Update on Cocoro’s Work in Japan

Many of you will know about my involvement with Cocoro, a Japanese charity providing long-term aromatherapy and positive touch activities for the adults and children affected by the Japanese tsunami.  The charity was founded by Japanese aromatherapist, Takiko Ando (below), and continues to offer much-needed emotional support for the victims who are still trying to come to terms with the devastating effects of the disaster. More about Cocoro Charity here: Cocoro 


The Cocoro team of therapists visited the tsunami area again in November 2015. During this four day visit, they worked closely with local people to provide relaxing activities for both adults and children to help with their emotional and mental health and well-being. They also organised two workshops to train the local Aroma Care Workers and Child Care Workers in new skills to share with the community. Thanks to Local Co-ordinator, Keiko Sugawara and Cocoro Founder, Takiko Ando, for all the organization and planning necessary to make the trip possible.


Report by Tomoyo Nosaki

This report from the recent visit is written by Tomoyo Nosaki, an Aromatherapist and Story Massage Instructor. See below, a photograph taken when Tomoyo attended a Story Massage training course in the UK. Tomoyo has visited the tsunami area with Cocoro charity in the past. Indeed, this was her fourth visit and she noticed many changes.


The current situation

Tomoyo writes: “When I visited Rikuzentakada in November 2014, we could see pipelines everywhere, carrying soil from the mountain to the coast so the ground level could be increased from 0 to 11m (almost three stories high for a building). The whole area looked like a futuristic city with the base of a pyramid in SciFi film. A year later, it looks completely different. Behind the main school in Rikuzentaka, the trees have been cut and the ground has been levelled. Temporary houses now occupy almost all of school playground. There is very little room for children to play games. The pipelines have gone and weeds are growing in the soil.

Feelings of loneliness and confusion

It seems that everyone is suffering in a different way with a range of difficult and painful feelings. Some people have now moved from temporary homes to council flats and or their own homes have been rebuilt. Many of the elderly people who have moved to new homes feel lonely because they are so far away from their friends. However, others must to wait until 2018 before they can move because it will take that long to find a suitable plot. Some people have no idea what they will do.

Massage in the temporary houses in Osabe area

Tomoyo writes: “Despite feeling lonely and isolated, nobody talks about the earthquake nowadays. The local people try to hide their true feelings. I was giving an elderly lady a hand massage and we had small chat initially, then in the middle of treatment, she started sharing her story of the tsunami. She told me that she had walked around two mountains looking for her husband every day for a month. Finally, she found his remains. She is now living in a temporary house alone, and suffers from emotional and physical pain, with very sore knees. It seemed that the positive touch from my warm hands and the lovely aroma reached her and encouraged her to release her feelings. There is still a great need for long-term support and care to help heal emotional wounds.”


Positive touch activities for children, staff and parents

When Cocoro visited the area last year, the local people said that the children were alright, but this year it was different. The local people told the team that there is a real need for help to support children’s mental health and well-being. It seems that the children who were 3-5 years old in 2011 have a lot of problems now. Those children who were so quiet and well-behaved in the shelters and temporary houses have started to express their emotions now. They were patient and unselfish at the time but now that life has calmed down they are demanding attention through challenging behaviour.


Tomoyo writes: “I had personal experience of the Hansin big earthquake 20 years ago, and whenever I feel any big shake, my body still becomes very stiff and my heartbeat rate increases. I am aware that I have trauma in my body cells’ level. It is very likely that the primary school children who were at nursery when the tsunami hit will have a trauma deep inside. So we were very pleased to be invited to offer positive touch activities for the primary school children at an after-school club.”


“We did a quiz on the benefits of aromatherapy and the relaxing effects of different aromatherapy oils. Then did some Story massage with children and they loved the warm feeling of combining the words of a story with massage strokes.

coc 8

When we started hand massage for their parents, some of children asked ‘ I want to have hand massage, too’. It was a cosy atmosphere.”


“We also did the aromatherapy game and Story Massage at Takada nursery and offered aromatherapy hand massages to the staff at Yonesaki nursery. Everyone was so pleased to see us, and said that it made a real difference to know that we cared about them so much, and to learn new ways of relaxation.”


Supporting the Aroma Care Workers

Tomoyo writes: “On a personal level, I was looking forward to seeing the Aroma care workers (ACW) and hearing their news.  These local people have been trained by Cocoro team members to offer aromatherapy massages to the people in their community. They have developed new skills through their experiences and they have much to teach my and others in Cocoro. We were pleased to give them some massage as they are always giving to others. The ACW have built a good rapport with local people because they visit on a regular basis to offer massage and relaxation.” More about Aroma Care Workers (ACW) here: Cocoro trains Aroma Care Workers.


“Cocoro Charity listens to the changing needs of the local people and try to adjust our activities to support these needs. The ACWs suggested introducing some new ways of using aromatherapy oils so we showed them how to make herbal bath packs and bath fizz. We hope that the ACWs will run some workshops for local people as a way of introducing them to others in the community and sharing some relaxing time together.”SONY DSC


Positive Touch for Kids Course

“On the last day, Takiko who is founder of Cocoro, ran a training course in Positive Touch for Kids which based on Story Massage, founded by Mary Atkinson and Sandra Hooper. Mary visited the tsunami area in 2012 and is the UK representative of Cocoro Charity. The course trained local people as Child Care Workers with the aim of sharing positive touch for children to help with relaxation through gentle touch. The course was great fun, and we learnt at lot too.”



“Story Massage is peer massage with children sharing massage one on one or in a line. Words of a story are combined with the benefit of simple massage strokes. At the start of the session, the children ask each other for permission to give massage, and at the end, children say ‘thank you.’ There are many benefits for positive touch for children including showing respect, promoting calming time, increasing concentration and reducing aggressive behaviour. The children are also encouraged to write their own massage stories and we hope this will be a way of helping them express their feelings in a safe and appropriate way.”



Thank you to Cocoro supporters

We are always so grateful for support from UK and from all over the world through donations and the HeartFelt Project. The local people welcome us warmly and really appreciate all of your support. Thank you. We were delighted to hear that Mary Atkinson has won an award for her work as UK representative of Cocoro Charity. Read more here: Mary wins FHT Excellence in Leadership Award.



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