Day 2 and 3 in Ishinomaki: Cooking for 800 people

A report from volunteer Akira Uchimura, originally published on the Nikkei Youth Network.


from the left, Yūki, Massun, Kaori, Rio, Sayaka, Yosuke

On day 2 of my volunteer work here in Ishinomaki, our team was given the task of making 800 servings for people who live nearby our volunteer center and several spots around the city. Especially in places where people live far from the refugee camps.

As our chefs, we had Rio, a owner chef of a Spanish restaurant in Nakano, Tokyo called Irene Restaurant. Rio, had come to the volunteer camp few days before us and is one of those guys who chose to leave his restaurant to one of his colleague chefs, so he could come and help out food-wise with people who really need it. He is tall and has a hard look on his face, but turns out he is one of the nicest guys I have met in the camp, and the reason why he had to come here is just great too (will explain later in this post).

Also, there’s one more assistant cook called Yūki Tanaka, he works in one of the exclusive Japanese restaurants in Akasaka (Tokyo) called, Kikunoi(菊乃井). It was surprising to see him here because normally a dinner in his restaurant costs no less than $200 dollars per person! We were excited to see what kind of food we would prepare with them.

My team member Katchan ande me enjoying the blueberry jam aroma

As we finished our morning meeting (8am), our team went besides the storage room, where the official “Kitchen” was being set up. Actually its a big tent with huge cooking pans and bowls.

Normally  if one thinks about food for hundred of people who are in refuge, or that are in need of food. You would imagine, making cup noodles, instant curry (well here in Japan it is popular), or any other sort of instant food. With these two food masters, that wasn’t so. Instant food is good for the first two or three days after being rescued but eating that every day has stresses you psychologically too.

That is why Rio and Yūki started making dishes that people here in Japan love and used to eat before any of this disaster had ever happened. Delicious food not only soothes your tummy, but also your thoughts.

As you can see on the picture above, that is 30kg of Chilean blueberries and 10kg of strawberries, donated by Second Harvest, an interesting NGO that dedicates its efforts in using food that was not able to make the final buyer but still could be used, instead of being thrown away.


this is the truck of Second Harvest bringing a lot of useful high quality food!

Now that we have the super cooks, the super ingredients, and super little time (4 hours) to make 800 dishes, all nine of us got to work.

The menu of the day was Japanese rice covered with chicken and vegetables sauce, so our first job was to cut cut and cut all the vegetable and chicken that was needed. When you talk about 800 servings, every measure is done in kilograms. Rio and Yūki would give us orders on what had to be prepared first so they could proceed in cooking everything, so sometimes I would be peeling 50 onions, or then slicing two boxes of carrots, washing huge bowls and pans with 1litre of water (water is very scarse), or even stirring the blueberry and strawberry jam bowl for 30min.


Chef Rio is the one mixing the big bowl with the Chicken and Vegetable sauce.

Actually the blueberry and strawberry preparation was for the next day’s menu, so that reminded me that Rio and Yūki always had to think days in advance to see what they would prepare, so people won’t get bored of what they eat.


This is a photo of 7kg of frozen Edamame beans that we had to peel ONE BY ONE

At 12:30, everything was ready. We divided the servings in plastic packs and then into boxes to be taken to the different spots around the city, About 100 servings were left at the camp so people living near the camp could come and eat too. Volunteers are not allowed to eat this food because each one has come with their own food to survive the whole 7 days on their own. This is to not to cause extra burden and food demand on the people living in this area.


A photo in front of the Eiganji Shrine, one of the serving spots

Shrines in Japan are usually located in the central places of the city, usually places which are a little higher (so people can see them) and also so is it more accessible to the people. This Eiganji Shrine is very well built and thanks to that it was built part in a hill, it received little damage from the tsunami, in comparison most of the hauses near by which ere totally destroyed or somewhat damaged by it.

This has made the shrines a good place for people to get refuge and also a place to meet and find more information on what is happening. That is why we chose this place as a serving place for our food. We were happy to see people come back after they had finished eating either to say thank you or to ask for one more round. We got to serve 80 out of the 100 meals we had brought to this specific point.

Since this is a gathering point of the people, we got to see other NGOs, the Japanese Self Defense Forces, and even local volunteers, also come here and bring more food and beverages.

What worried me a little is that there were a couple of kids who came for food, that had little warm clothe on. It was fine for this time of the day, but at night time, it gets below zero. (my tent has a ice sparks every morning).  A guy asked one of the kids “where’s your house?” as to see if it was a kid near by. This boy didn’t answer but his friend responded for him saying “He doesn’t have a house anymore, he lives in the shelter near here.” Some questions, although not intended to, can hurt people’s feelings so I have to be careful too on what I ask or say.

Once we finished serving the food, we went back to our camp, and just finished some last preparations for the next day’s food as well.


This is how my 2nd and 3rd day ended. Volunteers gathering around the “Kitchen” and serving themselves the leftovers from the day’s work, and using the hot water we prepared for all to use for their instant noodles. It was my first time helping out making food for so many people, but our two chefs liked how we worked so it looks like my team will keep on working on this task for the next few days.


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