Japanese to mark long holiday with volunteer work, not travel

Thu Apr 28, 2011 11:33am EDT
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By Mari Saito

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - Japan's extended spring holiday period is usually a time for the hardworking nation to relax, spend quality time with family and travel to vacation spots both at home and overseas.

But with "Golden Week" this year coming less than two months after Japan's worst-ever earthquake and a mammoth tsunami devastated a wide swathe of the northern coast, thousands of Japanese will be spending their days off shoveling mud and clearing wreckage.

The March 11 disasters have left nearly 28,000 dead or missing and touched off a nuclear crisis that forced tens of thousands from their homes.

Many relief workers in the disaster-hit areas, while "extremely grateful" for the help, said they were bracing themselves for the influx.

"It's going to be pretty chaotic," said Susumu Sugawara at the Iwate Disaster Volunteer Center in Morioka, some 460 km north of Tokyo. At least 3,000 to 5,000 people were expected to help out in Iwate prefecture alone, where some coastal communities were virtually flattened.

"We put up a post on our website offering buses for volunteers starting from May 2nd to the 8th, and all of them were completely full in three hours."

Volunteer work is a legacy of Japan's last major quake in 1995, when more than 1 million people rushed to the western city of Kobe to fill gaps left by a sluggish government response.

But gasoline shortages, transport disruptions and the sheer scale of the destruction this time prompted authorities to stem the influx of well-wishers at first.   Continued...

<p>A man stands at an area that was devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, in Otsuchi, Iwate prefecture April 17, 2011. REUTERS/Toru Hanai</p>