lifestyle

Tohoku needs visitors

23 Comments
By Amya L Miller

Three years after the disaster struck cities and towns on the northeastern coast of Japan, many still living with the trauma of March 11, 2011 understand they have been forgotten. Understanding is one thing. Liking and accepting this fact is another matter entirely.

Whoever coined the phrase “time heals all wounds” was not referring to collective grief. We are all asking a lot of those scattered throughout five prefectures, those who lost homes, jobs, spouses, children, neighbors, relatives, friends, and colleagues if we think time is meant to make everything better. Perhaps five, 10, or 20 years from now, the several hundred thousand still in pain will be fine. When there is this much heartache, when streets and alleys are heavy with memories there’s no magical pill offering comfort, much less mending. At least, to date, no one has come forward offering such a cure.

Speeding up the process of healing, however, is entirely possible and this is worth examining. If the way to feel relevant is to stay relevant, how can we make this so? Let’s break this down. We know we matter to another when they take time for us. Relevancy is defined by giving attention. The most tangible way to offer attention is to give it in person. In order to extend this gift to those want to remain relevant and remembered, you need to sit, face-to-face with the one in need. This requires a trip.

Tohoku needs visitors. New faces stick out. Foreigners especially don’t blend. With each guest who visits residents see someone who took the time, spent the money, and made the effort. It’s this simple. Your presence matters. Your trip conveys intent, and this is a powerful push forward for the grieving.

The truth is uncomplicated. You came because you care. You dropped money at local eateries, hotels and souvenir stores, you sat next to grandpas in the izakayas and listened to their stories—this is how healing begins. This is why your trip to Tohoku matters.

The question, “What can we do for Tohoku?” can be answered in two words: visit us. The time, energy, and money you spend to make your presence known is a gift that will forever be remembered.

Not everyone can make the trip. Most throughout the disaster region realize the difficulty involved in asking for your company. For those who cannot, I offer you the opportunity to assist through a simple click of the mouse.

The Japanese word for debris, in our case tsunami debris, is “gareki.” An ingenious volunteer from Sapporo stared at the mountains of “gareki” in Rikuzentakata and hatched a plan. With the city’s permission and blessing, he began combing through the giant mounds of bedding, broken furniture, and clothing looking for plastic.

Plastic? Yes. What he gathered were pieces of toys, storefront signs, household items, and kitchen utensils. These were power-washed and randomly tested at a laboratory for radiation. Tests completed and passed, he created a project whereby these bits of plastic were turned into key chains. More specifically, “gare”-key holders. Three small pieces are layered and attached to a key chain by people in town with mental disabilities who otherwise would not have full-time work. Each key chain is unique: no two are alike. Purchasing these items directly supports those who make them. The hourly rate paid to those who make the key chains is 800 yen per hour. In the disaster region, this is not at all a bad way to earn a living.

By using materials that would otherwise go into a landfill, this project promotes environmentally responsible stewardship. By creating jobs, this project fuels our local economy. By using our hands to make these key chains, we promote mental healing, a balm necessary for those in pain. By making these key chains a new community is built. By buying these items you allow this project to continue. Each key chain costs 600 yen — the same as a glass of wine — entirely reasonable.

Whether you choose to travel or buy a work of tsunami art, there are ways you can help. For those who desperately do not want to be forgotten, please consider one or both as you plan your next vacation. A visit to Tohoku will change your life. The purchase of a “gare”-key chain will change the lives of artisans. This is my definition of a true win-win.

Amya L Miller is the Global Public Relations Director, City of Rikuzentakata.

© Japan Today

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23 Comments
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'Tohoku needs visitors. New faces stick out. Foreigners especially don’t blend...Your presence matters...The truth is uncomplicated. You came because you care. ..Whether you choose to travel or buy a work of tsunami art, there are ways you can help...please consider one or both as you plan your next vacation. A visit to Tohoku will change your life. The purchase of a “gare”-key chain will change the lives of artisans. This is my definition of a true win-win.' So says Amya L Miller, Global Public Relations Director, City of Rikuzentakata.

I say to Amya: Send me a list of accommodations and you're on my list when I return in April. Or am I supposed to do my own research on people who might like a Canadian in love with Japan who wouldn't mind putting him up for a good fee while he volunteers some help in the community?

Been there, done that, hugged a destitute woman who lost her entire village at Nobiru Beach, last year. Made me cry when I wrote the story for Canadian magazine that will publish it this March, still makes me cry when I remember it and know I have to go back.

But, as I always say before I leave Japan, 'mata kimas'!

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Lots of hardship in the world. Unfortunately, most people are too broke to do anything about it.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

As soon as the Shinkansen got operating again, I made a trip to Morioka -- As I walked around town shop keepers a number of shopkeepers and people said "arigato" to me and smiled more than they usually do. They told me they were so happy to see visitors - they said the best thing to do is come and buy things so I did -- as the article said. The smiles I received during the visit is great therapy. Since then I've gone a number of times since they have great onsens and skiiing. Tohoku is a great place to visit

6 ( +6 / -0 )

I've talked about this to foreigners residing in Japan, and Japanese people. Most of them still worry that the government may be covering up (or just not mentioning) potential risks.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Off to Sendai in the upcoming months so I might make a detour to some of these places. People talk about the radiation and that they would rather not go. However we shouldn't forget the people who live in these areas and they should know that they aren't forgotten. Japan has to stand as one without leaving anyone behind.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

After the disaster, I have been to all the six prefectures of Tohoku, visiting Fukushima and Miyagi more frequently than the other three. I stopped worrying about contamination "along the way"

However, the first couple of times I thought about all the people who live there, especially in the city of Fukushima (because Yamagata, Aomori, Akita, and Iwate are not contaminated) and decided for myself that several days a year spent there will not have any different effect on my health as compared to the effect of my life in Tokyo. I buy fruits and vegetables from Fukushima, Iwate and Aomori whenever I get a chance to do so. I do not remember to have seen agricultural produce from Miyagi or Akita sold in My local supermarkets though.

And... Fukushima prefecture is very large so the bigger part of it is safe to visit, too.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Give me a job and I'll come to live there, spending alla my salary.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

I was there (Iwaki to Minami-soma) a view weeks after 11-3-11 (April and October) and wrote (in german): "11-3-11 Japan am Abgrund oder GA 2.0". I hope to come again in Autum this year.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Whoever coined the phrase “time heals all wounds” was not referring to collective grief.

It doesn't work for collective grief nor for individual grief. Loss is something you carry around with you for the rest of your life!

I want to visit Tohoku someday but haven't planned it yet. I want to go there in a cold season, stepping into the water in a freezing storm to feel how the victims must have felt when drowned, just like Mamoru Samuragochi did to get permission from the spirits for his composition.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Anyone know a link to where I can obtain the key chains from?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

It would have been really nice if, the writer had taken a moment to include the LINK that would allow us to "assist with just a click of the mouse".

4 ( +4 / -0 )

It would have been really nice if, the writer had taken a moment to include the LINK that would allow us to "assist with just a click of the mouse".

Amya L Miller is the Global Public Relations Director, City of Rikuzentakata.

Well, you know where to find her (him?). Let the writer know.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The possible way to revive this region is organizing more national and international conferences, meetings and other events here at Tohoku regions. I feel for Tohoku, but can Ishinomaki be revived again like Kobe? Hope for the best

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The key chains can be purchased via this link: http://www.11shokunin.com/keyholder/. There's an English web site coming soon.

Here's a link to one of the hotels in the city: http://www.capitalhotel1000.jp/.

Thanks to all who have visited. Thanks to those who will (continue to) visit.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I like traveling in Tohoku. Sendai is a wonderful city and the onsen and ski towns in the area are great, too. Watching those beautiful mountains go by from your Shinkansen seat is a transcendent experience.

I've never been to any of the smaller towns in the disaster-affected region, though. And those are the places that really need tourists. I will absolutely make a point of doing that in the future.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Those keyrings are a very good idea! If you want one here is the site: http://gare-keychain.com They probably just forgot to mention the link in the article.

I can't help feeling that the people of Tohoku are going to get more and more forgotten about the closer we get to 2020. Japan will want the world to focus on Tokyo and the games and the world image Japan wants to project. The inconvenient fact of people living in temporary accommodation etc. will not look good for Japan's image so it will get played down and forgotten about. And how about some compensation for those who are entitle to it? It won't heal the wounds but it sure is rubbing salt in them when companies like TEPCO keep stalling.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

What about a map of the areas of elevated radioactivity? I guess we should all assume that if people are still there and the shops are open, it is safe?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Yes maps are available and very informative. I hope it convinces you that Tohoku is not dangerous than other areas. http://blog.safecast.org/maps/

0 ( +0 / -0 )

KariHaruka. You are my hero

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I love Tohoku and I hope to go back again soon

1 ( +1 / -0 )

You don't always need money to give kindness... And I really have the deepest respect for Japanese culture, I have said it before. I think I will go to this place in the year and it would be an honor to give something to those people who lost so much.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Have been meaning to go to Matsushima for some time now.

It's one of the three "must-go-to" scenic spots in Japan (Nihon Sankei), along with Amanohashidate and Ikutsushima shrine.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

What about a map of the areas of elevated radioactivity? I guess we should all assume that if people are still there and the shops are open, it is safe?

Ranger_Miffy2: we have created an online radiation map right after the events of March 11, 2011 with up-to-date radiation measurements that can be accessed here: http://jciv.iidj.net/map/ The map shows that radiation levels in most parts of Tohoku and the Fukushima area are normal (green dots) or only slightly elevated (yellow dots).

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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