Last month, 24 grades 10-12 students from the Asia Pacific Studies program at Kelvin High School were invited to take part in Kizuna (Bonds of Friendship). The initiative, which is administered by the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, the National Federation of UNESCO Associations in Japan, and the Japan International Cooperation Center, provided for a fully funded two-week study tour of Japan.
The program's purpose is to help promote better understanding about Japan's recovery almost two years after the devastating March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
While there, the students travelled in the Ibaraki prefecture, northeast of Tokyo along the Pacific Coast, to see areas that were in the disaster zone. A few of the students did some shoreline cleanup. The students also met Japanese high school students and stayed with host families for a few days.
Kelvin was one of only four schools in Canada invited to attend and was selected because it has the province's only Asia Pacific studies program, which includes Japanese-language classes.
The following is a sampling of some of the students' experiences:
After school hours were over (At Hokota Second High School), we were allowed to attend one school club of our choice; I chose the cooking club. As well as teaching me a few simple (and delicious) Japanese recipes, I was shown how to make 'emergency food.' This included rice balls and miso soup cooked in a bag, and cupcakes in a paper cup. It was explained to me that after the earthquake hit, most dishes were broken, so the refugee workers had to find new ways to cook and serve food. Then I was shown how they made bowls out of origami newspapers. I was really struck by the ingenuity of Hokota citizens and how quickly they responded to their drastically changed living conditions. I found it inspiring the way everyone in the community did what they could to help others in a time of crisis, whether that was aiding in fundraising for reconstruction or providing food and shelter for those who were scared or had lost their homes.
-- Olivia Tefft
One of the most striking moments from the trip to Japan will be the speech given in Oarai by the aquarium manager. He was working when the tsunami hit. Instead of racing away to see what happened to his home and family, he did all he could to make sure the customers were safe. Once they were, did he leave for home? No, he made sure the animals in the aquarium would be secure. He and the rest of the employees didn't leave for days even as news of the disaster reached them, the wreckage readily apparent. I was highly impressed. In past disasters in North America, it's not uncommon for people to panic or all but riot. The devotion they showed is something we could all stand to learn from. It speaks a great deal about how Japanese society places value on duty to a much greater degree then the western world.
-- Nicholas Firth
My host family had thrown me a surprise dinner party at a restaurant on my final night with them. The entire family attended. There I met the uncle who, because of business, travels to America a lot. We were talking about the reason that I was in Japan and what I had learned about the earthquake and tsunami when he told me his story. At the time of the earthquake, he was stuck in traffic on a very busy bridge (in the Kanto region near Tokyo). It collapsed. He told me out of all of the people, he was the only survivor. He was emotional as he told me this; I have to admit I was shocked. He told me this story and talked about how lucky he was that he survived, which is when his six-year-old son came up to us and pulled me away to go play with the kids. It was difficult to get the story out because of the language barrier, but I'm glad he told me and that little Noritaka still has his loving father... Some people only hear about the devastation and we can't comprehend it until we see for ourselves and hear the survivors' stories.
-- Sarah Rollason-MacAulay
At the aquarium, listening to the stories the director had to share, made me realize how close I felt to them as human beings. Sure I never experienced a tsunami before, but being at the aquarium, sitting on the hillside, where the water level rose to on March 3, 2011, really put the situation into perspective and turned the Kizuna trip into a surreal experience. Hearing about the panic and looking out to the ocean brought some panic into myself. Just thinking about how it would feel to see the horizon rise and come in fast just put me into awe. Another aspect that really put a pain into my heart was seeing how many children were at the aquarium while I was there; knowing that on the day of the tsunami, the number of children could have been the same or even higher because of the decreasing statistic of visitors since March 2011. The strength the Japanese people have is truly amazing knowing where they were two years ago and where they are today.
-- Kaylene Bellerose
When we were in Hokota City, there were many things that caught me by surprise. The kindness of the people, how strong they are, and also how quickly they have recovered from the earthquake and tsunami devastation. When we got there, I realized that although they had rebuilt many parts of the city, others were still damaged. It was in the damaged parts of the city that you could really see how the disaster affected the people. One day, we had gone to see a bridge that had been damaged by the earthquake. A whole section in the middle was missing. We found out that one person died on the bridge during the earthquake. It was amazing to see the damaged bridge and right next to it was a bigger new one. It was very eye-opening to see parts of the city that were damaged, then others that looked like they hadn't been affected. I think we were all a little surprised by the damage we saw. Seeing it in person was very inspirational. I believe that we all came out of it with a new point of view and looking for ways to help.
-- Quinn Miller
One day, we went to a garbage dump in the city of Hokota. We saw the massive amount of debris that had been collected from the destruction of the earthquake. The most common form of debris created from the disaster was roof tiles. We saw an enormous pile of broken roof tiles in this very small dump. This goes to show the number of houses and buildings that were destroyed.
-- Marc Rochette
The farm wasn't actually damaged in the tsunami or earthquake. The farmer and his son have been affected by rumours about all the radiation tainting all their strawberries. No one is buying the produce except the local community. If they ship their strawberries to be sold in Japan, the berries are just sent back to the farm. We all ate the berries. They were so delicious and sweet, like no other strawberry I have ever had!
-- Maddy Pineau
I will always remember an elderly gentleman who encountered our group at a park near Hokota town, walking along with his groceries and his dog. We had just finished a tour during which we saw the incredible cleanup and reconstruction of a nearby retail and recreation complex. The man's dog was quite talented; he would jump up on his owner's back on command to shake a paw with our amazed group! I offered him a Canadian flag pin and recited the Japanese sentence our teacher, Teruka Sensei, had taught us to say, which roughly translates as "Sorry I have so little to offer." He held the pin in his cupped palms and said in apparent awe, "Oh, Canada!" Then suddenly he scurried to his groceries and pulled out a bag of a dozen oranges. He thrust the bag in my hand and gestured to our waiting busload of Kelvin students. I was dumbfounded. Was he seriously insisting I take a week's worth of oranges for him and his family in exchange for a pin? I declined, as politely as I could. He insisted, as forcefully as he could! I was incredulous; he was adamant. It seemed as though he was intent on showing us how proud and happy he was to meet foreigners come to witness all the progress that had been made since the earthquake.
-- Raymond Sokalski, Kelvin teacher and head of the Asia Pacific studies program