Disaster + Design to save lives

Artists do not only respond to the beauty of nature; they also respond to the wrath of nature.  As shown by Japanese artists, creators and architects, collectively they have successfully combined form and function to raise awareness about disaster preparedness not only in Japan but in neighboring countries as well. 
The site of the Kobe Iza! Kaeru Caravan!
In 1995, more than 6,400 people died when the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake struck Kobe, hometown of Hirokazu Nagata.  After a decade, Nagata, as chairman of NPO Plus Arts, formed a creative pool of artists and embarked on disaster preparedness projects to help save lives.  During the commemoration of the 1995 Kobe earthquake, Nagata interviewed 167 survivors.  The knowledge and testimonies gathered served as the primary source of concepts that inspired the dynamic designs and artworks utilized in the various disaster preparedness activities. “First thing we did was to talk and listen to the survivors of the earthquake.  Then, we published a book containing the voices of the survivors.  A lot of artists participated including the famous illustrator, Hiroshi Fuji.  They contributed a lot of drawings and illustrations for easy understanding of survival tips and skills during disasters,” shares Nagata.
A girl learns disaster preparedness through play;
This was followed by NPO Plus Art’s first project, the Iza! Kaeru Caravan! wherein children are taught skills that are handy in emergency situations brought by earthquakes.  They also got to participate during disaster drills designed for school children.  “The caravan is really geared towards children so they will learn how to be prepared during disasters while having fun,” adds Nagata. In the fire extinguisher drill, children sprayed water on a frog, the mascot created for the caravan.  In another activity, a large frog puppet serves as an earthquake victim was carried off by children using a blanket as a stretcher.  They were also taught how to use a jack to lift a catfish puppet toppled over the frog.  In Japan, catfish symbolizes earthquakes.
The fire extinguisher drill with a school boy
For the very young children, volunteers and staff presented series of pictures with helpful stories about emergency situations.  Animators also participated by producing animated stories based on the stories of Kobe survivors.  “We have recorded stories of survivors written down but children are having a hard time understanding them.  With the animated version, children can easily relate to the words of the victims,” explains Nagata.  An example of this is a clay animation clip that showed the situation of pets during an earthquake. Wood craftsmen taught children how to place braces and harnesses on furniture to avoid toppling during an earthquake. Card games on disaster preparedness were also developed for children.  One card game challenged children to identify the proper materials drawn on each cards and group them according to different emergency situations.  After the 2011 earthquake-tsunami disaster, the card games were revised to include not only earthquake-related preparedness concepts but also those related to tsunamis.
Hirokazu Nagata of NPO Plus Arts (center) with friends
The Shuffle card game teaches children the proper sequence of different disaster preparedness drills like performing first-aid procedures.  In a board game, players were challenged to use everyday shopping goods as survival items during an earthquake disaster.  This shopping game is intended to be played with family members. In 2005, the caravan was staged in seven places within the Kobe area and gathered 8,600 participants.  From then on, the caravan traveled to 20 prefectures, and staged 150 projects. The caravan in Kobe let participants experience how to live in hand-made shelters.
The frog puppet as an earthquake victim
“Last year, we held an exhibit in Thailand. Aside from earthquakes, the country also experiences flooding so we revised some of the concepts and included flood emergency drills,” shares Nagata.  Examples are steps on how to properly dispose trash during flooding, how to turn t-shirts and PET bottles into floating devices, and using plastic bags to protect one’s feet.  The Thai version of Shuffle card game is now widely popular. The first caravan held outside Japan was in Guatemala followed by similar activities in El Salvador, Mongolia and Bhutan.  In Indonesia, the caravan featured a deer as its character, while in Thailand, an elephant was featured.  Nagata explained that by using local characters, children are more receptive when participating in the activities.  “We don’t use the same materials.  We encourage the locals to make their own materials. The program is more effective when localized materials were used.” In the Philippines, first Kaeru caravan will be held in Iloilo in November.  “Together with The Japan Foundation Manila (JFM), we are looking for possible partners in Manila. We hope to hold a disaster preparedness caravan here. We can help each other not just when disaster strikes; there are a lot that we can do in terms of disaster preparedness,” concludes Nagata in a lecture presented by the JFM.
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