Read 2012

14

KIBOW Minamisanriku: Local People Move into Action

This is the third KIBOW tour to earthquake and tsunami-hit areas. The first took place from March to August 2011, visiting Mito, Iwaki, Sendai, Morioka, Hachinohe and Fukushima cities. The second took place from September 2011 to July 2012, visiting Fukushima City, Mito, Iwaki, Ishinomaki, Tono, Yamamoto-cho and Yamagata.

The third KIBOW tour started in Mito in October 2012. This tour adopted the “Dream Plan Competition” based on the method used in Mito.

First, we ask local volunteers to give presentations on “dream plans” they wish to implement. Following a Q&A session, presenters and members of the audience are given free time to interact, after which the audience vote on their favorite plans. The votes are then tallied and the most popular plan is announced. The winner receives a cash prize (donation) from KIBOW, and gives a speech stating their aspirations. Winners can realize their plans using the cash prize, in partnership with like-minded people they have met during the event. Launching new dream plans, bringing like-minded people together, offering encouragement and promoting collaboration to steer things forward — this is the method adopted by KIBOW for the third tour. 

Involvement in KIBOW has driven home to me the importance of continuing an activity persistently, without letting things lie. It is important to do things many times, not just once. Anyone can visit a disaster-hit region once, but unless you persist in what you do, you will never truly become one with the local residents, and never achieve true reconstruction. At least, this is my belief.

Every time I visit a disaster-struck region, I am made aware of new issues that have emerged over time. KIBOW will remain versatile, adapting to the changing needs. The third tour of KIBOW will continue into 2013. The venues and dates confirmed so far are Fukushima City on February 7, 2013, and Onagawa on February 23.

I checked out of the Sendai hotel at 7:00 in the morning and headed for the coast, driving along snow-covered roads. On the way I stopped at a friend’s election campaign office at Tome, Miyagi Prefecture, to offer words of encouragement to the staff. The friend (candidate) attended this year’s G1 Summit as well as the social gathering (the G1 Politics meeting) at my home. “This is the first time snow has settled this winter,” he told me.

I arrived in Minamisanriku. Debris removal was ongoing. I photographed the disaster prevention center in the snow. My plan was to inspect the state of Minamisanriku’s reconstruction efforts, guided by a person engaged in reconstruction assistance on the ground. 
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I checked into Hotel Kanyo, which is located by the sea. Last time I was here in May 2011 the building was badly damaged, but now the hotel was back in business and apparently thriving. I heaved a sigh of relief. At the sea, oyster farming has resumed and is now at as much as 70% of the pre-earthquake capacity. But on the land the landscape remained flat. There is still a lot of debris strewn around. In the Tokura and Oritate districts, there is not one building left standing.

I went to see the fishing port. A temporary fish market had been set up, and catches such as salmon were being unloaded. The salmon processing factory had also been repaired completely and was back in operation. Because the land had subsided, work was under way to raise the wharf. Things seemed to be moving forward, slowly but steadily. I think it is a sensible decision to prioritize industrial reconstruction as this creates employment.

More difficult is the use of land that was inundated. The intentions of landowners and residents are largely under wraps, preventing the formulation of any definitive plan. Residential buildings cannot be built since all inundated land has been declared hazardous. Consequently, former residents continue to live in temporary housing. Just a handful of them are building houses on land newly developed in the hills. It is estimated that as many as 20 to 30 percent of residents have already relocated elsewhere.

I had lunch at restaurant Shinoya on Sun Sun Shotengai, Minamisanriku’s makeshift shopping street, savoring seafood caught off the coast of Sanriku. 
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Minamisanriku’s glistening salmon-roe bowl. Delicious! 
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The venue of KIBOW was a pleasantly retro Japanese-style inn (New Tomarizakiso) located in Tomarizaki Peninsula, in northern Minamisanriku. When I asked “why here?” I was told that “locals feel more comfortable about coming to a place like this, a Japanese inn with a friendly, Showa-era ambience.”

KIBOW Minamisanriku commenced — the third KIBOW tour to visit disaster-struck areas. This tour will focus on making donations to people who are working hard in disaster-affected areas. Eight presentations were initially scheduled, before four more were added at the last minute, taking the total number of presenters to twelve.

At the opening of the event I explained, wearing a KIBOW T-shirt and cap, the goals of KIBOW and the purpose of the Dream Plan Competition. 
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Mr. Reiji Yamanaka, GLOBIS lecturer and a Minamisanriku-based social entrepreneur who makes active contributions to the local community, acted as master of ceremonies.

The first presentation was by Mr. Takahashi, who used to be engaged in the fishing industry. His powerful presentation went like this: “Currently I am doing construction work as I am unable to fish. The local fishing industry will die out if this situation persists. I therefore propose ‘Blue Tourism,’ an idea developed with my work mates. Blue Tourism offers an all-inclusive leisure fishing experience to tourists, allowing them to experience the sea without the need to bring their own gear. They can enjoy fishing from a fully-equipped fishing boat, and eat their own catch.”

The second presenter was Mr. Ito, who hosts a website titled Minamisanriku de Okaimono (Shopping at Minamisanriku). “The site has 475 registered members and monthly sales of 500,000 yen. I want to increase the number of Minamisanriku fans. Minamisanriku is a small town sandwiched between Kesennuma and Ishinomaki. It is therefore important to promote its people and issues. I hope to expand Minamisanriku’s fan base by hosting tours as well.”

Brilliant!

The third presenter was Mr. Kudo, who represents Minamisanriku Fukko Seinenkai (Youth Association for the Reconstruction of Minamisanriku). “Seeing how elderly people dominated the post-disaster scene, I launched the youth association with former classmates to encourage more young people to take center stage in building the future of Minamisanriku. Our aspirations include establishing a festival that would continue for a thousand years. I also want to create opportunities for visitors and local residents to interact.”

His sincere delivery, with hints of the local accent, very successfully conveyed his thoughts.

The fourth presenter was Mayu Kobo Irodori. The workshop, started by Ms. Yukari Matsuoka, specializes in craft products made from silkworm cocoons. Products were displayed. “We also sell items made from abalone shells. We are also interested in branching out into wedding items and original yuru-chara (goofy mascot) items. Products are currently sold by volunteers.” The presentation received a positive response from the audience, including a photographer who offered to collaborate in wedding-related projects, etc.

The fifth presenter was Ms. Tamiko Abe, who launched Tamiko no Umi Pakku (Tamiko’s Seafood Parcel), an online vendor of Minamisanriku seafood. “I used to be a wakame farmer but I lost everything in the earthquake and tsunami. After the disaster, I became scared of the sea, and am unable to go out there anymore. However, I want to make use of my past experience, which is why I started Tamiko no Umi Pakku after a very trying period, both mentally and financially. I can now maintain a more positive outlook. I hope my business can provide employment for former Minamisanriku residents when they do eventually come home. Included with every purchase I dispatch is Minamisanriku dayori (letter from Minamisanriku) carrying local news.”

The sixth presenter was Mr. Tasai, representing Shogaisha no Shien (Support for People with Disabilities). “We are running an after-school care program for schoolchildren with disabilities, using rented facilities. My aspiration is to put a solid support system in place for Minamisanriku citizens with disabilities. Future plans include building our own facility on rent-free land that was made available to us, and we are in the process of visiting potential supporters. If we can realize this dream, I want to call the facility “Kanami no Mori.”

The seventh presentation, titled “Cattle,” was given by Mr. Toshiyuki Abe. “I was a dairy farmer but lost my house and all my cows in the tsunami. I intend to start community farming. I am currently only 25 years old, and I am looking to study business management in addition to practical skills, for my own future and to contribute to the development of the community. I do not know much about anything except cows, but look forward to your guidance and support.”

The eighth presentation “Ema Project” was given by Mr. Sato. “I am a Shinto priest. I am planning to produce ema (votive plaques) from tsunami-affected timber, based on the idea that salt is sacred and therefore saltwater-soaked wood must be auspicious. Although the shrine itself remains standing, tsunami damage in the surrounding area has made it look forlorn. I hope the community continues to thrive even if it relocates to higher ground,” he appealed.

Next came the presenters who only decided on the day to give presentations.

The ninth presentation “Wakame Roll” was given by Ms. Miura, whose parents run the inn where the competition was taking place. Ms. Miura, a pastry chef who produces roll cakes, saw the tsunami take away acquaintances and homes. Wanting to help, she proposed creating roll cakes using wakame produced in Minamisanriku. She considers herself fortunate; her house escaped tsunami damage and she has a job, which is all the more reason why she wants to help others.

This is moving me to tears.

The 10th presentation “Community FM” was given by Mr. Arai. “I worked as a program director at a radio station in Noda City, Chiba Prefecture. I moved here after the quake. I currently work for a so-called shinsai FM (radio station set up in the wake of the disaster to provide essential information), which apparently faces closure next March. The station should not be closed. I hope to open a mini FM station that gives more information than just disaster-warning sirens.”

The 11th presentation was titled “Reviving Minamisanriku.” “Fishing is at the heart of Minamisanriku. But the town cannot rebuild itself on its own. We need to bring in funds from outside. That is why I decided to start a post-disaster reconstruction PFI. I want more projects to be established and run by the private sector, as opposed to a public body, and I want that to happen in Minamisanriku, with local citizens playing central roles.”

The 12th presentation “Family Portrait” was given by Mr. Hamano. “I moved from Nagoya to Minamisanriku this autumn, attracted by the region’s natural beauty. I currently run a wedding photography business in Sendai. As a child, I enjoyed looking at pictures taken by my parents. Photographs give you strength. That is why I want to take family portraits, operating a mobile photo studio.”

The three-minute presentations and two-minute Q&A sessions by the respective presenters were over. The 12 presentations took an hour or so to conclude. The enthusiasm of each presenter was felt very acutely. During the following networking time, presenters and members of the audience took some time to mingle.

Then came the moment to vote for the favorite Dream Plans. Members of the audience had three votes each, represented by three red stickers (dubbed “salmon roe stickers”), which they affixed to show their support for a particular Dream Plan.

KIBOW Minamisanriku, which started from midday, was originally scheduled to wind up at 13:50, when I was planning to depart. However, I decided to let the event continue, because it seemed such a shame to cut short the excitement and the active exchange.

So, I gave a short farewell speech and left KIBOW Minamisanriku, departing by car for Sendai slightly ahead of the others. I had to because I had invited U.S. Ambassador John Roos and Mrs. Roos for dinner from 19:00 at my home in Tokyo. There was no way the host could be late; particularly so if the guest of honor is the 39th U.S. Ambassador to Japan. Post-disaster reconstruction is important, but so are U.S.-Japan relations. I sped up in my rental car.

Minamisanriku is a truly picturesque fishing town. I photographed the scenery I came across on my way home. The blue ocean, white boats, a clear sky, green hills. The weather had cleared, giving no indication of the morning snow, possibly because I am a typical hare otoko (a person who is always blessed with good weather). 
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The rest of KIBOW Minamisanriku was broadcast live on twitter by @kibowjp.

Mr. Taku Chiba from Minamisanriku participated on the spur of the moment to make a passionate appeal. “Plans for a seawall and breakwater are progressing without due environmental assessment. Do local residents really want the embankments? Let us voice our opinions, make a stir, and do so without giving up! Let us go for it!” 
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I was also anxious to learn the outcome of the Dream Plan Competition. The Hori Special Prize was announced first.

Abe-san was awarded the Hori Special Prize. “Young people must build the community!” 
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Mr. Ito received the Bronze Prize. “I will continue to invigorate Minamisanriku!” 
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Mr. Takahashi received the Silver Prize. “I am happy that my thoughts were conveyed successfully. I look forward to rebuilding the community while preserving the fishing industry.” 
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Mr. Kudo received both the Gold and Allen Special Prizes. “Everyone came to KIBOW Minamisanriku with a genuine intent. I am happy to have had the chance to bond with such people. I am glad that there are such people out there. Please seek us out when you come to Minamisanriku. I want to realize a Minamisanriku that is full of interaction.” 
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After checking these tweets by @kibowjp, I returned the rental car and boarded the Tohoku Shinkansen “Hayate.” The scheduled arrival in Tokyo was 18:08, leaving me only just enough time to arrive home. Well, there was nothing I could do once I was on the train. I dozed off, thinking about the expressions and words of the KIBOW Minamisanriku participants.


December 8, 2012 
Yoshito Hori


Postscript: 
The dinner with U.S. Ambassador Roos and Mrs. Roos went very nicely. This picture was taken when we entertained them with a tea ceremony after dinner. Next to me are Mr. Ibaragi (governor of Wakayama Prefecture) and Mrs. Ibaragi. The tea ceremony was performed by tea master Yamada (11th head of the Sohen School of Tea). 
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