Donated books help students in quake-affected Tohoku region

A volunteer group of university students has been donating secondhand study guides to help middle and high school students in areas of the Tohoku region that were hit hard by the 2011 disaster.

Sankousho Takkyubin was founded by university students in Tokyo in April 2011, shortly after the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Yuta Akashio, 24, who was a junior of Aoyama Gakuin University at the time, learned that high school students in the disaster areas, who had been studying for university entrance exams, had lost their textbooks in the tsunami following the earthquake.

Akashio had passed the university entrance exam after studying on his own, without the aid of a preparatory school. He thought that those students, too, would be able to pass their exams through self-study if study guides were available to them. With the help of a friend, he started collecting used study guides through Twitter and blogs. They launched a website and used it to communicate with students, sending the books they requested. Of about 20,000 books collected in the first year, 3,500 that looked almost new were sent to disaster-hit areas. The rest were sold, and the profits went toward shipping fees.

Plus Alpha, a cram school in Minami-Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, is one of the recipients of those books. It uses the secondhand books in English grammar class, which were donated from all across the country and collected by Sankousho Takkyubin.

"Those books are really helpful because it's hard for me to buy them," said Kana Ishii, 16, a second-year student at a high school in the city, who was studying at the cram school. She evacuated to Niigata Prefecture and Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, after the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Her mother became jobless for a time.

The requested books are sent to individual students and cram schools in devastated areas for free.

"This service helps keep the financial burden low on families, whose incomes became unstable after the nuclear crisis started," said Plus Alpha head Hideyuki Kurosawa, 33.

Hiromi Sato, 42, donated books from a cram school she runs, hoping to help the students in the disaster areas. Shunsuke Kiyotoki, 23, a senior at Waseda University, collected more than 500 books by putting up flyers on campus in May. "I thought it would be a nice thing to do since people can help without traveling to disaster-stricken areas," he said.

The group has received such encouraging responses as, "My child was happy to receive a book of old exam questions used by the school at the top of our list," and "I passed the exam of my first-choice school."

Akashio and other members of Sankousho Takkyubin were worried that their activities would affect the business of bookstores in devastated areas.

Since March of last year, the volunteer group has begun to cooperate with a firm purchasing and selling used books online. The group has started selling the books it has collected and is using the profits to buy brand-new books at bookstores in quake-hit areas. They are planning to host a campus tour to various universities, inviting about 20 high school students from Minami-Soma to the Tokyo metropolitan area.

Currently, about 80 students at 12 universities in the Kansai region and Tokyo are involved in Sankousho Takkyubin's activities.

"I'll do my best to support middle and high school students in devastated areas who want to study," said Hiroki Tominaga, 21, a fourth-year student at Aoyama Gakuin University who has taken over the head of the volunteer group.