Hope for Minami San Rikucho
Dear Family and Friends,
Recently I wrote about Minami San Rikucho and its “Angel Voices”. Those generous souls are now an integral part of that community’s deepest psyche. The trip that taught me about those selfless members of the community was sponsored by the Miyagi University of Education. So it was basically a study tour. We learned a lot about the tsunami and the ongoing problems the town is having as it struggles to find and rebuild itself.
The second time I went this summer was on a personal trip with friends. So the places we visited were very different. And of course, the impression of the town was not at all the same either. First of all, we had four kids under age ten with us, so the emphasis was on entertaining the youngsters as well as seeing what we could.
The first place we came to was a small festival. It was mainly with food, either to eat there or to take home. The soups were great, the seaweed and sea cucumber abundant. There was a wall with words of encouragement written by people who had visited the area.
A nearby community hall had a musician who sang, accompanied by mascots from all over Japan. They came out one after another to bow and dance to the eager audience. It was a sweet gesture to give people a sense of fun and of being cared about.
Our next stop was the Sun Sun Shopping Plaza. It was a temporary establishment with makeshift shops run by people who lost everything in the 03/11 disaster. That place will be in its present location for five years. Despite its vulnerability, that spot was selected because land was available. Minami San Rikucho is wedged on a very narrow strip of land between the sea and the mountains. There is very little space for building. No one wants to be near the sea now, so any land there is readily available. So now Sun Sun Shopping Plaza is very near the ocean, but the next site will be further inland and higher up. Now work is being done to build up the land so that structures will, hopefully, be less susceptible to the next monstrous surprises from the sea.
It was very touching seeing so many people coming to Sun Sun Plaza. The restaurants were full and the shops had lots of customers. Everyone wanted to support the locals, so they loaded up on gifts to take back home to family and friends. Again, the main fare was seaweed or fish. But there was also octopus since Minami San Rikucho’s mascot is a bright red manga version of that wonderful creature.
The other side of the parking lot from Sun Sun Plaza looked more serious, so while my friends got soft ice cream for their kids, I wandered over for a look. One building housed a photo show of before and after shots of March 11, 2011. The other was called Amway House. It was an attractive wooden building that had a very hopeful sign outside. Part of what it said was:
Remember: “The events of the day can never be forgotten.”
Hope: “Developing Hope” is one of the fundamentals of Amway.
These two ideas are embodied in Amway Japan social contribution activities with two key initiatives of building Community Houses and supporting community recovery projects in the region devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake.
Amway’s effort is very beautiful and deeply appreciated, of course. But what for me was one of the most delightful surprises were “paper” cuts that have become a hallmark of Minami San Rikucho. They are not really paper at all, although they look like it. Rather they are delicate designs and messages cut out of wooden boards.
Because the disaster was so awful and because so many people suffered terribly from the tsunami, many kind folks wanted to help them. One such was a group called Envisi. Actually, they had been active in Miyagi since before the earthquake and had even done work in Minami San Rikucho. In their own words:
In 2010, we organized a project of making “Kiriko” (local tradition of paper cutting craft with white paper) in collaboration with people of Minamisanriku. It was a community art project in which, together with local women, we created works of art that represented “living” of people in local stores and seafood industry in the form of beautiful cut paper.
On March 11th, 2011, a devastating tsunami hit the town and everything was lost – things which had been handed down from generation to generation, sweet homes, loved ones…
Hand-in-hand with the people of Minamisanriku who are going through extreme hardships, we will keep on working for the town to help them keep “the sense of happiness of having lived in the town and of keep on living there”.
The magical thing that Envisi did was to install those “Kiriko” boards in the places where shops had once stood.
There is so much beauty going on, even when things feel daunting in their enormity. But for the Japanese, twenty, thirty, or more years of reconstruction are part of the reality of life. And we know that the efforts we make today will benefit those who are here tomorrow. Headway is slow, but determination is strong. Without that, how can we ever expect to survive?