A total of 12 Rikkyo College of Business students, including 9 exchange students from Denmark, New Zealand, South Korea, the U.K., and the U.S., participated in an English volunteer activity as part of Rikkyo University’s pursuit to support Rikuzen-Takata City, one of the areas in Japan that has been most devastated by the Tsunami-and-Quake disaster on March 11, 2011. Led by Dr. Masaki Matsunaga, an assistant professor of College of Business, Rikkyo University, the students visited Rikuzen-Takata, conducted field work to observe the area, and also ran an English-based intercultural-exchange workshop for local junior-high-school students. Below are the reports authored by three of the Rikkyo-student participants.
Report by Ryosuke Matsui (Senior, College of Business; translated by Masaki Matsunaga):
I have participated in this volunteer activity—what we called “Rikuzen-Takata caravan”—to conduct field work to understand the current state of affairs in the Tsunami-affected area. This volunteer activity is actually a part of the final project for our course, where we design, create, and sell original goods to raise funds to donate to a foundation to rebuild elementary and junior high school in Rikuzen-Takata. We did fieldwork on Day 1, and on the next day, we visited a local junior high school to run an intercultural-exchange workshop for the kids.
What we saw through the fieldwork was shocking. In fact, we all fell silent, while we were listening to the talk by local people about the disaster. It was hard for me to believe that we were in Japan.
On Day 2, we visited Rikuzen-Takata Daiichi Junior High School. Although local students were afraid of us (especially foreigner exchange students) for the first 20-30 minutes, we made really good friends after a few hours of workshop. We approached those local junior-high-school kids a lot during the workshop, and they eventually opened up. You can see how close we became at the end through the group photo attached in the end of this report. Personally, I was impressed by how much I myself was encouraged and motivated by talking with those local kids. They told me about the difficulties they face in their everyday life, such as how cold living in a temporary housing is or how long it takes from the temporary housing to get to their school. But they showed me wonderful, literally shining smiles, which not only cheered me up but also motivated me to keep supporting them from the bottom of my heart.
Report by Ane Winkel Krarup:
The Rikuzentakata Caravan will definitely be one of the most memorable experiences from my time here in Japan. On a personal level, the Caravan was a real eye-opener for me. The memories from the Caravan have helped me to remind myself to appreciate each day and take nothing for granted.
Looking back, it was impossible to prepare myself for the images that we encountered during the weekend. One thing is to have seen the damages covered by various media but it is another thing to actually walk around in the devastated area.
Overall, I was overwhelmed and in a way it all felt really surreal. I often caught myself thinking; this cannot be real. If it had not been for the ‘abandoned’ personal belongings lying here and there, I would literally have thought that I was at a film set for a disaster movie. The powers behind natural disasters, like the ones of The Great East Japan Earthquake, are incredible hard for me to understand and the loss of human life is even harder to comprehend.
Even though it was evident that the cities, which we visited, are still reeling from the Tsunami-and-Quake of March 11, 2011 it was touching to see people’s determination to rebuild their homes and communities. Two years have nearly passed and I was shocked to realize that there is still a long way for the area to get back to ‘normal’.
Personally, I would find it challenging and heart-rending to be reminded of the losses everyday – and would properly have tried to return to my daily rounds somewhere totally new; like a fresh start. Therefore, I truly admire the people of Rikuzentakata for their commitment to their community. The city has been temporarily rebuilt some kilometers away from the coastline and mainly consists of containers. People, whom have lost their homes, are living in temporarily residential camps. In spite of everything, the people of Rikuzentakata still have hope. From my point of view, it is this hope that eventually will help to finish the rebuilding of the area. Therefore, this hope must be kept alive. In other words, Japan and the global community have to continue to support the reconstruction of the affected area. The people of Rikuzentakata are daily reminded of their losses and the damages. They will probably never be forgotten but by supporting the efforts to rebuild the area those horrible memories will hopefully slowly fade away.
Report by Dajeong Lee:
It's a shame to say, but I should confess that I had been a least-informed person about the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake before I went to the Rikuzen Takata city. In 2011, when the earthquake gave huge attack to the Tohoku area, most media reported the disaster so the news spread all over the world even in Korea. However, surprisingly enough, I didn't know how big it was and how many people died and what kind of life the local residents supposed to have.
After a long trip by Shinkansen and bus, we finally arrived at a small village. We at first headed to Sumi-no-ie, which was our cozy accommodation for two days of the trip. On the way to get there, we could see the beautiful nature through the windows. It made me remind of the blue-colored little glass bead that I loved so much when I was a little girl. To tell the truth, I was almost stressed up because of the many works and busy life in the big city Tokyo, but the beautiful sceneries and the fresh air totally healed me.
We met Mr. Kanno, who showed us some photos of the downtown before it suffered an earthquake, and explained how big damages it brought about to the city and the people. It was a small village in peace before - small houses with red and blue-colored roof huddled around here and there. After the earthquake, only 3 houses were left. I realized I wasn't even able to imagine undergoing the earthquake. I have no courage to imagine it. But the people, birds, trees and small plants in Rikuzen Takata city, they experienced it, overcame it, and were living on. I felt a kind of sublimity - I'm still not sure how to illustrate this feeling there, which is quite unfamiliar thing to me.
Next morning, we went to a local middle school for our last schedule, which was to have English conversation with the students. One of the students I met said, she woke up early in the morning around 5 am, made her own lunch, took care of her little sister, and came to school with friends. She seemed quite cheerful but still shy, but after a few hours I found that I really liked her. I wish I could spend more time with the students, but after we spend time on doing some activities, it was almost the time to leave.
Until that moment, I always acted from a sense of duty when it comes to helping others, but for the first time, I could feel a strong desire to do something for the people. This feeling became bigger when I saw the kids who seemed so shy and almost ran away from us waving goodbye to us for a long time until our bus disappeared from their sight. Now I'm trying my best with my classmates to make a great success on our fundraising project, which is for donating money on reconstruction of the schools in Rikuzen Takata city. That makes me feel so happy that there is a way to give a little present to the girls, and I, who hardly deserve the whole things that I got from the people I met, have an opportunity to make small return for their warm heart.