We visited the temporary shopping village of Minamisanriku. After, some shopping and admiring, we met with some inspiring and powerful high school students and their college student sponsor/mentor. These students have formed several organizations, such as COM. COM is an abbreviation for Center of Minamisanriku. COM strives to invoke positive social change in the community. The group is spreading their word by making pamphlets and talking to the people of Minamisanriku. We engaged in great discussions about the changes the town is experiencing because of the earthquake and tsunami. Some of the key words we came up with were appreciation and regret. We found that these have a direct correlation, as some of the students shared that they lost people close to them, and never expressed their appreciation towards them. Now they regret it and wish they simply said thank you.
After the great time-sharing experiences, we made pizza. This was very fun and made us even closer. We bonded over talking, eating, and dancing. Slowly, we broke down cultural and language barriers. This experience was very moving and motivating, because those students are taking action rather than simply complaining. They tackle many adult problems surrounded by 3/11 and are making a lot of progress in making positive change.
The Mayor of Minamisanriku, Mayor Sato, is one of the strongest men I have ever seen. I am still bewildered by him and his strength. I have already said that the people of Tohoku have this kind of strength I rarely see anywhere else and I am so glad the mayor embodies this strength. His story was tragic and horrifying. I don’t know if I could have kept being mayor after the tsunami. I mean can you imagine looking at nine people around you when there was 53 people just seconds ago? I would have broken down at that instant, probably having a panic attack. Then having to survive on a roof for a couple of days where it was freezing and snowing? He is a true survivor. What really got me though was when he told us the story about the reporter from Chicago who was also a psychologist telling him he has post traumatic stress disorder and he just basically said I very well might have it, but I do not have the time to be dealing with it. There is still work to be done. That is dedication right there, and I would definitely have him in a government position where I live if I had the power. He is a real true leader, one of those men you rarely find.
Mayor Sato filled the room with his presence. He felt bigger than life, and it was surreal to hear him speak knowing what he went through. When he told us his story of the Tsunami, it made me respect him even more. He had clung to a small fence on the top of the disaster prevention center and 43 other people with him were swept away, tragically ironic. After the disaster, he took the job as mayor back up, and had the daunting task of rebuilding Minamisanriku.
At the reception, it was my job to present the day we spent with him. There is no way to say everything I wanted to say in the time slot I had. I don’t think I truly got across how monumental his meeting was for me. After the reception, we ate buffet food and added everyone in the room to our Facebook to create future contacts. People came to me and told me that I was very lucky to meet mayor Sato, but I don’t think they truly understand what a difference that he, and the other survivors we met, had on me.
Our entire TOMODACHI US-Japan Youth Exchange Program group presented in front of our sponsors and TOMODACHI alumni on Friday. My own group did one on our journey in the Tohoku region. Our Japanese TOMODACHI did a presentation about our time in Washington D.C. during the summer. Afterwards we were able to mingle with our sponsors and fellow alumni. I learned that the TOMODACHI Initiative is very vast and there are many other programs I can join! With so many TOMODACHI connections in the room, I immediately felt like an alumni with a vast family of connections for my future. Everyone I met was as great as the people I did my own program with! I’m so glad I’m accepted in this family! It has truly been a life changing experience thanks to TOMODACHI and has made my future clearer. I’m so happy and grateful for this opportunity, from the bottom of my heart.
Our final presentation was a great success. Showing donors, TOMODACHI alum, and different individuals from the United States Embassy and US-Japan Council our experiences in Tohoku turned out to be quite an interesting experience. At first I thought the presentation would be very hard to give because we learned so much from our trip to Tohoku and compressing it all into one power point presentation seemed very hard. I was proved wrong once we began our presentation, and was amazed by how much detail we were able to squeeze into ten minutes! I really enjoyed sharing our experiences and talking to all of the people who came to watch. We also got to learn a lot more about the different parts of TOMODACHI and what they do, which was a really cool experience for me. Our group also really enjoyed listening to the Japanese side of the exchange presentations. It was really the first time that we got to experience the exchange through their eyes. Hearing what they had to say about their time in DC was really thought provoking and showed us a lot about what they held on to and found special about the experience. Overall the presentation was an interesting look into both the Japanese and American experiences and was a great way to learn more about the TOMODACHI project.