Kizuna 絆 (Bonds) Project
In the year of 2013, I have volunteered for the Kizuna Youth-Exchange Project alongside with 100 students from various tertiary institutions, we have represented Singapore for the Kizuna Project.
The project aims to promote global understanding and awareness about the misconceptions and harmful rumours associated about what the general populace thinks of Japan as well as the reconstruction and rebuilding efforts in Japan.
Initially I was rather flabbergasted about the sheer scale of the programme because everything is provided for — food; transport; accommodation; practically the basic essentials for living and that’s for ten of thousands of participants in different continents.
However after the trip I became enlightened about how serious and devastating harmful rumours or misconceptions have the ability to cause or already has caused Japan, and the consequences is very real.
Having said that, let’s begin on what has happened throughout the short stay we have had in Japan. I have to concur, participating in the Kizuna Project is really something worth reminiscing about, be it 10 years, 20 years from now, because this memorable experience will definitely not be relivable again. There will be no same group of people reliving the experience again.
Day 1: Arrival
As a group of people who are accustomed to the tropical weather in Singapore, adapting to the drastic change of weather in Japan was certainly not a easy task despite being dressed adequately because Winter is gradually approaching its end in the country.
Transit from Narita to Tokyo after the long flight.
However, we eventually adapted to the weather as we garnered more exposure to the weather over there.
After what seemed to be a long bus ride to the next destination, we checked in at Tokyo Grand Hotel for the night, sharing the room in pairs.
From thereon, we were promptly briefed about the Kizuna Project and several miscellaneous administrative issues.
Lavishly decorated bento boxes you can find in Japan.
After the briefing, we went to our respective rooms and had our very first meal in the country which came in the form of bento boxes.
Quiet, tranquil streets.
Breakfast for the day, served buffet style.
After our breakfast at the hotel, we had to move our luggage down to prepare for departure to our next destination: Daigo Town
However before our departure to the the town, we had another round of orientation and we were given an overview of the town we will be visiting as well as do and don’ts.
After lunch, we had a lecture on the Great East Japan Earthquake by Dr. Tatsuya Nogami from Meiji University. The talk comprised of the damage and recovery in Japan after the earthquake and how we have the ability to minimise losses by taking precautions beforehand.
On the way to Daigo Town.
Upon arriving to the town, we checked in to a Japanese styled hotel, which is called a ryokan, a typical ryokan comprises of tatami floors whereby footwear are strictly prohibited.
Notably, most ryokan you find in Japan have public hot springs called an onsen, segregated by gender that can rejuvenate your body after a long day.
After which you will be able to don on a complimentary yukata, provided by the ryokan itself, without incurring any additional cost.
Comfy, comfy beddings.
The beds however are different from the western counterpart, they are actually called futon and they are laid out at night, replacing the tables and chairs, and that they are stored away in the morning for the tatami to breathe.
My roommates for the duration of our stay in the ryokan.
As usual, everything was served buffet style in the hotel, so everyone had their dinner to their heart’s content. As a matter of fact, throughout the 9 days in Japan, that’s what most of our meals are comprised of.
After our breakfast, we have had an orientation about the town itself. A lecture about the damage caused by the earthquake as well as the reconstruction efforts done was conducted by the Head of Disaster Management Office.
I guess our health is of utmost importance to the facilitators so we were well taken care of, as such that we have to sanitise our hands wherever we go, be it on the bus, before our meals, you get the gist. We were also given surgical masks in the event that we require to utilise them.
Additionally, before having our meals our temperatures were taken, morning, afternoon and at night, thrice a day.
On our way to the Fukuroda Falls.
The staff mentioned that many people refrained from visiting the site despite the fact that the power plants are actually located 100km away from the prefecture. He also pointed out the fact that radiation levels in the prefecture is of the same as before the nuclear incident that has occurred during the 3-11 earthquake.
Notably, because they took precautions in the construction of the foundation, the foundation remained solid and had no significant damages despite the fact that the reported seismic intensity during the earthquake was 5 upper.
The harmful rumours were widespread and businesses in the surrounding areas suffered greatly consequently. Tourism rates dipped more than 50% due to the harmful rumours associated with the nuclear incident.
After visiting the Fukuroda Falls, we embarked to our next destination which is Oku-kuji Recreation Forest to make planters for the elementary kids which we were be visiting a few days after.
After dinner, we rehearsed for the performance we were be performing to the local people in the prefecture after the end of our stay here in Ibaraki.
Day 4: Setsuko’s Strawberry, Kami no Sato (Paper Village), Toshimaya Tsukihama no Yu.
After checking out of Omoide Romankan, we went to a strawberry farm that is situated at Hitachi Ota City.
Pictured: The owner of the farm, Setsuko explains how harmful rumours and misconceptions has rendering her unable to sell her strawberries despite the fact that these strawberries does not have any contact on the ground itself.
Although Setsuko’s strawberries are safe for consumption, the blueberry planation however, is another story. The authorities told Setsuko that there are still traces of radiation in the ground, therefore Setsuko had to abandon the planation as a result.
Many believed that our produce has radiation and it became unable to sell, our harvest only comes once or twice a year. It became hard to make a living. – Setsuko’s Strawberry Farm Owner
After lunch, we went to the Village of Paper (Kami no Sato) to make Washi Paper, where our art will be given to the local people in the prefecture.
On the way to our next ryokan, Tsukihama no Yu
For our remaining days in Ibaraki, we were hosted at Tsukihama no Yu, another ryokan with hot spring. The manager of the ryokan told us that the ryokan suffered devastating damages during the 3-11 Earthquake and Tsunami as such that the basement of the ryokan was greatly damaged.
He also told us a heart wrenching story about how the ryokan staffs persisted in the reconstruction efforts despite the grave damage that the ryokan has sustained. He mentioned that prior the impending tsunami, he asked all of his staffs to evacuate and that he and the boss stayed in the ryokan, unsure what is the next course of action but eventually were persuaded to evacuate by the firemen of Ibaraki.
His mother then graced us with a traditional Japanese dance.
What I love about going to the countryside is the abundance of greenery, the rainforest here in Ibaraki stretches for quite a distance as compared to the urbanised Singapore where we have only remnants of rainforest.
Day 5: Higashi Elementary School, Head of Firefighter, Otsu Port.
Due to privacy concerns we were restricted from taking pictures of the elementary school as well as the students over there. Additionally, prior the trip we were briefed about how these children might be traumatised after 3-11 Earthquake and Tsunami and that we should refrain from asking sensitive questions altogether.
On the contrary, during our short visit to the elementary school, we partook in several activities alongside with a group of students that was assigned to us. I have to say that these kids are indeed strong minded, despite after such an event has occurred, their youthful smiles and actions are as real as it can be.
After lunch, we had a lecture about the 3-11 Earthquake by the Head of Firefighters, Mr. Sawada Kiyoshi. During the lecture he highlighted about the importance of perserverance in the times of crisis.
“We have to save ourselves before we are able to save others, it’s only after we survive, we can render a helping hand to those who are in need.”
The lecture covered what has happened after the 3-11 Earthquake and steps taken towards the recovery of the prefecture as well as rescue actions done by the community.
The Otsu Port were significantly affected by the Earthquake as a result, a section of the harbor actually sunk slightly and that the section will continue to sink progressively until it is submerged, rendering the section unsustainable.
Also, due to the misconceptions, they lost businesses and even customers that purchased their fishes regularly, refrained from purchasing their fishes due to radiation fears.
However, the truth is they have been conducting regular checks on their fishes in a lab that checks for harmful radiation levels in the fishes.
People seems to think that our fishes has radiation and refused to purchased from Otsu Port. Thus losing business and even the loyal customers were scared away. – Otsu Port Staff
Day 6: Silica Glass Workshop, Devising of Action Plan
For our sixth day in Japan, we went to the the Silica Glass Workshop to make frosted glass as a gift to the local community for their hospitality in Ibaraki.
The boss of the Silica Glass Workshop also mentioned that during the 3-11 Earthquake, many victims were evacuated to the workshop as it is located at the peak of the mountain, to escape from the impending tsunami.
After lunch, we went to Hitachi Civic Centre to devise an action plan for the local community in the Ibaraki prefecture. The action plan aims to provide an accurate situation on what the people in Ibaraki faces, and how do we go about resolving the issues they are having.
What our findings reported is that virtually all of the local community was affected by the harmful rumours as well as the misconceptions that harmed their tourism rates and consequently their businesses.
Day 7 was the final day we are staying in the Ibaraki prefecture. After devising the action plan, yesterday, we made some finishing touches to the presentation that is due today. The presentation will be presented towards the local community in regards on the ideas we propose to resolve the problems that plague them, as well as actions taken when we are back in Singapore.
Presentation and Farewell Ceremony Venue: Wedding Palace Bihou
After the presentation we had a dinner reception alongside with the local community that was involved in hosting us. Unfortunately because my camera failed on me, there are some pictures that I did not manage to take such as the traditional Japanese flute performed by the local people as well as the performance that we had performed for them.
Day 8 marks the end of our fruitful stay here in Ibaraki and we promptly departed back to Tokyo for the rest of the Kizuna programme.
Honjo Life Safety Centre is a centre that stimulate disasters and in the event of a disaster how do we recover from them or taking precautions as well as disaster know hows.
An earthquake of a magnitude 6.0 were stimulated in the platform.
After the visit to Honjo Life Safety Centre, we visited Tokyo Tower for our lunch. Unfortunately I did not have the time to visit the upper decks of the tower. However despite that, it was truly magnificent.
Day 9: Odaiba, Panasonic Centre, Farewell Ceremony, Departure.
Day 9 marks the end of the entire Kizuna programme, in the meantime we visited Odaiba commercial area, Odaiba is an artificial island near Tokyo bay area that was reclaimed and expended extensively in the 20th century.
Panasonic Learning Centre (Risupia), A hands-on museum about Mathematics and Science.
After which we visited the Panasonic Learning Centre to learn more about Science and Mathematics, however the things we learnt over there are more appropriate for younger kids to partake in.
Presentation of the action plan to JICE as well as the Singapore embassy based in Singapore.
The last activity we have had in Japan will be the presentation and farewell ceremony. the representatives of each respective group presented the action plans for JICE and related governments and for the Singapore embassy.
After the presentation of the action plan, we were presented certificate of participation for the Kizuna programme. Afterwards, we checked out of the hotel and promptly went to check in for our flight back to Singapore.
All in all I’d like to thank JICE, et al as well as my tertiary institute, Temasek Polytechnic and staffs; Ms. Elizabeth, Ms. Karen Phuah, Ms. Kathy, Mr Wilson, for giving me an opportunity to participate in the Kizuna Project otherwise all these wouldn’t be possible today.
Furthermore I’d like to thank Tokyo Grand Hotel, Omoide Romankan and Tsukihama no Yu, for their remarkable hospitality when hosting us throughout the 9 days we have stayed in Japan.
Also, I’d like to thank the people in Ibaraki who shared with us stories about their resilience and how they pulled through in the times of crisis as well as enlightening us about how harmful rumours and misconceptions have the ability to cause.
Additionally, I’d like to thank Nippon Express for planning out the wonderful itinerary that gave us an opportunity to interact with the local community and for the transportation and such.
Nevertheless I’d like to thank my facilitators, Tange-san and Yoko-san for being as courteous and enthusiastic to provide an helping hand whenever we require them albeit the cultural differences between us.
They also acted as an interpreter between the Japanese people and us so as to prevent any miscommunication that might have taken place due to the lack of proficiency in the Japanese language.
For everything, thank you.
..this trip has given me more than what I could possibly wish for.