My homestay

In the morning, we made a rope to hang some scallops. My job was to cut the rope. The other boys were stabbing the needles through the rope. We did that for two hours. I was tired but was happy because it was my first time to do it.

For lunch we ate somen. It was after work so it tasted two times better.

After lunch we took a nap. I woke up at 3:30, and I found out while I was sleeping the teachers came here and took my picture. I was surprised to hear that. I immediately went to Facebook and soon found my photos posted by Haruhito sensei. I laughed hard because in one of the pictures, there was me sleeping with my eyes half opened.

In the evening, we went to a nearby beach. We went to a big island, and climbed to the top. I was very tired, but I was happy because it was a great view.

At night we ate takoyaki. It was fun because we were able to see it made, and of course, it was delicious!!

It was a great day, and I wish I can go there again!!

Ko Sato
Furukawa Gakuen High School

Host Family Days

I went to sea and shrine. The shrine is at the top of the island. I saw many crows on top of the mountain. Also I heard a story from my host family about the day before 3/11. There was many crows on the mountain before 3/11 and she found it strange. There are still a lot of crows since 3/11, so I think the crows have the ability to predict natural disasters. It also reminds me of my story because I saw a lot of crows the day before as well. When I told my mother that I saw the crow she said something might happen. It was a very strange experience, I wonder.

So next I went to the sea where I saw many blowfish. I want to eat the blowfish. One thing that was really fun was when we made a rope and connected a needle to it so baby clams can grow on it, my host family’s father is a fisherman so it was really interesting.

We made takoyaki from the octopus that our host father caught, it was so cool and delicious!!! There are two kinds that we made: cheese and ginger. I loved both.

Hideaki Tanji
Fukushima Prefectural High School

My Time at a Farmstay

I live in an urban city, where there’s technology in lots on places, I have internet everywhere I go (well in most places anyway) and I can get ANYWHERE by bus or train. Going to Japan, I had to say goodbye to the internet in most places and scavenge for wifi anywhere I went. I’ve gotten used to that but at the end of the day I would encounter wifi at the minshukus (Japanese-style hotels) we would stay in. This homestay was a different experience.

Skyy, Rey and I had the pleasure of staying with Mie Sato, a mother of two, in a house in the mountains with an ocean view. I expected a house kind of like the minshukus we’ve been staying in. That was not the case. When we were on the way to the house, call me a phone addicted millennial, I was the most worried about wifi. Then I saw the house, which was like a log cabin in the woods that was solar powered. At that point I knew there was no wifi. We took a look around and I admired to find out that literally 94.9% of the house was built by hand. We were told to get our stuff for the bath and we would go to to the lower level further down the mountain. Seeing as this house looked more house-y I saw it as necessary to look for wifi since the tv was on and the weather lately hasn’t been the sunniest, I knew the house wasn’t solar powered. I checked, and still no wifi. I felt really bad worrying about the wifi, so I just stopped (for not too long).

My home also had kids, two boys to be exact. One was seven and the other was two. I enjoyed watching the kids because the seven year old gave me nostalgia of when I was a young’n and the two year old reminded me of my little sister who’s four now, but when she was two as well. I admired their bond as brothers – they were both HIGHLY energetic and they weren’t scared of much. The seven year old, we would joke around and called him Tarzan since he knew a lot about plants and bugs and he climbed literally everywhere, especially when we were in the woods. The two year old was soooooooo cute. He ran to and fro, back and forth, over yonder like it was nothing. People complain about those Trouble Twos but personally, I like it when a child’s rebellious side shows. Well, when it’s innocent of course. There was a point in time where he didn’t want to come into the house and it was time to eat. Skyy was smart and tried to lure him in with candy, but when I tried he started to run away so I had to chase him. I almost fell on the hill he was running down the night before so I had to be careful chasing him, but he ran down the hill with no fear! Long story short, I got him and we had dinner. Yay.

In terms of the activities we did, on the first night we just set our stuff down in the lodge, ate dinner, watched a weirdly interesting movie, went to an onsen-style sento, then passed out in bed. The next day though was more eventful. When we woke up, we took a walk down the mountain to the lower house. After breakfast, we walked by the ocean. The experience by the ocean was fun because my host mother was scared of me falling off of the sea wall so she quickly urged me to go back home and it was so caring that I couldn’t just say “no” and came when I felt it was time to go home.

After that, we stayed at home for a bit and I found this MAGICAL kanji booklet called “unko” which means “poop” in Japanese, so anyone who knows me would know that I would have to get that book as well as the rest of its volumes (which is a goal in progress). Anyhoo, once the children came back from their friends’ house we went by the ocean for a second time and this time I went in. The kids went all in, but I went in. I was like a kid in a candy store, I had lots of fun going in, feeling the tide wash upon my feet, looking for things in the ocean and then finding flat rocks attempting to skip rocks. It was just fun. Afterwards, we went into the bath which was a pretty scary experience, but that’s another story for another time.

Anyway, after we went to the bath we ate dinner and relaxed for a few hours. We went to sleep that night and the next morning, we met the father who was a pretty calm guy. He’s a handyman who built the cabin we were staying in, the well whose water we used to wash our face, and did a lot of the backyard work for the house further down the mountain. He always told us about how he wished he could have done more for us since he works faraway from home so he not exactly at home all the time. He’s not afraid to express his opinions and I like that about him because on the drop off to the meeting point at the end of the homestay, we ended up talking about how nature reserves were being altered for Minamisanriku’s recovery efforts.

All in all, the homestay experience in the mountains of Minamisanriku seemed very eventful for me. As I said before, I live in an urban city where there’s internet almost anywhere I go, so I never take the time to absorb my surroundings since I’m glued to my phone half of the time. Thus, being in a country where I don’t have 4G Data, and in an area where I don’t have wifi, it taught me how to appreciate what’s around me and what’s in front of me. I tend to take advantage of my first-world privileges and I never would have noticed that if it wasn’t taken away from me.

Chi Onyeka
Banneker Academic HS

Local Sustainability in Minamisanriku

We left Shitamichi-sou in the morning. The people in there were very kind, and they showed us omotenashi so that we can have a good time staying.

For our first activity of the day, we went to Beans Club to experience tofu-making. It was actually my first time making tofu. Ms. Saijou and Ms. Abe taught us how to make tofu from soy beans step-by-step. I was impressed by the process of making tofu, and they were making tofu from soybeans. Also, the soybeans were harvested from the neighborhood, and I admired the local production for local consumption. We had a lot of fun making it, and eating tofu that we made was delicious.

Throughout this Japan part of the program, I have been thinking deeply about my new business idea to connect senior citizens and children who are wait-listed for the kindergarten on the website. While making the tofu, I talked with Ms. Saijou whether she wants to accept kids or not if there was that kind of website. She answered me, “No, because I’m tired of interacting with kids.” I thought that everyone has their own colors and everyone’s different. So, I think I should target the people who really wants to use my website and make it attractive for them.

After we ate tofu at lunch, we went to Iriyado and were given a lecture about the BIO composting system. Then we had a tour of Minamisanriku’s Biogas Generating System. Mr. Fujita guided us through the facilities. I liked how they recorded unwanted contaminants in the waste; even if a little bit of non-compostable objects were present, they would give a black sign that indicated it. Also, I like that they are supplying the electricity and fertilizer to the community.

I will continue developing my business idea and one concern is that I need to make sure that people, especially senior citizens, understand my intentions. Mr. Fujita said that to encourage the citizens’ usage of the BIO system, they often host assemblies and teach the community. Their tour gave me the idea to spread my idea to my target audience more effectively. As time passes, I am recognizing hurdles of my business plan, but I am working to figure out the best solutions for them. I will continue to improve my ideas through the application of lessons from the lectures and tours that I have experienced in the TOMODACHI program.

Ryotaro Morimoto
Keio Shonan Fujisawa SHS

Always Appreciate Nature

Today was a super busy and interesting day! The first thing we did in the morning was travel to the Togura District of Minamisanriku to hear from a fisherman about his experiences after the earthquake and tsunami. While listening to the fisherman speak about how the tsunami impacted his district, I was amazed by his ability to focus on the positive outcomes that such a negative event had. In fact the main theme of the things he told us was that it was important to the people of the Togura District, even after the tsunami, to appreciate and coexist with nature. Some of the things that I heard during this presentation include how species of sea organisms that had not been seen on the coast of the Togura District resurfaced after the tsunami and how the fishing industry became certified as a sustainable fishing industry.

The fisherman that we spoke to was also a part of an organization that taught a type of Japanese folk dance. He told us that before the tsunami came, the equipment and intricate costumes that were used for performances of the dance were put away in a secure storage container. However, when the tsunami came, the storage container was washed away and the members of the dance group were devastated. After the tsunami, many of the members of the dance group did not want to continue to participate any longer. Then, one day when searching through the debris, a drum that was used in the folk dance performances was uncovered in perfect condition. This event brought hope and motivation to not only the members of the group but to the citizens of the Togura District to keep fighting and pushing to improve their conditions.

After hearing these heart-touching stories, we enjoyed a delicious seafood barbeque of clams, miso oysters, and tokoroten. After lunch we went to visit a non profit organization in the Iriya District called Women’s Eye. The NPO members specialized in teaching and practicing the production of all natural silk from silk cocoons. The purpose of the organization was to bring together women and continue traditions. Like the fisherman we spoke to earlier, the women of this organization focused on how they could use the resources that nature granted them to benefit their community. Not only did they farm the silkworms, they fed them with agricultural goods found in the surrounding mountain areas, and even dyed the silk that they handmade with natural dyes from flowers, trees, and plants. I was so inspired by the NPO’s ability to see the positive side of nature instead of hating it for the disaster.

Lastly, we traveled to a business called the Yes! Factory, where we learned about how a business can be a cohesive tool to promote, employ, and bring happiness to a community. At the factory, community members were trained and produced products of the mascot “Octopus-kun” using sustainable materials such as tree bark from cedar wood trees that were chopped down to keep the forests healthy. The owner of the business touched my heart due to his ability to use humor and cleverness in the creating of products and the names of certain aspects of the business. It showed me that even in the midst of hardships, one can still be happy and appreciate what they do have to bring happiness and prosperity to a community. Today was so great

Skyy Genies
Banneker Academic HS

To make people smile again …

Today, we had three activities at Minamisanriku which is a town affected badly by the Tsunami six years ago. First of all, we talked to Mr. Muraoka, the local fisherman, and had barbecue lunch with him. He talked about the effects of the disaster on his fishery and its process of recovery. We learned how powerful the nature is from his real story. However, they, the fishermen and people living in this town, respect the nature and try to co-exist with it even though the earthquakes and Tsunami destroyed their daily lives.

After the Great East Japan Earthquake, my teacher told me about the power of disaster, especially earthquake and tsunami, and the ways to protect our lives from the disasters at school, but I didn’t know the value of nature at all. I felt sorry about it and this weird thing, as a person who lives in a city, that people has never experienced the tsunami keep telling fear of tsunami and importance of preparation for earthquake, without telling the value of nature. One more thing that I was impressed from his story was they not only respect nature, but they trust it. He said that he is never worried about passing his job on to next generation even though the population of fishery in this town is decreasing, because he believes that the nature has enough power to attract the youth. I’d like to work on spreading this idea of having appreciation to nature after I go back to my town.

Next, we visited Women’s Eye which is a group trying to support women by providing jobs. We saw the process of making silk from cocoons. After the earthquake, there are many women who are good with their hands and good at careful consideration to everyone, but they had no jobs to show their skills. From this activity and other activities I had done, I noticed that the age and gender don’t matter for contributing to community. Only the passion is required.

Hand made cocoon octopuses

Lastly, we went to “YES factory”. YES factory has a lot of projects to make Minamisanriku energized again. One of the projects was to promote the town through the products of mascot character, “okutopasu-kun”. An owner of this company has been trying hard to make the products humorous such as “Okuto-pantsu,” which is combination of octopus and pants (shorts in English). He is also one of the survivors from the disaster and he said that we’d never be able to come over lots of hardships without these humors. These products made people smile again and gave them courage to live even after the disaster.

Today, we saw many works going on in Minamisanriku and all of them were to help revive the town and bring smiles again.

Yuuki Takashima
Keio Shonan Fujisawa SHS

Keep Your Head Held High

Today was a more special day than usual. I was wearing my formal clothes as today we will go visit the mayor of Minamisanriku. That was later in the afternoon however. First stop was Oikawa Denim. We were talking about how the company used wasted resources to make some of their high end clothes. They were able to use sugar cane and swordfish noses to make some of the jeans and jackets. They actually have their own fashion line called “Studio Zero”. We also learned that their factory was registered as an official safety area following the Great East Japan Earthquake. They did this because they were missing essential resources but the nearest safe zone that would have shared them was more than 4 km away. Minamisanriku is also very mountain like with a thick cedar forest and with all the rubble in the town, it would have been very difficult to make the trip. The company had the people in mind and chose to let people stay there for some months until temporary housing could be set up.

Once we finished talking to them, we moved on to YES factory. They make many products with a little humor behind the naming. The reason for this was actually quite touching. The CEO believed that to keep everyone in good spirits, humor was needed. Humor according to him was a good sign that people are okay and ready to get back on the path to a normal life. We got to hear two of them while we were there and as it turns out, the man who makes the jokes is actually the CEO himself. His group sometimes asks if certain things will sell but he remains unmoved, stating that if they keep telling the bad jokes, then that will be the companies punchline. I’d certainly love to see how that plays out in the future. Maybe I’ll get to understand the jokes in Japanese next time.

Last stop was the reason why I dressed so formal, it was time to meet Mayor Sato of Minamisanriku. Contrary to my expectations, he was a very easygoing man. Not in a bad way, but in a way that made it very easy to talk to him. He told us how he had escaped the tsunami and the different aspects of his job, but the thing that struck me the most was his wisdom. What had caught my attention is that as the leader, you must never have your head down. The people look for a leader with his head held high and won’t follow someone who looks like he’s given up. Even if the days are hard and you feel like giving up, when you are a leader you must think of the people and keep your head held high. I don’t think I’ll be able to forget those words. I’ll keep that in mind when I go back to DC and as I keep walking the trail of life. I’m sure it will come in handy. A quote of inspiration to end the day.

Daniel Ruiz
Capital City PCS

At Minami-Sanriku

In the morning we went to “Oikawa Denim” which is a domestic denim product company. They were a shelter for people who lost their homes. Also they were the only company which is working for helping people. At first they communicated with each other in order to live together. After that happened they made this goal: “Let’s be independent.” So they started making products by using material which is from the community. They chose left-over resources which is swordfish, flags used by fisherman, and palm fruit. They also are buying materials because they want to spend money for their community. At first when I heard about these materials I was so surprised, especially swordfish’s sword. Who can imagine making denim from swordfish? However, I think this is a good way to contribute to their community. I want to make my town to be an international friendly town so this is a good example for me and I should tell this story to my town. This project is helping not only their community but also the global environment.

After that we went to “Minami-sanriku Portal Center” where there was a lot of “Kiriko-board”. “Kiriko” is one of the traditional decorations for a shrine. People who live in Minami-sanriku made a project that make a people’s memorial and treasure by using this traditional “Kiriko” art. I found one “kiriko-board” which made me realize that they want to coexist with the sea even after that happened. Ocean could be dangerous but ocean gives us a lot of things. So they will live with the ocean from now on.

At the end of the day we had a discussion with the mayor of Minami-Sanriku. He is a mayor but also survivor from the Disaster Prevention Center that is a famous story from the Great East Japan Earthquake. Before we met the mayor we went to the former site of the Disaster Prevention Center, but at that time I feel it’s a story just from the book. But after I heard his stories I was ashamed of myself that’s how I felt. His story was terrible. I couldn’t say anything. Can you imagine that you feel earthquake, after that the tsunami which is 12m high washed up their coworkers and there were only 10 people left. I felt really sorry for them. But even in those times, the mayor had to work for his job and he cannot be negative because everyone looked up to him. He is a leader for the town. This is why Minami-Sanriku could be such a cheerful town.

Natsuho Suzuki
Fukushima Prefectural Asaka Kaisei High School

When we think of Japan, what cities do we think of?

Most likely Tokyo, Kyoto, or Osaka. We don’t think Kesennuma, Minamisanriku, or Matsushima which are up north, in Tohoku. Before the Great East Japan Earthquake, the population exponentially rose, but afterwards, it began to decrease. Not only because of the casualties and the many deemed missing, but also because of people moving out of their hometowns because of the lack of jobs and other reasons. We talked about the lack of tourism in Tohoku for the whole morning. I felt really bad looking at myself when we discussed that when tourists come to Japan, they stay in urban areas like Tokyo and move west into Kansai. I definitely reminisced to when we were about to leave for Tohoku, I thought “nnnnnnnn, I don’t wanna go to Tohoku, I wanna stay in Tokyo and see the Tokyo Tower and go to Akihabara, then get lost on the train and nnnnnnnnnnnn.” But after arriving in Kesennuma I saw something that I hadn’t seen in a long time, which was a sense of community values that made me want to stay in the area. I sensed unification in an area that was surrounded by devastation. I saw pride when all I thought I would see was depression and debris. Just staying in an area like Kesennuma for only 3 days, I wanted to abandon the idea of “Every man for himself” because that doesn’t exist in this area.

I kept thinking to myself “Nnnn, how am I going to convince my sister to come to Kesennuma when she comes to Japan?”  I was looking around for things to do and trust me, the earlier presentation helped a lot. As I was looking, it slipped my mind that we were on our way to a festival, the Minato Matsuri to be exact. There’s so much to do there, so much to eat, so much to but I couldn’t help but feel stunned that people don’t often come to Tohoku for tourist reasons. I asked one of my Japanese Tomodachis whether they have festivals like these in Tokyo and she said no, not really, that festivals are normally in rural areas. Then I continued to think to myself: “Why. Don’t. People. Come. Here????”

We began the festival by giving out fans and tissues before the festival actually began. I saw a lot of people with smiles and wearing bright, cheerful clothing and it’s still impossible for me to believe that a big, destructive tsunami hit this area and caused a city to need lots of reparation. I saw smiles and determination in the Taiko drummers even though they were doing a very tiring exercise. We tried Taiko drumming and I was exhausted after just two sets of 3-4 different beats, but they had to drum for three hours. That’s unbelievable in my eyes. Maybe it’s just because I’m a generally lazy person, but to stand and repeat the same patterns would help me get better at it, of course, but I would get bored of it maybe after 45 minutes. We also saw fireworks that I’d never seen before. Normally when I see fireworks, it’s the normal burst of light and shimmery gold, but the fireworks that I saw were shaped like butterflies, flowers and some were even shaped like smiley faces! They were so bright despite the dewiness from the ocean, and I really had a wonderful time.

Even in a disaster-struck area, it’s heartwarming to see the community not driven by fear of the power of nature. For instance, the government wants to build a sea wall to prevent another tsunami from happening, but the citizens lean towards being able to see the sea despite the hardships the sea has given the town. When I went to Kesennuma, I couldn’t only smell the ocean, I could also smell the perseverance in the air whenever I saw people laughing, dancing, and playing–like nothing ever happened.

Chi Onyeka
Banneker Academic HS

At Kesennuma

Today was a great day. In the morning, we went to a special art museum. Inside, there were many pictures and sculptures about natural disasters. It was a very unique place. There was a painting that I will never forget. It was a painting about people who lost their lives by the tsunami. They were all floating, and the birds were eating them. It was so shocking for me.

After that, we went to a shack to make some salt. At first, I thought it was easy to make salt but actually it took me a long time to make just a small bottle of salt. I realized even a small amount of salt, we have to work hard to make it. For lunch we had pizza at the K-Port. K-Port is made by an actor Ken Watanabe. l was happy to see Kesennuma being more active than before.

On my way home, we went to see the Minato Matsuri. Everyone was dancing around. I participated too. It was very fun. I wish I can participate again.

For dinner we had a chance to use the salt we made. My salt tasted like sea water. I wish I had the chance to retry.

After dinner, I interviewed the owner of this inn with Daniel. l found out that the owner had a strong will to make his hometown great again. I asked him what he always keeps in mind of everyday about the inn. He said he always tries to make the inn like home. I was moved because he didn’t leave his hometown but struggles to recover his town. I felt I have to learn from him…

Today I had a brilliant day in Kesennuma.

Ko Sato
Furukawa Gakuen High School