Two Wa(y)ves of Response

Like, ways of response? Was that too much of a reach? Or in bad taste because I’m making a pun out of a natural disaster (3/11)? I’m alwaves uncertain, never shore of these things. Well, perhaps you can tell from the title, but today we were a part of two presentations regarding 3/11 disaster response. One person, Masao Hijikata 先生, approached it by looking at how the government responded in Hashikami Area in Kesennuma City. Our other interlocutor, Keiichi Nakayama 先生, provides citizen relief through a non-profit organization called the Kuma Project Association.

Another vote goes to the businessman who builds walls. In the beginning of Hijikata 先生’s powerpoint, he showed us powerful, unseen-by-Japanese-citizens footage of the tsunami as it was happening. The tsunami was not the cinematic giant wave that I expected it to be–it was more like a gradual pooling of water into the sidewalks, a playground, etc. Many people didn’t realize the danger until it was obvious, so probably a good amount of people in the video died, which was why this footage wasn’t shown on the news. But what happens after an entire region is destroyed by a natural disaster? First, we have to consider how the area’s government functions and who controls the power. In the Hashikami area, there are mainly agricultural cooperatives and businessmen in control. This is probably obvious, but these people are not very representative of the citizens in the area. Hijikata 先生 said there is a positive side, as local people can participate in community building. There were workshops in which a lot of students attended so they could experience “real democracy.” It didn’t seem like this made much of an impact in the decision-making process, as the businessmen are still the ones in power. The after-disaster effort put in place is called the Memorial Park Plan, in which the destroyed high school would be made into a memorial. There was also the plan to build a 9.8 m sea & river wall, which got built by the prefecture government. This upset some people, as a wall creates a divide between the sea and the people and some people don’t want to lose that connection. Other people feel comfort by the wall, as it helps them feel safe and move on from the disaster.

Memories of the 3/11 disaster are fading, so many people feel like relief is no longer necessary. Nakayama 先生 was wonderful. He has a big heart and is a longtime friend of Aridome先生! #bromance He recognized a need in his community and responded to it. The Kuma Project Association has many programs, with the most prominent one being the Smiling Together Project. It’s run by college students and provides activities for elementary school students to promote disaster relief. He’s currently having financial and human resource problems, as the participation fee for college students is expensive ($300) and motivation is low. It’s been six years since 3/11, so many people don’t believe there is a need for relief anymore (memories of the disaster are fading and thinking about the disaster evokes bad feelings). Instead of this program being about disaster relief, Nakayama 先生 says the program is now about “regional re-development.”

These perspectives were so different even though they were both responses to the same disaster! Hijikata 先生 focused on government and infrastructure, while Nakayama 先生 focused on the individual needs of those often ignored by government programs (e.g. children). Both are totally important and interesting, and I’m curious to know what happens in the future. How will Memorial Park be displayed and maintained? Who does the memorial target? How will the Kuma Project encourage future participation?

Disaster Re-silence? Disaster Resilience?

Today we had two lectures/discussions on 3/11 Fukushima disaster relief.

Sorry, that was a terribly uninteresting first sentence that in all honesty, I almost started with. I’m relieved (get it?) I caught that and it wasn’t a writing disaster.

Okay, joking and puns aside, I think our discussions today, led by Hijikata-sensei and Shinoda-sensei from Waseda University and later by Nakayama-san of Kuma Project Association, were a really interesting follow up to our meeting with Oguma Eiji yesterday. That is, Oguma Eiji provided a sort of historical sociological/activist/documentary filmmaker perspective or response to the path-dependency of Touhoku, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown, and the “natural” vs “manmade” aspects of the disaster. Today, then, we approached this same event from the different lenses of information science and NPOs.

Information science takes the Environment as observed through the Five Senses to compile Data (i.e. record of the past), and uses that information and knowledge to generate Models (via induction and deduction), which then inform decision-making and action, which in turn changes that original Environment. In short, it’s a social process that goes into regional planning (though, Hijikata-sensei noted that “region” is a product of human perception). Hijikata-sensei used Kesennuma City in the Hashikami Area as a case study in discussing post-disaster regional planning and resilience. I was reminded a lot of a guest lecture in my Introduction to Environmental Studies course this past fall semester, where Professor Eileen Johnson talked about Coastal Resilience in Maine.


Keiji Nakayama actually visited Bowdoin last year and gave a similar talk on the NPO he founded, Kuma Project Association, which provides outdoor, experiential, and volunteer-based education programs. That’s not to say it was repetitive at all. Rather, it was really interesting hearing it again and being able to engage with Nakayama-san in a smaller group/discussion setting.

Nakayama-san is a close friend of Aridome-sensei and was a school refuser from the 4th to 9th grade because he disagreed with the emphasis on conformity placed in the Japanese education system. Though he didn’t go to high school, Nakayama-san decided to go to college and got a B.A in Economics because he was interested in the education quality discrepancy between “developing” and “developed” countries, which as political, cultural, and economic roots. He then pursued a Master’s in Outdoor Education and Recreational Therapy, followed by a Doctor’s in Sports Sociology. Besides his work with Kuma Project Association, Nakayama-san also, ironically enough, teachers teaching-training courses for students who want to become teachers, where he does everything he can to emphasize the importance of individuality in school settings.

Nakayama-san believes that many education systems focus too much on the knowledge component of education, which can come from family and formal (school) education. Kuma Project, therefore, aims to provide social and experiential-based education. He used a wonderful bike analogy, where “knowledge” and “experience” are the two wheels of the bike; if one is turning faster than the other, the bike can’t really move or be balanced very well. Following the 3/11 nuclear disaster, Nakayama-san realzed, driving around evacuation advisory areas, that many people weren’t getting the adequate relief they needed. Elderly people, people with disabilities, and families with children often left evacuation centers and returned home, often feeling guilt or that they were a burden or falling ill due to the stressful environment (and recovering upon returning home). Furthermore, many people in mountain areas were considered “non-affected,” even though they were without water and (especially elderly) had to walk many miles to get water and other supplies. In other words, they were considered “non-affected” from a physical damage standpoint and weren’t allowed to go to the evacuation centers. Finally, many children, but also adults needed stress-relief and social opportunities to talk about the disaster, in a setting where they could do so without feeling guilty (i.e. what if the other person suffered more than I did?).

Kuma Project Association, with the help of its college student “volunteers” (note, there is a fee, since government-based funding is tricky), seeks to meet all of these needs through its programs. It was interesting how Nakayama-san acknowledged that it’s now more accurate to call it “regional development” rather than “disaster relief support,” which might dredge up old, bad memories. As a bit of an aside, I thought Nakayama-san had this really fascinating, wonderful combination of sincerity and humor and pride and honesty in talking about his work that was a pleasure to listen to.


EDIT: I want to briefly explain this post’s title. I think “resilience” is a word tossed around a lot, especially in the face of climate change and natural disasters. I think there are worse “buzzwords,” but talking with Hijikata-sensei and Nakayama-san made me think a little bit about how events or disasters can fade from our memories, just as Nakayama-san mentioned in his talk. So I don’t want my title to evoke an idea of “silencing” disaster or climate change support efforts. Rather, it’s to point out that self-“silencing,” or memories or ideas fading into the recesses of our mind, I think can occur both with time and overuse (especially of words). I think there’s very real, valid reasons for and against letting such things fade (for instance, so as not to dredge up bad memories, as Nakayama-san said) but also reasons for and against keeping such ideas alive. It’s cliche, but as they say, we can learn from the past. Does forgetting help ease those who suffered back into everyday life or does it risk leaving that suffering unacknowledged, for lack of better words?