Accepted Paper:

The nightmare: troubled sleep in tsunami evacuation shelters in Yamada, northeastern Japan, 2011  


Brigitte Steger (University of Cambridge)

Paper short abstract:

The paper explores the sleep of tsunami survivors in shelters in Yamada (NE Japan) in the aftermath of 3.11. It explores the environmental and emotional issues such as shelter regulations and anxiety that made sleep problematic and discusses how people regained or failed to regain restful slumber.

Paper long abstract:

'Ato wa neru dake' - 'And then all that's left to do is sleep.' This is how two middle-aged women concluded their summary of daily life in a small tsunami evacuation shelter in Yamada, Iwate prefecture. Talking in mid-July 2011, four months after the tsunami and fires of 3.11 had destroyed their homes, they had been able to establish a daily routine of household chores and regain a semblance of stability. Sleep seemed a simple matter.

Yet during the nights immediately following the tsunami no one had been able to sleep peacefully. Sleep was disrupted by continuous aftershocks, lack of bedding, cold, dirt, noise, and the presence of strangers. People were haunted by anxiety over the whereabouts of loved ones; they were bewildered by the loss of their homes and their jobs.

Based on narrative interviews, this paper explores the sleep habits and sleep problems of tsunami survivors living in evacuation shelters in Yamada. It analyses the vulnerability of sleepers and examines how people were gradually able to regain restful slumber. It comes to the conclusion that there were four major sources of the emotional security that was required for relaxing and peaceful sleep: the stability of the physical sleep environment; the presence of people they knew and trusted; the establishment of daily rituals and routines; and the social acceptance of certain sleep behaviours. Despite this, many people continued to experience problems sleeping, often resorting to help from alcohol and tranquillisers.

Panel P023
Living with disaster: comparative approaches (JAWS/JASCA joint panel)