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

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

The Faces of Recovery

As a mother, educator and a Rotarian, I am particularly drawn to Rikuzentakata due to the uniqueness of the area and the kindness and perseverance of its people. I visited Rikuzentakata in January 2016. One of the first buildings rebuilt is the beautiful Takata High School. It stands stoically on the mountain and is a constant reminder that education is of great importance to the people of Rikuzentakata. They have invested heavily in their future by providing a wonderful learning environment for their children.

During my visit I had the pleasure of meeting Rotarian businessmen and women who are in various stages of rebuilding. The oyster beds located in the bay are a main staple to the economic recovery. It was particularly heartwarming to see the pride in Katsuji Chiba as he took us out on the smooth waters to see the off bottom oyster farming he and his sons are doing. There is a strong sense of community in talking with Katsuji. His passion for the town and the importance of providing a stable economic future for his employees and his family is very evident.

The kindness of the people of Rikuzentakata is inspiring. I am unsure if the people are close knit and care about each other because they have lived through a devastating disaster or because it is a rural town but the people are very close and help each other.

Coleen Parker, California, USA

Kesen-cha, a local tea with that personal touch

Once a month, Riku Cafe offers a tea tasting experience, where visitors can taste a selection of local teas served in a Taiwanese style for ¥300. In addition to the tea, the visitors also receive knowledge and conversation from Chikako Maeda, a former government worker and Takata local who decided to devote her life to tea. After leaving her job at the prefectural office in Morioka, she spent three years in total (two in Taiwan, one in China) studying all aspects of tea craft, from planting and harvesting to roasting and brewing.

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This month, there were four teas available for tasting, and Maeda-san went through them one by one, explaining everything as she went. First, there was a cold-brewed green tea, refreshing and fragrant. Then came a traditional green tea, one that was lightly roasted (called hi-ire), and then a black tea. All four teas were made using the same leaf (locally grown Kesen-cha), however different treating processes led them to have wildly different flavor profiles and tasting experiences.

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The Taiwanese style of tea tasting involves pouring the tea into the taller vessel on the right, and then immediately pouring it into the sipping vessel on the left. The vessel on the right is then held to the nose and sniffed to allow the taster to inhale the scent of the tea without burning their fingers. Finally, the tea is tasted from the sipping vessel on the left. It’s a unique and well-conceived tasting experiences that allow the taster go fully savor both the taste and the fragrance of the fresh-brewed tea.

How to Bow (and why you should visit Japan)

A handshake is a worthy introduction when meeting someone for the first time or sealing an agreement. A hug can express gratitude or say farewell to a good friend. A courtesy is a polite way of accepting a compliment and also bestowing honor to another. But the action that can do all this and speak a legion of words is a bow.

The western hemisphere may have claimed a victory when they preferred the uncomplicated fork rather than acquire the more intricate niceties of chopstick technique, but I feel that they in turn have also sorely missed out on a treasure. That is, the art and practice of bowing. While it’s not uncommon to see a dainty bob of the head in an apology or acknowledgment in a country such as America, a deep, stiff bow at the waist might draw curious glances. During my visit to Japan, I was introduced to an entirely new culture. If you’re going to spend any amount of time among the locals in Japan, you will very quickly become acquainted to the world of bowing.

I’ll admit, my bows were a little awkward and graceless the first few days.  The appropriate and expected times to bow are bound to confuse a foreigner. My personal experience taught me that if in doubt, it’s always better to bow than not. This rings especially true in formal circumstances. Also, if someone else bows to you first, it’s modest for you to return the bow with one of your own that dips lower than theirs. The deeper your bow, the more sincere your expression. The action displays a sense of respect and manners that is so reflective of the values of the Japanese people themselves.

It didn’t take long me to recognize the brilliance of this simple motion and adopt it into my social routine. It only takes a few days of immersion into the culture for bowing to become a natural motion, and then second nature. It is a multi purposeful stroke of genius in my opinion. It can express thanks, acceptance, submission, confirmation, honor, agreement, greeting, parting, and friendship. I think many other countries could do well to take on this little manner, but I am compelled to voice my doubts on its ability to thrive in a different environment.

The custom of bowing has roots that run deep and strong in Japan, filled with a proud history of bows. I believe it is this noble, dutiful pride that is bound in the hearts of the Japanese people that sets them apart from the rest of the world. Their national concept of honor, respect, and community is one unparalleled to any other society I have known. The dignity of the people is what allows this tradition of bows to endure through the centuries, and the resulting kindness is what makes them special. The serene gardens, breathtaking views, and illuminated cities make Japan a wonder for any traveler, but the sights don’t capture the experience that can only be found in the details accredited to the spirit of the people.

In all my years to come, I’ll never forget how Japan knew how to cherish the strength in community. Visiting Japan is an encounter that is well-worth your time, and an adventure that will show you that there’s a certain grace and esteem in respecting the people in your life.

 

Olivia Jeffcoat, California, USA