One of my first thoughts of the morning was just how beautiful this place is. Situated in the northern Japanese prefecture of Iwate, Rikuzentakata is ringed by mountains and flanked by the sea. In this midst of this rainy season, clouds float close to the mountains’ tree-lined surface, rising up like the dreams of these people that, unlike their city, never seem to get washed away. As our bus makes its way to the community center for another day of stories, field visits, and diligent note-taking, I reflect on the resilience of these people, and especially their willingness to create something unique with the tragedy-turned-opportunity of the rebuilding process. In one of the first lectures, we heard of the city’s goal of “normalization” - to create an all-inclusive city where everybody’s rights are respected.
Today’s lecture consisted of a member of the Office of Agriculture, who opened our minds to the proud products of Rikuzentakata, including a specific brand of rice as well as oysters. He (unfortunately, the speakers have not been terribly diverse, with all of them so far being male) passed around a bucket of the most delicious, juicy cherry tomatoes and the best apple I have ever tasted. When visitors start making the trek to Rikuzentakata, they surely won’t be disappointed by the food.
This theme rose to the surface once more with my group’s afternoon field visit, to a nonprofit daycare center known as Kirarin Kids, whose mission is to provide a space for mothers and children to interact. Over the course of this visit, it has become clear that Japan is unsatisfied with its birth rate, and people just don’t seem to be having kids at the frequency the government desires. As a result, daycare centers and organizations like this one have been popping up, although the notion of a nonprofit is surprisingly looked upon less warmly than in the United States. We listened to the owner’s story as we sat with our legs criss-crossed on the ground. One mother and child had come into the building and were playing with the donated toys that lined the walls throughout the discussion.
She spoke of her desire to help, her plans for the future, and of her recount of the disaster. This last bit was the most haunting tale I have heard so far: a ghostly account of losing her husband to the tsunami, and her visit to the gymnasium where they lined up the bodies in the hope that someone would recognize them.
After the visit, we returned to the community center where we resumed group work. The goal of this trip is to come up with ideas to help the city attract more tourists, to lift it back up on its feet once more. Today we throw ideas off each other, and try to decide how to best make an impact and deliver an idea that will help the city actually recover from the disaster. Sometimes it seems difficult to find these kinds of ideas, and our resolve wavers. Like the people of Rikuzentakata, though, we keep pushing forward until we find something we can help with and succeed at. If there’s one thing I’ve learned so far, it is the power of pure resilience and determination.