometimes a few times a week.

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Story Massage with Elementary School Children (6-12 years)

On previous visits we have gone to the nursery schools. However, the children in nurseries and kindergartens are 0-5 years old and so most of them did not experience the tsunami, so on our visit in July 2014 we focused on older children.  We thought it was important to care for the children who had lived through the tsunami.


The children really enjoyed the Story Massage session and many were able to think about how they could improve their touch for their friends. These children were old enough to talk about how they can make friends much happier though positive touch activities. Also they were very glad to receive pictures of red heart felts from the world.  Even though we need to go back again to improve the quality of their touch, they really felt the benefit. We made an album and gave it to them, so they will share with other friends in the school.


“Quality before Quantity”

During the after-party with the ACWs, some of them told me they are impressed with my massage saying it looks different and professional.  This made me realize that they have NEVER experienced professional aromatherapy massage.  Of course, they practice on each other every month and provide the service every week, but there is no aromatherapy salon or clinic in the town. It would take 3 hour return trip for them to try an aromatherapy massage.  I felt that it would be important for them to “experience” a professional aromatherapy treatment now that they had begun to see the difference that their massage is making. The quality of touch is becoming more important than giving service to as many people as possible. Those people who are still living in the temporary homes can see no way of escaping the situation.   Our data shows that as time progresses since the disaster, the stress levels of the local people are increasing. ( Cocoro’s Data.doc )  Probably the number who feel stress may decrease in the future but the stress level might keep increasing.


When the ACWs set up the local team “Cocoro Ria”, I thought we may only need to support them this year.  However, they tell us the people still need us, therapists from the outside of their prefecture.  I started this charity work as I did not want to see any elderly people die in the temporary houses.  This happened a lot in Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995, in my home town.  I think now is the stage they really need extra care from reliable people.  We are not continuing our work forever, we will have reached our goal when they say they do not need us any more.

We feel it is important to spend time with the ACWs because they are the ones who can really care for the people. We will listen to their views and also support their motivation, skills, and of course their budget.  We will pay for their insurance, any materials they need for work, and expenses.

Our next plan is simple.

This is the brief plan I made with the ACW for our next visit in November.

–       Call upon voluntary professional aromatherapists from other cities as usual

–       ACWs experience 60 minute full body aromatherapy massage

–       Include some small group work with 2-3 ACWs and a therapist to review skills and knowledge, and offer time for questions.

–       ACWs and therapists work together in temporary house

–       Hold an after-party to share feelings and thoughts

cocoro at end

Future Plans

When we first visited Rikuzentakata in May, 2011, only 2% of people knew the word “aromatherapy”. Our recent data shows that 74% of people know “aromatherapy” and have experienced the benefits.  It means we have a lot of people who need mental health care and return time and again for massage. This is the reason we have trained local people to be able to provide a much more regular service.  We expect to have temporary houses at least till 2016.  It is still a long journey.  The awareness of the suffering of the local people is decreasing and it is getting much more difficult to raise donations and support.  We will work hard to raise the awareness and spread the word about the need for regular mental health care services.

boys and hearts copy

Cocoro’s Client Data








Number of Clients








Average age








Women / Men










Experience  (%)








(Cocoro’s Activity Report vol.1-10 / Takiko Ando)

Not including the number massaged by Cocoro Ria team.

Supporting Cocoro

If you’d like to support the work of Cocoro, then please contact Mary Atkinson (Cocoro UK representative) who will be very happy to hear from you.

Mary and Rhoda


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