Some 40 international students from Tohoku University visited the disaster affected areas of Onagawa and Ishinomaki this month as part of a study tour.
The tour was organized by Tohoku University's Foreign Students Association (TUFSA), and students from the university's Great East Japan Earthquake Volunteer Support Office (SCRUM).
"We wanted to give international students the chance to see the affected areas and meet some of the people there as a way of understanding Japan better," says SCRUM's Nana Sato. "I think the local people there also always enjoy meeting and talking to young people from all over the world."
The group began the morning at the Graduate School of Agricultural Science's field center in Onagawa, where Professor Akihiro Kijima explained the ecological impact of the tsunami and the effects on the fishing and marine industries.
After a quick lunch in Ishinomaki, the students visited a temporary housing complex and spoke to local residents. They also stopped by the offices of Ishinomaki Hibi Shinbun and saw the handwritten special editions that the local newspaper issued immediately after the disaster.
They heard lectures by Akinari Abe, who's been making efforts to revitalize the town through forestry; and Gota Matsumura, who founded ISHINOMAKI 2.0, an initiative to encourage new local enterprise.
"It's about creating space and making Ishinomaki an innovation hub so that people can express themselves, create new projects and eventually improve the situation of their own town," says TUFSA president Angaddeep Singh.
At the end of the tour, students were divided into groups to discuss the experience. Many said that they were especially moved by their conversations with the tsunami survivors.
"In my country this sort of disaster is very rare. The worst we might experience is floods that may cause some material damage, but hardly ever take any lives," says Gil Govin Cardoso, a 3rd year engineering student from Portugal.
"We watch natural disasters on the news and hear the numbers, but we barely realise that these numbers have families and friends, and that the destroyed structures were real people's homes. The people I met in Ishinomaki were so strong and had so much hope even after all that happened."
Maria Mogilevskaya, a Biomedical Sciences student from Russia, was also impressed with the community's strength and resilience. "It was shocking and astonishing to hear how some lost their entire families, how they had to struggle, build their entire lives from scratch. And all these people are still moving forward, constantly fighting for better lives not only for themselves but for the community in general."
TUFSA and SCRUM organise activities throughout the year. Students who are interested in taking part are encouraged to check the websites below for details.
"Just like in Minami Sanriku, the people we met in Ishinomaki just want more people to visit their towns," says Angaddeep. "Do some sightseeing, enjoy their food, patronize their shops and help their economy. You don't have to do volunteer work to help them. You can just go down and enjoy a nice day there."
Contact:Global Learning Center
Assistant Professor Kaori Shimasaki