Kids’ Festival & Frogs
August 25, 2011
Dear Family and Friends,
Higashi Matsushima is one Japanese town very badly hit by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. In fact, most of the area was completely devastated. And that included an army base with very expensive aircraft. But since then everyone has been working hard to pull themselves back together, both as individuals and as a community. It has not been easy and there are still years of work ahead, but little by little life is moving forward into a future of hope and stability.
Usually every summer late in August there are many festivals all over Japan. Some are large and famous. Others are small and local. The authorities in Higashi Matsushima wanted to cancel their small summer celebration this year, but the locals begged them to hold it despite the devastation everywhere. Luckily, those in charge complied, and a marvelous event ensued. In fact, one local told me it was the largest festival ever, drawing people from far away places as well as those who resided nearby.
Very touchingly the theme this year was “Gratitude”. Gratitude to be alive. Gratitude to be able to start again. Gratitude for all the help this region — including Higashi Matsushima — has been receiving. So, rather than being inwardly focused, this year’s festivities reached out to embrace the world. In fact, the staff’s T-shirts had either “Hope” written on them, or a fanciful drawing of people of all nationalities holding hands and circling the globe. The back had “Thank you” in seven different languages, one for each of the countries that sent volunteers to this region. And indeed, every heart present at the festival was brimming with gratitude and thanks for so much, despite the major losses everyone shared.
Adding to the international atmosphere (even though one other woman and I were the only foreigners there) was the deeply moving 500 Frog Project, established by a Californian, Debbie Buckler. (Please refer to http://500frogs.com/ for full details about this amazing, love-filled project.)
Frogs, “kaeru” in Japanese, are symbols of good luck in Japan. Their transformation from eggs to tadpoles to frogs is proof of life’s magnificent unfolding. The word “kaeru” means “frog”, of course, but it also means “to return home”. The written characters differ, but the pronunciation is the same. So, the marvelous handmade creatures made for the 500 Frogs Project carried hope on many levels: transformation and also the security of home.
This project was conceived of by Debbie, but the frogs themselves were painted by people from many different places. Some were children, others adults. Some were artists, others not. Each frog was a personal creation. Each had a different design with a personal message written on the bottom. Likewise, volunteers stitched bags of different material and colors for each “hopper”. Then messages explaining the project were included in these lovely little sacks along with the frogs.
One of Deb’s friends, Nanci, had read my blogs in odemagazine.com (now odewire.com) and contacted someone there to get in touch with me. Nanci hoped that I might find an appropriate place to distribute the precious creatures. I searched for weeks to find someone in the Tohoku area who might be interested in this project. Finally, by chance, a friend met a nurse, Mika Togashi, who was involved in an aid group in Higashi Matsushima. Mika was thrilled by the idea of the 500 Frogs Project. And later several of my friends here were, too, so they asked to join in their distribution. So with so many different people contributing, the entire process perfectly matched the globe-encircling arms symbolizing this festival’s theme.
And there we were, from Debbie, around the world, to us. And then the children. They came – and so did their parents or caregivers. Everyone became intrigued by the patterns and designs and colors – and the entire concept of the rainbow of frogs and their sacks. Kids would choose whichever one they wanted, and then stand proudly – or shyly – for a photo.
All afternoon there were smiles, waves, and warm wishes. And most of all Love, Love, Love from beginning to end of this marvelous venture. Hopefully for the recipients this will a lifelong reminder that people from all over the world really do care very deeply – about them, and about Japan in her time, yet again, of very great need.