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?

Author: Karen Chan '18

Hello! I just completed my junior year at Bowdoin College as a chemistry major and recently-declared Japanese Language minor. I am from Honolulu, HI so Japanese culture has always been part of my life, but this trip is the opportunity to go beyond my classroom language experience and Japanese-food-eating experience. My interest in this project stems from my science background and my hope to eventually be a pharmacist in a hospital setting. I plan to focus on public awareness of "environmentally-caused" diseases, like Kawasaki Disease.