(I produced this column based on tweets I had made in the course of my trip to Hachinohe.)
I reached Sendai on the last Shinkansen bullet train that left Tokyo on the previous day. I left Sendai for Morioka on the first train this morning. My plan was to rent a car in Morioka, drive the car to Miyako, and travel on to Hachinohe by way of Kuji and other communities. With this trip, I would complete my visits to all tsunami-devastated cities, towns, and villages located on the Pacific coast section of the Tohoku region, which stretches from Iwaki in the south to Hachinohe in the north (with the exceptions of the towns of Okuma and Futaba, that are within 20km of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant).
The car traveled a green gorge, bathing in the gentle sunlight of Iwate. The surface of a river next to the road glistened in the sunlight. White clouds were in the blue sky as I looked up. I opened a car window and experienced nature’s cooling effects.
My field of vision expanded and the river widened. The car reached a flat area. It was the town of Miyako. I could tell by the increased number of houses along the road. One month earlier, I had traveled south from here and visited the towns of Yamada, Otsuchi, Kamaishi, and Ofunato. This time I planned to drive north from Miyako. My plan was to reach Hachinohe by way of the district of Taro, Miyako, Iwaizumi, Tanohata, Fudai, Noda, and Kuji.
I stood motionless on the beach in Taro. The scattered remains of dikes could be seen in the ocean and on the ground. All buildings in the area had been leveled. The middle section of an inland dike close to 5 meters high had collapsed. On the beach, I heard the sounds of power shovels and cranes, along with the sound produced by removing rubble, together with the songs of seagulls.
The coastal section of Fudai Village was beautiful. Emerald water washed sand on the beach, making white splashes. For the first time, I found evidence that a dike had blocked the tsunami here. Everything outside the dike was leveled, including trees. But inside the dike, the houses were still standing. The trees were also undamaged.
I received information from my twitter follower, too. “The floodgate at Fudai River was 15.5 meters high. The tide embankment for the river was the same height. That’s why they could block the tsunami, which reached a height of 14 meters. This is what a professor from my university years reported to me after making an onsite inspection.” The information was convincing. Certainly, it was the first dike I saw that had proven its usefulness against Tsunami. In the meantime, the village of Noda, located north of Fudai, suffered a fatal blow because it had no dike.
The Kosode coast in the Rikuchu area was picturesque. It was a work of natural art formed by rocks. I indulged myself with this idea while having my lunch at a handmade soba noodle restaurant in Kuji City. According to a pretty female waitress here, the damage to Kuji was minor. At the restaurant, I again heard about the massive damage the tsunami had caused to Noda. Then it was time for me to leave for Hachinohe.
I drive the car to the Tanesashi coast after a piece of advice received via Twitter, which said, “If you have time, please visit the Tanesashi coast, which is even more beautiful.” I found a natural lawn and green pine trees. They too were a natural work of art formed by rocks and a sandy beach. The ocean was blue and the clouds white. The Tanesashi coast was a fitting birthplace for Japanese-style painter Kaii Higashiyama’s masterpiece, “Road.” It must be one of the most beautiful coasts in Japan.
I reached Hachinohe. After confirming the damage to the coast, I checked in at a hotel. An actor, Takuro Tatsumi and a politician, Hiroshige Seko seemed to have arrived as well. After a rest, I left the hotel for the venue of the KIBOW Hachinohe Meeting. The mayor of Hachinohe was scheduled to attend. I looked forward to meeting many new people and having meaningful discussions with them. The temperature in Hachinohe would rise considerably with our heated activities that evening.
The KIBOW Hachinohe Meeting got underway. Following my opening address, Mayor Makoto Kobayashi of Hachinohe greeted the participants. Then, Shinya Sotowa, a GLOBIS MBA student from Hachinohe City, explained the goals and aims of this KIBOW Meeting. Next, Director Masaki Otani of Research Institute Hachinohe University and Hachinohe Junior College proposed a toast to the people in attendance.
“I would like this KIBOW Hachinohe Meeting to become a place where people who have left Hachinohe for Tokyo and current Hachinohe residents meet and learn from each other,” remarked Otani. Following this message, participants raised their glasses in a toast.
This KIBOW Hachinohe Meeting consisted of two group discussions and a plenary session. The first group discussion was mainly devoted to introducing ourselves and talking about what we have done since the earthquake. The participants had come to Hachinohe for this meeting from nearby communities, such as Morioka City, Kuji City, and Hirono Town in Iwate Prefecture, and Hirosaki City, Hashikami Town, Oirase Town, Towada City, Misawa City, and Hachinohe City in Aomori Prefecture, in addition to remote places like Nagoya and Tokyo.
They shared several opinions at the plenary session. “We would like to transform Hachinohe into a center of reconstruction support from the north side,” proposed a school teacher. “Sendai and Hachinohe are blessed with fine access among the cities where the bullet trains stop. Hachinohe must be able to do more. I’d like people here to work harder.”
The second group discussion began after speeches made by special guests Shoji Honjo and Takuro Tatsumi. The following question was asked for the discussion. “What do you want to do from this point on?” Key words, such as “tourism,” “employment” and “education,” came out of this second discussion in groups. The plenary session began. I felt the passion and enthusiasm of everyone in attendance.
“I feel we can do more when I see a disaster area in a terrible state on TV,” offered a mother holding a baby in her arms. “But, putting it bluntly, at the same time, we feel we may not be able to do anything. We aren’t entertainers or celebrities. Personally, I’d like to do what I can do on a day-to-day basis properly.” (Note by Hori: In my opinion, these are in fact the most important things.)
“I cried my eyes out when I listened to the Emperor’s speech. At that point, I decided to ‘do the things I could do’ and began doing them one by one,” shared Seko. “What an opposition politician can do is limited. The limitations frustrate me. But now I’m feeling the effects of the actions I began to take.” Seko closed his contribution with the following words. “Let’s do what we can by all means.” His brilliant, soul-stirring speech lifted the spirits of the participants tremendously.
The KIBOW Hachinohe Meeting ended with my closing speech. Let me take this opportunity to thank the participants who joined me at the follow-up party which took place at a nearby Japanese-style pub. Cramming into a Japanese-style room, 40 to 50 participants enjoyed a lively discussion at the pub. With a big bottle in his hands, Takuro Tatsumi visited one table after another to recommend the locally brewed sake. I struck up a casual conversation with the person sitting next to me. As it turned out, this person was Hachinohe Mayor Kobayashi. We ended up having a long talk at the party.
I decided to attend another party at the insistence of the mayor, who was getting into full swing. Mayor Kobayashi guided us to an alleyway in Hachinohe filled with restaurants and bars called Miroku Yokocho. At this second gathering, I spoke with people like Mayor Kobayashi, Takuro Tatsumi, Hiroshige Seko, and Shoji Honjo over local sake. Miroku Yokocho was a lot of fun. Street stands lined both sides of the narrow bystreet, as if the place were a theme park of food stalls. The alleyway design enabled diners and drinkers to speak with the people who passed by their stalls.
Many Hachinohe citizens stopped at the sight of the mayor sitting next to the famous actor, Tatsumi. Autographs and photo sessions began. The citizens talked to the prominent politician, Seko, too. They all enjoyed conversing with us. I began naturally to drink at a faster pace. The evening continued to be enjoyable.
Feeling a little uncomfortable in my stomach, I left my hotel for the Misawa Airport the next morning. I inspected the conditions along the coast on the way. As I had expected, the tsunami seemed to have affected this area as well. I flew from Misawa to Haneda. The atmosphere at Misawa Airport was a little different from that of other Japanese airports for domestic flights. Many foreigners used it to visit a U.S. air base in the area. The weather was fine. It was going to be a hot day, I thought.
With this trip, I completed my visits to all major cities in five tsunami- and quake-devastated prefectures. This project took me to Mito, Iwaki, Sendai, Morioka, and Hachinohe. With Mito in March as the start, I visited one city each month with the KIBOW Meeting, which moved north step by step. With this Meeting in Hachinohe in July, the KIBOW Project achieved its initial objective of covering all major cities in the stricken prefectures.
Through this project, I believe we proved that the supply of goods, volunteer work, and donations are not the only ways to support the disaster areas. I think the most important thing is to have hope, share a strong awareness and spirit with others, and stay involved in the areas. Leadership training is one of the greatest contributions we can make in that respect. As part of the KIBOW Project, GLOBIS has been offering training to future leaders in Mito, Iwaki, Sendai (provided on two occasions), and Morioka free of charge under the title of “KIBOW Leadership Training.”
I believe complete involvement is a good way to assist in the reconstruction of the devastated areas. I think those of us in the private sector can support those areas the best by visiting places, talking with local people, making appropriate investments, and generously supplying manpower, funds, knowledge, and technology.
I will be delighted if our activities through the KIBOW Project have contributed to the restoration of the stricken areas in some way. For now, I’d like to conclude this project for traveling northward and visiting the disaster areas with the KIBOW Meeting one by one, thanking all who have been involved.
We will hold the next KIBOW Meeting in the city of Fukushima. We arranged this event in a hurry, to meet people in Fukushima prefecture who are suffering from the radiation leak and from fear. I’m hoping to discuss the future of Fukushima prefecture with many local residents at this meeting.
July 25, 2011
At my office in Nibancho