Years after the Disaster, Kizuna 7 Commemoration
Celebrates Women in Recovery Effort
During the 7th annual event in Chicago to commemorate
the devastation of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, women
in the disaster-hit area were the focus of attention.
According to Japan’s National Police Agency, as of March 9, a total of 15,895 deaths have been confirmed across the Tohoku region, primarily in the prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima, while 2,539 people are missing and approximately 73,000 residents are still living away from home.
During his opening remarks, Consul General of Japan
in Chicago Naoki Ito affirmed the continuing commitment of the people
in Chicago to the recovery of the Tohoku region.
According to Ito, the evacuation zone surrounding the failed Fukushima nuclear plant has been reduced to 2.7% of the entire area of the Fukushima prefecture, and Thailand resumed importing seafood from Fukushima in late February, the first of such shipments from Fukushima since the disaster. (The U.S. is still restricting food imports such as rice, seafood and beef from Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate.)
Ito stressed that the area has been making a steady
progress in recovery, which is not simply a “return to its original state”
but “rebuilding toward a new Tohoku.” Fukushima is working on a Fukushima
Innovation project supported by the national and local governments, which
aims to develop innovative technologies on the coastal areas. One of the
plans is to build a world’s largest hydrogen plant in Namiecho, a town
that houses the nuclear plant.
Operation Tomodachi, the U.S. armed forces assistance
operation, was initiated right after the disaster in collaboration with
Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (“SDF”) to provide humanitarian relief. In
February 2018, a plaque commemorating this cooperative effort was installed
in the memorial park near the Sendai International Airport, the area which
became unhabitable due to the tsunami.
Women’s Perspective: A Panel Discussion
Patty Breun, Joanne Tohei, Shoko Takahashi and her daughter Iris Bloede shared their personal experiences and how the earthquake and tsunami impacted them.
In March 2011, Breun was teaching 6th graders English
at a primary school in Kesennuma, Miyagi.
When the earthquake hit, Breun was in the teacher’s lounge. Anticipating a tsunami, the school principal led all the students to the school ground with a bullhorn. It saved a lot of lives, Breun recalled.
After spending the night on the school ground, the children
were picked up by their family members one by one the following morning.
A friend of hers drove Breun home, and she saw for the first time what
had happened on the satellite TV screen in the car. While her sons were
unharmed, many of their friends lost their family members.
Chicago resident Joan Tohei had her son, Aki, in Fukushima,
teaching at a local high school.
Aki grew up in Fukushima and knows how warm and kind
its people are. He just couldn’t “abandon the people in Fukushima.”
Shoko Takahashi, who lives in Wisconsin, was born in
Yamadamachi, Iwate. She lost her parents due to the tsunami.
Looking back after seven years, Takahashi said she had received a lot of support from many people and developed a “deep hope” that people around the world have natural kindness to help each other.
“I think women have a powerful voice as a group in understanding and sharing a feeling of grief, as well as consoling others,” Takahashi said. “I am aware that I and other women have a special ability to empathize with and support others.”
Photo Exhibition by Alan Labb
Alan Labb is Associate Professor of Photography, School of the Art Institute of Chicago and was involved in the Kizuna 6 photo exhibition last year. That experience pushed him to visit the “ground zero” of the disaster to photograph the people there. This year, his photographic records of Tohoku are on display for the public.
Last summer, Labb visited Japan to lecture at the Tokyo
National University of Fine Arts and Music. Wanting to understand the
area and its people better, he moved on to Tohoku after that, a few months
earlier than the schedule. His Japanese wife helped him as a guide and
Keiko was living in Sendai, Miyagi before the disaster. The tragedy prompted her to move back to her hometown of Kamaishi, and that changed the course of her life unexpectedly.
Labb feels that behind strong women, there are good
men who support them.
In the meantime, non-locals became active participants
very quickly after the 3-11.
A 500-year-old shrine had been washed away by the tsunami. The restoration was not on the government’s agenda, but after its artifacts were recovered, the shrine was rebuilt. Today, people come to worship there, even those living in the temporary housing 50 miles away.
In Sendai, a women’s group set up a nonprofit organization, which displays as many as 250,000 pictures and images online that had been recovered after the disaster. The group hosts an annual event to return them to the rightful owners. So far, 150,000 pictures have been restored and returned to the owners and/or their families.
Labb’s photos were exhibited at the Thompson Center in downtown Chicago from March 12 to 16. They will then travel to Chicago’s Harold Washington Library from May 5 to 26.
The Kizuna commemoration events were initiated by Chicago’s journalist and musician Yoko Noge in 2012, whose urge to do something to help after the disaster brought the first Kizuna commemoration to the Thompson Center in Chicago. Kimiyo Naka currently chairs Kizuna Chicago.
This year’s events are co-organized by the Osaka Committee
of Chicago Sister Cities International, Japan America Society of Chicago,
Consulate General of Japan in Chicago, Japanese Chamber of Commerce &
Industry of Chicago and Japan External Trade Organization Chicago Office.
Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel are the
honorary co-chairs of Kizuna 7.
Kizuna 7 photo exhibit focuses women in recovery effort after the great earthquake and tsunami in the hohoku aria.
Consul General Naoki Ito
From left: M.C. Laura Washington, Patty Breun, Joanne Tohei, Shoko Takahashi and Iris Bloede
Shoko Takahashi (R) and her daughter Iris pose for a photo with Yoko Noge (R2) and Washington in front of Takahashi's hometown photos.
The members of Project Love All led by teacher Makoto Imai (L)
Alan Labb is Associate Professor of Photography, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Keiko in Kamaishi, Iwate, who runs a small inn with another woman, Mitsuko.
A 500-year-old shrine was rebuilt after its artifacts were recovered.