Annie Barrows Shepley Omori to Jane Addams, October 6, 1923


Oct. 6, 1923.

My dear Miss Addams:

I am writing to you, among the various people whom I know in America, because you have so recently been to the Yu Rin En, and know that it is really an institution worth preserving. Perhaps you will think of some way by which help can come to us. We were not burned up, nor shaken down, and are among the very few who are as well of as that. So nobody helps us in any way. No one gives us one penny of promised subscriptions and the funds of the various government departments, which have formerly aided us, will be diverted to other things.

Yet we are functioning as never before, and our various employees, some of them burned out, cannot be dismissed. We have undertaken two pieces of work for the City and prefecture. We have had here at the Yu Rin En about 150 children whose fathers and mothers are unknown, some of them ill, some badly burned. These children are fed by the city and there are nurses, etc. with them all as badly off as they. Our care has been to bring their minds back to normal by giving them even the smallest portion of that which their fathers and mothers could give them of loving care. The little ones attend our kindergarten and the older ones have school lessons [page 2] every morning. I have busied myself to provide them with clothes, to wash them, to give them beds ([futon?]). We have made enough of the usual cotton mattresses to provide them all with something soft and warm to sleep on. More than a hundred have been returned to their parents, but alas! the number of parents who seek everywhere yet cannot find their children! Daily we are moved to the depths by these parents, some of them themselves just out of a hospital and suffering from frightful burns. All that is going on here: but as the neighborhood is crowded with new people who have fled from the old [Tokyo] we are trying to begin our usual work also. (There have been about twenty-five adult refugees camping out in our building also.)

In addition to this work, the Yu Rin En was asked by the prefecture ([Tokyo]-fu) to take charge of barracks at a distance of three miles or so from here, built to accommodate the homeless. They give shelter to about 2000 people, families of all sorts, from the lowest day laborer to people who were once well-to-do, but have lost everything. Mr. Matsuda and seven of our staff have been there for a month and their task is no light one. The shelters are the merest temporary affairs -- people came in even before there were roofs! The place must be patrolled at night, families provided with the necessities of life if they are destitute, and most of them were absolutely so, and Mr. Matsuda is planning playgrounds and schools for the children. He never gets a good night's sleep, and his food is certainly of the most scrappy sort. He has to live there of course.

This is what we are doing, but now I will describe a little our condition. Although our houses did not fall two were very much injured by the earthquake. One has been braced up and will answer for the present, but the other ought to be torn down and rebuilt. Our plastering either mostly fell down or will fall. We have had the roof where the children are staying at the Sei Nenbu, repaired, but it cost so much that we could not do more and our main building leaks into every room when it rains.

Seeing no prospect of help for us here where so many millions must be used to create a new city, I went to the American Red Cross, hoping that some of the huge sums sent here from home could be given to us, but it seems that it was all given to the Japanese Red Cross and that ends the matter for us, as every Japanese knows that they keep all the money they get and spend as little as possible.

The Americans said they would give us things and in that way we secured three good tents which can be used at the barracks for school rooms, playrooms, etc. But Col. Langhorne and the new ambassador advised me to write to America and ask for help, so I write to you, dear Miss Addams, who will understand all that we are trying to do without my telling, and who know so well how much a settlement needs money.

I want a large sum. Our running expenses, if we have any money at all, are not so large compared with American settlements, but of course all building material are scarce and high. We [page 3] must repair our buildings. We must tear down the damaged one and in its place we ought to build a large long building at the northern end of our playground, where we could accommodate not only our boys and girls' clubs, etc., but also some resident workers. Do you think the Settlement Association of America would extend a helping hand to its Japanese sister, and try to raise the money for us? As I am an American, no one need feel anxiety about the uses to which such money would be put. Every part of it would go towards making our settlement work better, in the same spirit and with the same aims as American settlement workers have. I know that the Settlement Association needs money all the time for its own work, but if each settlement should try to do something, it would amount to quite a sum, perhaps. If you do not think that would work can you think of a better plan? Simply to ask for the money might produce results, but I have been too long away from home. I cannot judge. How glad I am that you escaped the catastrophe! It was so near.

As you know, I left on the day I saw you and started for home precisely on the day of the earthquake, but fortunately got no further than [Kyoto] where my train was stopped. For a week I could get no news, except that [Tokyo] was burning. I spent the time in trying to get a permit from the police to return. They would not give one to a woman! On the 7th I started. Such a journey! Refugees pouring into every station, dirty, bruised, with frightful burns, penniless and homeless. There were so many people trying to get to [Tokyo] and so many trying to get away, that nobody attempted to clean the cars or the stations. I was two days getting from Nagoya to [Tokyo] and had to walk part of the way. One could only come at all by going up to the Japanese Alps, and so making a turn towards [Tokyo]. I came largely third class, as being less crowded than second class. Such stories as one heard from them all! Since coming home we at once divided the work between us as I have written you and since then we do not speak to each other (no time), but each intently tries all day to do his special business and make it go.

With hearty feelings of affection, I am

Yours very truly,

(Signed) Annie S. Omori