Tying the bonds of friendship even tighter

When a small fishing boat used by Rikuzentakata’s Takata High School washed up on the shores of Crescent City, California, two years after the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami, no one could have predicted the lasting effect it would have on those two communities.

Swirling and unpredictable ocean tides could have deposited the fishing boat, named Kamome (“seagull”), anywhere along the western coast of North America, but the fact that it ended its two-year maritime journey in Crescent City of all places is a stunning act of fate. As it turns out, the two cities have much in common: population, geography, industries, and a long history of earthquakes and tsunami (in fact, Crescent City was also affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, to the tune of $50 million in damages to their harbor). Another thing the two cities have in common: at the moment, neither has an official Sister City. But, hopefully, that is about to change.

After four years of an international exchange program between high schools in each city, a delegation from Crescent City finally visited Rikuzentakata this February to meet with the mayor, city council, and school representatives and formally request the creation of Sister City and Sister School relationships. The Sister School relation ship between Del Norte High School (in Crescent City) and Takata High School was finalized, but the Sister Cities relationship still has a way to go before being finalized, including a visit to Crescent City by the mayor of Rikuzentakata and other city officials.

While in Rikuzentakata, the delegation also took the time to see the sights and interact with the locals. They took part in several activities including a tour of the disaster zone, riding in an oyster fishing boat, visiting a local sake brewery, and more, and they brought gifts–lapel pins, wood carvings, knit hats–to hand out to every Rikuzentakata resident they met. It was an impactful experience for all involved, and everyone, from Rikuzentakata locals to the delegation from Crescent City, walked away with new life long friends and memories that will last forever.

For more reading, check out the news articles below:

Sister City: Delegation to Japanese city formalizes partnership

Saga of lost Rikuzentakata tsunami boat forges pan-Pacific friendship

Del Norte High School welcomes Japanese students

 

 

Konno Chokubai Center – Delicious Simplicity

 

We’ve already written on this blog about Hota-waka Go-zen, Rikuzentakata’s new signature cuisine that showcases the delicious local scallops of Hirota Bay, but that is far from the only way to enjoy scallops in Rikuzentakata.

For something a little more classic and traditional, one could stop by Konno Chokubai Center in the Otomo district, a popular lunchtime spot among the locals. The menu is small, but specialization leads to perfection, and every item on the menu reflects the bounty of fresh seafood available in Rikuzentakata.

Konno Chokubai Cener’s signature dish is Iso Ramen, a local variety of the well-known Japanese noodle soup, which adds a giant scallop and multiple varieties of fresh, local seaweed to a simple salt-based soup broth. Scallop-lovers can also order huge scallops grilled in the shell (either a la carte or as a set meal with rice and miso soup), or hotate-don, which consists of scallops in a sweet-salty sauce and egg over rice.

ramen-1
Iso Ramen – ¥600
scallop1
Grilled Giant Scallop – ¥400

The “chokubai” in the restaurant’s name means “direct sale” and it refers to the fact that the scallops are caught and sold, “ocean to table,” directly from the source. Not only does that make them delicious, it also helps keep the costs low. And with the freshness, the taste, and the price, it’s no wonder that the locals keep coming back for more.

Harvest season in Rikuzentakata

 

Harvest season in Rikuzentakata starts with something called ine-kari, or “rice plant cutting,” in which the stalks of the rice plant are severed from the roots and then left out to dry before the rice is collected and the grains are husked.

Rice, a staple crop throughout all of Japan, is especially important to Rikuzentakata because the locally grown rice brand Takata no Yume is one of the city’s financial lifelines following the earthquake and tsunami disaster of 2011. In the aftermath of the disaster, many local farmers lost hope of being able to continue their farms and their business. Luckily, due to donations and financial support from many sources, including Japan Tabacco, the rice brand Takata no Yume (which means’s “Takata’s dream”) was developed as a way to help Rikuzentakata agriculture get back up on its feet and offer a new source of revenue for the town. Another organization, Save Takata, was started to recruit people from urban areas to help work on local farms and possibly move in permanently to act as successors.

The gratitute the people of Rikuzentakata feel for those who lent their financial and emotional support was on full display at this year’s ine-kari ceremony in early October. Representatives from Japan Tabacco and Save Takata accompanied hundreds of Takata residents to ceremoniously cut some of the first rice stalks of the season.

Another way residents of Rikuzentakata celebrate the harvest and the rich culinary bounty of this region is their annual Harvest Festival, which took place this year during the last weekend in October. Vendors from all over the region came to sell produce, souvenirs, sweets,  prepared foods like yakitori grilled chicken and others, and, of course, Takata no Yume rice.

Rikuzentakata, un luogo inaspettato

Ho avuto l’occasione di visitare Rikuzentakata nel corso della mia ricerca sulla ripresa dei territori colpiti dallo tsunami. La città è stata duramente danneggiata dal disastro. Ciononostante è un luogo molto vivo, dove i cittadini si stanno dando molto da fare per ricostruire il loro territorio e la loro comunità. Tra le cose speciali che si possono fare a Rikuzentakata, c’è sicuramente quella di sperimentare un delizioso menù a base di frutti di mare locali. In particolare, nella zona si producono votate (capesante) e wakame (un tipo di alga). I ristoratori locali hanno messo a punto un menù comune, è quindi possibile magiare in posti diversi per provare le differenze.

La città di Rikuzentakata è divenuta famosa, dopo il disastro del 2011, per il suo “pino miracoloso”, l’unico ad essere rimasto in piedi dopo essere stato in balia dello tsunami. L’albero faceva parte di una pineta centenaria che è andata completamente distrutta, ma che si sta cercando il modo di ripiantare. Al momento l’area è al centro di lavori di ricostruzione, ma il pino, che è stato messo in sicurezza per garantirne la preservazione, è visibile. Il pino è diventato ben presto il simbolo della forza di resistenza di questa città e per questo si è deciso di trasformarlo in un monumento, realizzando un’opera di conservazione grazie all’uso della tecnologia. L’albero infatti, non avrebbe resistito naturalmente alle infiltrazioni di sale dovute subite durante il disastro.

Ma Rikuzentakata non è solo mare. Sulle colline intorno alla città ci sono altrettanti luoghi meravigliosi. Uno di questi è il Fumonji, un tempio buddista che è un luogo magico e affascinante, custode della tradizione locale e diventato, dopo il disastro, anche il luogo dove riposano molte delle vittime di quel terribile evento. Nel bellissimo bosco antistante il tempio, sono state disposte le statue dei rakan. Rakan è la parola giapponese che indica gli illuminati che hanno raggiunto il nirvana nella religione buddista. In molti templi buddisti se ne trovano 500. Seguendo questa tradizione, il Fumonji, ha creato un’iniziativa che ha visto gli stessi abitanti di Rikuzentakata scolpire le statue come tributo ai concittadini che hanno perso la vita durante lo tsunami. Il workshop di arte terapia, viene organizzato due volte all’anno finché il numero di 500 non sarà raggiunto. Quest’anno ho partecipato anche io, insieme ad alcuni amici, al laboratorio e ora anche il mio rakan veglia su questa terra alle pendici di un cedro centenario. Mi piace molto l’idea di aver costruito, attraverso di lui, un legame eterno con questa terra bellissima.

Flavia Fulco – Roma

Careful What You Ask For: Best Case Scenario

For the third year, Rikkyo University in Tokyo and Stanford University from California (USA) have sent students to Rikuzentakata.  Fourteen bright, young, energetic, smart, and compassionate students visited two weeks ago.

We asked them to create three specific items.  We are happy to share the first here:

We should also mention Rikuzentakata also now has our own multi-lingual YouTube site where we will share videos made by our visitors and for our city.  (If you would like your video shared on this site please e-mail us at visit@city.rikuzentakata.iwate.jp.)

A huge thank you to Rikkyo University and Stanford University students.  You’re welcome back any time.

 

 

The Miracle Pine – more than just a tree

The Takata Matsubara pine forest was planted in the Edo Period (1600s Japan) in what is present day Rikuzentakata in order to block strong coastal winds from interfering with local agriculture. Over centuries the 6,200 saplings grew both in height and number, and by the Twentieth Century the Takata Matsubara pine forest was a marvel, seventy thousand trees strong and a favorite location of locals and travelers alike. It was even officially designated as one of the top 100 views in Japan.

However, March 11, 2011, was the day that nobody saw coming. The pine forest that Rikuzentakata held so dear was washed away, cruelly and suddenly, by the fifteen-meter waves of a tsunami, along with hundreds of buildings and almost two thousand lives. All that was left was a single tree, standing bold and solitary against a now unobstructed view of the ocean.

While the citizens of Rikuzentakata of course mourned the loss of their forest, as they mourned the losses of their homes and loved ones, they looked to the single pine tree to remind themselves that they could not be completely destroyed. They looked to the pine tree to remind themselves, “After all of this, we are still here.”

A little while after the tsunami, the Miracle Pine, as it had been named, died from taking in too much sea water. However, a fundraising project was started to preserve the tree and turn the site into a monument, honoring those lost in the disaster and inspiring hope for future and present generations.

Now, the tree stands strong, with its original bark but a new iron center and artificial leaves. Thanks to the generosity of its donors, the tree will continue to stand, to inspire hope, and to remind the world that Rikuzentakata is still here, and we can’t be knocked down or washed away.

kiseki no ippon matsu

 

 

On The Ball

As we prepare for a major typhoon to hit the city today we want to bring attention to our emergency evacuation notification methods.  The city has a robust Facebook page here:  https://www.facebook.com/RikuzentakataCity/ and we post announcements when there are weather reports that need to be known by residents and visitors.  Today is no exception.

City hall employees have been on the ball since last night (August 29th, 2016).  All morning we have posted notifications in English and Japanese.  With the scale of the typhoon expected to hit the city directly later this evening we see informing people and preparing evacuation shelters as a very high priority.  Being on the ball, prompt, and insisting upon advance preparation is one of the many things we do well.

We take disaster preparedness VERY seriously and hope you will do the same.

In the mean time, we hope and pray for safety of everyone in the region.