It was a lucky coincidence that Tsunami, 611 days later, an event organised by TERP London and Sakura Front to remind people about the events of 11th March 2011 in Japan, fell on Remembrance Sunday. Today, instead of a poppy, I wore my white Sakura Front brooch.
(Image: Sakura Front)
Today’s event, held at SOAS’s Brunei Gallery in association with the Japan Research Centre, began with a short introductory speech from Dr Stephen Dodd, Chair of the Japan Research Centre. The lecture theatre was full, and there were a number of familiar faces in the crowd. Dr Dodd commented that when a disaster strikes it is as if all the barriers between people and cultures dissolve, which was certainly true when the earthquake and tsunami hit Tohoku (Northeastern Japan) on 11th March last year. Now, 611 days after that fateful day, this event had been organised to look back at what had happened, remember those affected and still in need of help, and to think about what else still needs to be done.
The main part of the event was an exclusive screening of the Academy Award nominated short documentary The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom (津波そして桜), directed by Londoner Lucy Walker. Featuring music from Moby, The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom was beautiful, moving, and difficult to watch. The movie explains the importance of cherry blossom (sakura) in Japanese culture, and how it represents meetings and farewells. Cherry blossom reflects the Japanese character – alone it is not so strong, but together it is beautiful and powerful. Hearing people’s stories from the earthquake and tsunami is never easy, but there was a feeling of hope in the film. One man said, “If you give up, it’s all over”, which seemed to be the overall message.
The guest speaker at the event was the Governor of Miyagi Prefecture, Mr Yoshihiro Murai. He spoke quickly and confidently in Japanese, and I couldn’t follow much of what he said, but the translator filled in the gaps. He thanked everyone for their support, and spoke a little about the ongoing situation in Miyagi, which is still rebuilding. 10,366 people from Miyagi lost their lives (out of a total of 15,870 across the Tohoku region) and 1,359 remain missing (out of a total of 2,814). They are aiming for a complete clean up of the debris by March 2014, but there is a ten-year plan for the restoration, reconstruction and redevelopment of the area.
Mr Murai’s overall message was one of thanks, and he also encouraged everyone to come and visit Miyagi. Each guest was given some tourist brochures, which have only fueled my desire to travel even more. Tucked in with the brochures were also these cute stickers, featuring Miyagi Prefecture’s character.
The final part of the event was a panel discussion. The four panelists were: Ryan Browne and James Li from Action for Japan UK, Angus Miyaji from Seven Beach Aid, and Iwao Niizawa, President of Niizawa Sake Brewery in Miyagi. They discussed the ongoing needs of the people in affected areas of Tohoku, how to provide sustainable support, and why it was important for the UK to continue providing support. There are a lot of charitable organisations and local groups which have been set up since the disaster and which are providing support in many different ways. Angus Miyaji mentioned two such efforts. One was Yarn Alive, a knitting group set up with the support of Seven Beach Aid. The members are not only kept busy by learning to knit, they also manage to gain a sense of purpose by knitting things for other people.
(Image: Yarn Alive)
The other interesting project I heard about today was Cricket for Smiles, also supported by Seven Beach Aid. Cricket for Smiles, which is part of the Japan Cricket Association, aims to teach children in Tohoku to play cricket with the intention of bringing a fun new sport to lots of people who have never played cricket before (cricket is not a popular sport in Japan). In 2013 there will be a cricket tournament in Kessennuma, Miyagi.
(Image: Cricket for Smiles)
As with all events I’ve attended since the disaster last year, the overwhelming message is still “please don’t forget Tohoku”. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to give financial support though – there are many ways in which we can show that we in the UK are supporting the people of Tohoku, through visiting Tohoku, buying goods made in the region, and attending awareness events which are ongoing in the UK. To find out more about Tohoku related charity work in the UK, please take a look at some of the links below…
Aid for japan is supporting children who lost their parents in the disaster. They provide long-term support including educational funds and mental health care. Two orphans from the affected area are coming to the UK this December for a cultural exchange.
Action for Japan UK was set up by undergraduate and graduate students. They have organised charity events and volunteer tours to take British students to Tohoku.
Baby Muslin Project was set up by Japanese mothers who live in the UK. They provide muslin squares to help mothers who have babies and little children in the disaster-affected area.
EAST LOOP’s aim is to create business opportunities for anyone within the disaster areas, to directly give them the profits of their handicrafts, which are sold to people in Japan and all over the world.
Garden Charity UK was set up by garden designer, Makiko Sato. She won a Silver Gift medal for her first conceptual garden for ‘Japanese reconstruction’ at RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2012.
In cooperation with Sakura Front, M&M English Academy UK have organised events in which British students made and sold sakura brooches at school. They are also planning to invite two Japanese students from the affected area to study in the UK.
Merry London was an event held one day before the opening ceremony of the London Olympics. The aim was to convey a message of appreciation for the support Japan received. They walked through the main streets of London, holding umbrellas printed with smiles of children in Tohoku.
Sakura Front was set up by London-based Japanese designers. Like Poppy Day in the UK, they make sakura brooches for remembrance. The money is donated to the sakura planting campaign in Tohoku.
Seven Beach Aid supports mainly Shichigahama (Seven Beach) in Miyagi. They organised photo exhibitions in London last year and an event called You Are Not Forgotten on the one year anniversary of the disaster.
Silent Prayer presents a poetry reading play which is based on poetry written by Ryoichi Wago who resides in Fukushima. They performed at the Edinburgh Festival in August this year.
SMF311LONDON is a project by singer Naomi Suzuki. She regularly holds charity concerts in the UK and Tohoku, and has recorded a CD to raise money for the disaster.
Smile Kids Japan is a Japan-based charity group. They have been working to support children’s homes (orphanages) affected by the disaster in the long-term.
Sono x Nadeshiko was set up by fashion designer Ryoko Mutasono. She collaborates with a group of ladies who make fashion accessories from kimono material that was washed away by the tsunami and reclaimed.
TERP London is a platform organisation which aims to encourage bonds between small/medium-sized charity groups in the UK and people in the Tohoku area who have been affected by the disaster. Formed by London-based Japanese entrepreneurs and students, their activities include: organising events, sharing information, and supporting projects by charity groups.
The Wallpaper Project was set up by London-based interior designer Noriko Sawayama. They provide high-quality British wallpaper for people who live in temporary housing in the affected areas.
Young-Kai was set up by Japanese students studying in London. They held an event called ‘Candle Night’ on the one year anniversary of the disaster, and organised the photo exhibition ‘One Second’.