Yoshito Hori speaks about leadership lessons with enthusiasm in a suit and tie

At 7 a.m. on Saturday, February 23, we gathered in a hotel lobby in Sendai to leave for Onagawa. We were to inspect the town in the morning, and to attend the event, KIBOW Onagawa, in the afternoon. The sky was clear. The snow, piled high from the previous evening was glittering, reflecting the sunlight.

The day before yesterday, I was in Fukuoka. After attending a seminar there, I enjoyed dinner with nine staff members of GLOBIS, smacking our lips over fresh seafood from the Genkai Sea. Yesterday, I flew from Fukuoka to Sendai, and participated in a seminar for presidents of universities. After the seminar, I enjoyed dinner with four staff members of GLOBIS. This time, while sipping local sake―Urakasumi―we had abundant seafood from off the Sanriku Coast. Before Fukuoka, I was in Fukushima to attend the G1 Summit after coming home from Davos, where I participated in the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2013. I was literally flying around Japan and the world.

Upon arrival in Onagawa, I saw a building leveled to the ground by the tsunami and preserved in that state as a monument of the disaster. Our first destination in Onagawa was a multifunctional fish processing facility called Maskar. It was minus 30 degrees Celsius inside the facility. In the right side of the photo, you’ll see frozen squid ready to be processed. Since all fishing facilities were engulfed and washed away by the tsunami, this new fish-storing facility was built in the port with a hefty 2 billion yen donation from Qatar. The name Maskar is the name for a traditional fishing technique in Qatar.

This photo was taken at Onagawa “Kibou-no-Kane” (bell of hope) Shopping Street. Mr. Shiozawa from Ishinomaki Clinic gave me coupons, amounting to 500 yen. The coupon incorporates the design of Astro Boy. I was happy but shivering since it was very cold that day.

This photo was taken in front of the Onodera Tearooms at Onagawa Kibou-no-Kane Shopping Street, together with Mr. Endo and his sister Hikari, who designed El Faro, the first accommodation facility comprising mobile homes in the disaster-hit region. In the tearooms, I enjoyed citron-flavor kuzuyu (sweet arrowroot gruel).

At a seafood restaurant Okasei, I had kaisendon (a bowl of rice topped with seafood). Doesn’t it look appetizing? We met Mr. Takuro Tatsumi (a celebrated actor) at this restaurant.

During the lunch break, I received a Twitter message, saying, “I am deeply impressed by Mr. Hori, for he continues acting. I also value the mechanism he has built for acting. I will visit disaster-hit areas again this year to engage in volunteer activities.” I sent him the following reply: I truly believe that endurance makes you stronger. I will continue to engage myself in the KIBOW project for life.

Yes, I will continue the KIBOW project throughout my life. Renewing my resolve, I arrived at the venue for the presentation meeting of the KIBOW Onagawa project. Since almost an entire plain in Onagawa was engulfed by the tsunami, few facilities remain intact, so we held the meeting at a gym on a hill.

At the parking lot of the gym, I saw Nakamura-san and Yoshikawa-san, both students helping our project. Even in the cold weather, they stayed outdoors to welcome visitors. Looking at the handwritten logo of KIBOW, I remembered the vision of KIBOW that we conceived on the night of March 14, 2011 (three days after the disaster).

Now, the presentation meeting is getting started. Following my opening address, Mr. Tatsumi is delivering a speech. The 13 people sitting behind him (I’m sorry that they are backlit) are going to give presentations today. They will explain their ideas to revive Onagawa. After their presentations, participants in this event will vote for the idea that they regard the best. The winners will be awarded prize money from the KIBOW project, with which they can realize their ideas.
Mr. Tatsumi serves as a councilor of the KIBOW project. In his speech, he delivered a message of encouragement from Mr. Masatoshi Nakamura (a celebrated singer and actor), who was born in Onagawa.

Following Mr. Tatsumi, Mr. Kimio Kimura, the Chairman of the Onagawa Town Assembly, offered a greeting, in which he said, “Participants in this event have bright eyes.”

Finally, the presentations got under way. Speakers proposed their ideas to revive Onagawa. The first speaker was Mr. Yusuke Suzuki from the Cyber Department of Sasaki Photo Studio. His idea is to produce DVD programs featuring Onagawa Rias Soldier Eager, a mascot character created by the local people as a symbol of the town. He suggests that shooting in various areas in Onagawa and selling DVDs will be effective in attracting camera crews, and subsequently tourists. His presentation was simple and excellent.

The second speaker was Ms. Mayumi Suzuki, a photographer born in Onagawa. Her idea is to publish a guidebook “Onagawa Sampo (A stroll in Onagawa).” To entice more tourists to Onagawa and increase the number of repeaters, “I hope to publish a guidebook with the prize money,” she said.

Representing ceramic studio Port Town Ceramica, the third speaker outlined an idea to decorate the port town with Spanish tiles. The plan, titled the Spanish Tile Project, comprises 1) producing doorplates made of Spanish tiles, 2) equipping promenades and parks with tiles depicting landscapes of Onagawa, and 3) offering memorial plates to supporters of the project. Using the prize money, the speaker said that she wants to open up free tile production classes.

The fourth speaker was Mrs. Mitsue Doga, who called her project “One-Day Shefu (chef) and One-Day Shufu (housewife).” Using a kamishibai (picture-story show), the 54-year-old housewife introduced her plan to open a restaurant that serves local homemade dishes. Her son is a professional chef working at a French restaurant in Sendai, she said. She appealed that with the KIBOW funds she hopes to open her own restaurant in Onagawa. Her presentation moved me almost to tears.

The fifth speaker was Mr. Shigeo Goto, a teacher at Onagawa Daiichi Elementary School. At the end of March, his school will be closed after a 139-year history. His plan is to produce a DVD program of the school so that alumni will long remember the school. He also hopes that viewing the DVD, the children who have left the town after the disaster will feel like to come back to Onagawa. He needs the KIBOW funds to realize this dream.

The sixth speaker was Mr. Ryuta Yamada, who wants to open a Spanish restaurant in Onagawa.

Mr. Atsushi Abe, the seventh speaker, is Chairman of the Executive Committee of Onagawa Shopping Street Revival Festival. He explained that the aims of holding the festival are 1) to long remember the disaster and its lessons, 2) to attract as many people as possible to Onagawa to promote their understanding of the town’s present situation, and 3) to continue to unify people of Onagawa.

Mr. Kenichi Endo, the eighth speaker, explained his plan to maintain the tradition of Onagawa as a hub of the whaling industry. Specifically, he plans to revive story-telling about whaling at El Faro, the first accommodation facility comprising mobile homes, and to initiate whale watching programs for tourists off the shore of Kinkasan Island. Since warm and cold currents converge off the coast of Onagawa, the sea area is one of the three best fishing grounds in the world.

Now, the mayor of Onagawa has arrived.

The ninth speaker, representing the Onagawa Nature Guide Association, proposed that a hiking course be built in the mountains and forests in and around Onagawa. The mountainous area, which comprises 80% of the town area, completely escaped damage from the tsunami. Since the mountains, located along the deeply indented coastline, feature unique flora, the speaker suggested that a hiking course should be prepared to promote tourism in joint efforts with El Faro.

The 10th speaker was Mr. Tomomi Sato, representing Onagawa Hukkoumaru, a group of young residents of Onagawa who intend to revive their hometown with the power of music. He said that he hopes to continue holding events as a business with opportunities for employment so as to attract more people to their music events, titled Gareki Stock, and to inspire residents through music and revive the town. He also hopes to attract tourists from outside Japan, particularly Vancouver, Onagawa’s sister city.

As the 11th speaker, representing Art Guild Company, Mr. Shuhei Sakimura proposed an art festival “Art Season.” In this project, he plans to add bright colors to the town, which has lost its color after the disaster. He stated that using colorful designs, he hopes to enliven residents, entice tourists, and revive the town.

Mr. Takamasa Sakai, the 12th speaker from the Forestry Promotion Council, described his aspiration to revive apple orchards in Onagawa. He needs KIBOW funds to restore the damaged orchards, he said.

Finally, Mr. Toshikatsu Sato, the 13th speaker, explained his plan to build a botanical garden in Onagawa. By growing native plant species in Onagawa, he intends to promote tourism and protect, maintain and manage wild flora. Since the mountains in Onagawa provide habitats for many endangered plant species, he believes that the project will help preserve the biodiversity of the area. We sincerely hope to revive the town as it used to be.

The 13 speakers finished their presentations. Next, the mayor of Onagawa gave a speech. “I truly hope that you will continue to have visions and aspirations to revive Onagawa. If you continue to embrace them for the coming 10 years, I am sure that our hometown will be revived in 10 years. Although the town government is striving to reconstruct the town, residents should become the main players in community restoration. I am proud that we have residents who are so devoted to reviving their communities. I would like to use the words ‘building a good town’ rather than ‘reviving the town.’”

The town mayor is only 40 years old. After serving as a member of the Town’s Assembly for 12 years, he ran for the office last year. His words reflected his sincere attitude and enthusiasm. He is a great man, indeed.

Following his speech, we had three Q&A sessions. Finally, the participants voted for the best idea. While I was waiting for the announcement of the result, I looked out the window. The sky was clear blue.

Mr. Masanori Takahashi, President of the Onagawa Chamber of Commerce and Industry, commented, “The Town Government, the Town Assembly, and the private sector are collaborating to revive Onagawa. I believe that community revival projects should be led by young people.”

While the votes were being counted, we had a pleasant chat. In front of me is Town Mayor Suda. Diagonally in front is the Chairman of the Town Assembly. Next to him is the President of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry. They are good friends, representing the “trinity” of the Town Government, the Town Assembly, and the private sector.

The result has just been announced. Three people have won the same number of votes. So the order is to be decided by rock-paper-scissors. Although it took a long time since the three displayed the same shape several times, the order is now fixed. We will soon have an awards ceremony.

The Special Prize was won by Mr. Tomomi Sato, who proposed to revive the town with the power of music.

The Awards for Excellence were offered to two parties: Mr. Shigeo Goto, a teacher at Onagawa Daiichi Elementary School, who plans to produce a DVD program, and ceramic studio Port Town Ceramica, which plans to decorate the town with Spanish tiles.

The Best Idea Award was given to Mr. Suzuki, whose idea is to produce DVD programs featuring Onagawa Rias Soldier Eager. Upon receiving the award, he announced, “I will complete the program by the end of this year.”

The Hori Award was given to the Revival Festival plan and the Tatsumi Award was offered to the plan of constructing a botanical garden.

Finally, I offered a closing address. It was indeed a wonderful event. Mr. Komatsu and all the residents of Onagawa, thank you very much for the wonderful event, and for giving me such an exceptional opportunity.

Before leaving the venue, all presenters gathered around Mr. Suda, the 40-year-old town mayor, and this photograph was taken. Don’t we all look happy?

There are more KIBOW projects to be held: KIBOW Iwaki on Friday, April 12, KIBOW Charity Dinner on June 10, and KIBOW Triathlon @ Sakata on June 23. I will continue to work hard. I left Onagawa for the next destination, deeply impressed by the KIBOW Onagawa.

February 24, 2013
At home in Ichibancho, Tokyo
Yoshito Hori

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