The Japan-America Society of Hawaii (JASH) sent six students ranging in age from 12 – 22, along with chaperon Daniel Hwang, tothe Tohokuregion of Japan as part of the 2015 TOMODACHI – Aloha Leadership Program (TALP) from July 7 – 15, 2015. The purpose of the trip was to reconnect with participants of the Rainbow For Japan Kids Program (RFJK). The funding for this program came from a generous grant given by the TOMODACHI Initiative and another private donor. This was the third year in a row that Hawaii students have been able to travel to Tohoku to visit and reconnect with the friends made here in Hawaii who have participated in the RFJK program, which allows Japanese students affected by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami to travel to Hawaii for mental and physical recuperation in addition to learning about Hawaii’s culture.
This year’s TALP delegates had a jam-packed itineraryin Tohoku. In just one week, they visited Sendai, Matsushima, Ishinomaki peninsula and parts of Fukushima prefecture. The first day was spent in Sendai where a dinner was held and representatives from the TOMODACHI Initiative were able to attend. Following that, the group spent four days traveling around the Ishinomaki peninsula – where delegate Shayna Kim commented that, “there was no one to see for miles,” as they drove down to Oshika village. The TALP delegation was one of the first foreign groups to visit the village since the tsunami hit four years ago. The delegates visited Oshika Middle School and were humbled to see how the community has come together in the aftermath of the disaster. The people of the area have created a dance called the “sanma de samba” to lift the spirits of the people. The TALP delegates were given a special presentation of the dance, and even learned the basic steps. As one of the delegates, Sarah Tamashiro said, “I’ve never seen a community come together like that before. It was amazing to see how much the people have anchored themselves and are moving forward.”
While in Ishinomaki, the delegates also visited a small fishing village in Onagawa where they met fisherman and learned about their way of life; Asahigaoka temporary housing where they shared the “Aloha Spirit” with the residents by performing a hula, Ulupalakua. Following that, they departed to Minamisanriku where they helped the Sea Monkeys group clean Tsunagari beach of debris still left over from the tsunami.
The group next headed towards Fukushima prefecture. They first visited Shinchi town, where they were given a chance to talk story with some of the elderly residents living in the temporary housing facility and teach them the steps to Ulupalakua. Following that, they ventured further south to Iwaki city, where they met many of the 9th RFJK students that will be coming to Hawaii later this July.
Their final days in Japan were spent in Matsushimaand Sendai city where RFJK members from around the region gathered together for a final reunion party for the TALP delegation the night before they departed back to Honolulu.
No matter where they visited in Japan, the TALP delegates were greeted with open arms, warm smiles and positive attitudes by everyone they met. The chance to reconnect with the RFJK participants, see the areas where they are from, and learn and understand more about what they have gone through in the past four years has impacted the delegates from Hawaii in ways that they may not even yet understand. Delegates were not only touched, but also inspired by the strength these Japanese kids have shown in the face of life-changing adversities and expressed their need to appreciate and cherish the family, friends, and homes they usually take for granted.
JASH would like to thank the TOMODACHI Initiative and our other private donor for funding this once in a lifetime opportunity. JASH would also like to send a special Mahalo to Tsuyoshi Tsurumi, Atsushi Takebayashi and Hide Takahashi for taking the extra time to spend with the delegates before and during their trip to make the experience so much more enriching for all involved.