Remembers Tohoku Disaster after 8 years
“Kizuna 8” Highlights
Local Artisans’ Paths to Recovery
• The 8th annual ceremony to commemorate the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake
and Tsunami was held at the Japan Information Center, Consul-General of
Japan in Chicago on March 10, highlighting artisans in the disaster-hit
region of Tohoku and their efforts to reclaim their lives.
• This year’s commemorative ceremony featured Noriyuki Kamiyama, a traditional
Japanese confectionary maker from the disaster-hit Fukushima Prefecture,
as a special guest speaker.
• Ongoing event is the photo exhibition, “Kizuna 8: Artisans of Tohoku
– Recreating Lives,” featuring photographs of 12 craft masters by Mayumi
Lake, Senior Lecturer of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Photography Department.
After closing on March 22 at the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago,
it will resume on March 25 and continue until April 5 at the Japanese
American Service Committee.
• “Kizuna” events are held in Chicago every year in March to keep fresh
the memory of the unprecedented disaster. The events are co-organized
by the Osaka Committee of Chicago Sister Cities International, Consulate-General
of Japan in Chicago, Japan America Society of Chicago, Japanese Chamber
of Commerce and Industry of Chicago, and Japan External Trade Organization
Chicago Office. The program is assisted by numerous volunteers and supporters.
• The ceremony opened with a storytelling by Anne Shimojima entitled
“The Wave.” Based on the 1854 tsunami that hit the shore of Wakayama Prefecture
in western Japan, the story followed an old man in one of the villages
that was assaulted by the tsunami.
• When the earthquake hit his village on one autumn day, the old man,
from his house on a hill overlooking the sea, saw the water drawing back
far away from the shore. It reminded him of a story his grandpa told him
long ago, a story about a tsunami and what he witnessed. The old man saw
many villagers on the beach, attracted to the curious sight of the exposed
seabed. He knew what was coming, but there was no time to go down and
warn the people on the beach. In a flash, he set a stack of harvested
rice on fire near his house. The black smoke alerted the village temple,
which rang its fire bell frantically, and the villagers on the beach all
rushed up the hill to help put out the fire. Within a moment, enormous
tsunami wave hit the coastline, swallowing the villagers’ houses in its
way. The water receded and came back five times before the tsunami died
away, but all 400 villagers survived thanks to the old man’s quick action.
• The day this tsunami occurred, November 5, is now designated as the
World Tsunami Awareness Day by the United Nations. According to Naoki
Ito, Consul-General of Japan in Chicago, 400 representatives from 48 countries
gathered in Wakayama for a world tsunami summit on November 5, 2018.
After Eight Years
• The ceremony’s MC Laura Washington (Chicago Sun-Times columnist and
ABC7 political analyst) cited the death toll from the 2011 Tohoku disaster
at 15,897 as of December 2018, with 2,535 still missing.
• In his welcome remarks, Consul-General Ito noted that 3,400 households
in Tohoku are still living in temporary housing and 10% of those evacuated
have not come back.
• On the bright side, new railway lines are set to open later this month
(such as the Sanriku Railroad Rias Line), while export of agricultural
products from Tohoku now exceeds the pre-disaster level. Furthermore,
over 3 million travelers arrived in the Sendai airport last year (more
than 530,000 of which were foreigners). Overall increase in the airport’s
users from 2010 to 2018 hit 106%.
• The Recovery Memorial Stadium in Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, will be
the venue of the Rugby World Cup games this year, and the Olympic torch
relay for the 2020 games will start from Fukushima. Many of the 2020 Olympic
Games – soccer, baseball and softball- will be held in Tohoku.
• “We do this [the Kizuna events] every year so that we’ll continue to
remember what happened to Tohoku and its people,” Ito said. “After eight
years, our bonds of friendship have grown stronger.”
• Sean Rapelyea from the Office of Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker and
Risa Kohnke from the Office of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel were there to
represent Governor Pritzker and Mayor Emanuel, both honorary co-chairs
of the Kizuna events. Leroy Allala, Executive Director of the Chicago
Sister Cities International, followed to present his condolences to the
people of Tohoku.
Report: Supporting Activities
• Washington shared how supporting activities by the Chicago community
have continued throughout the year.
• Shoko Takahashi and her daughter, Iris Takahashi-Bloede, often visit
Yamadamachi, Iwate Prefecture, Shoko’s hometown hit hard by the tsunami.
When Takahashi-Bloede won the Grand Prize at the annual Japanese Heritage
Speech Contest in Chicago, she and her mother used the award - a round
ticket to Japan - to visit Shoko’s old school. Takahashi-Bloede initiated
a fundraising campaign, and donated English books to the school that had
been purchased with the $200 she collected. (Unfortunately, it’s been
decided that the school will be closed down.)
• High School teacher Natsuko at the Chicago Futabakai Saturday School
is leading a campaign to collect money in a jar to be sent to school libraries
• Another teacher at the Saturday School, Makoto Imai, continues to support
Tohoku schools through the “Project Love All,” which is designed to raise
money through charity tennis lessons. So far, more than 70 lessons have
• The Japan America Society of Chicago has donated a total of $231,000
to date to support Tohoku.
Artisans in Tohoku
• Mayumi Lake, Senior Lecturer at the Photography Department of the Art
Institute of Chicago, visited Tohoku for six days in the winter of 2018
with Alex Jania, a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago’s Department
• The two interviewed 12 artisans in the region, collecting photographic
and anecdotal records from them about their lives after the disaster.
• Lake has been a volunteer at the Kizuna events from its inception, while
Jania traveled to Tohoku in 2012 as a volunteer.
• Lake’s photographs in the ongoing exhibition, accompanied by Jania’s
texts, tell stories of the following 12 people, each unique and heartfelt,
who are striving to create something meaningful and uplifting for the
community through their learned trades:
・ Noriyuki Kamiyama, Japanese traditional confectionary maker, owner
of a confectionary shop Kadoya (Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture)
・ Mikio Baba, sake brewer, brewery Niida Honke (Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture)
・ Shoichi Hashimoto, paper-mache dolls maker, Deko Yashiki Daikokuya (Koriyama,
・ Kimiyuki Sugeno, Japanese paper maker, Nihonmatsu Washi Denshokan (Nihonmatsu,
・ Kazuo Matsunaga, pottery maker, Matsunaga Kama (Nishigo, Fukushima Prefecture)
・ Mitsue Hikichi, seafood canning, canning factory Kinoya (Ishinomaki,
・ Katsuyoshi Kuriya, soap maker, Sanriku Soap Factory Kuriya (Onagawa,
・ Hiroshi Oikawa, denim maker, Oikawa Denim (Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture)
・ Kazuyoshi Takahashi, workshop owner, Banzai Factory (Ofunato, Iwate
・ Kotaro Okumura & Susumu Niisato, sake brewers, Hamachidori Sake
Brewery (Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture)
・ Tomo Yoshida, soy sauce brewer, Yagisawa Shoten (Rikuzentakata, Iwate
・ Kota Ito & Yoshinobu Ito, traditional banner makers, Hataya Ito
(Ichinoseki, Iwate Prefecture)
Guest Artisan: Noriyuki Kamiyama
• The earthquake and tsunami motivated Kamiyama, a fourth-generation
Japanese confectionary maker, to do more to help the community through
• March is one of the busiest months of the year for Kadoya, a confectionary
shop opened in 1898 by his ancestors. On that day, March 11, 2011, Kamiyama
was busy at work – until the quake hit at 2:46 pm. He escaped and his
shop was still standing, but dishes in the cupboards all fell and broke
to pieces, and a large machine in the shop, as heavy as several hundreds
of kilos, moved.
• It was only a short relief to confirm that his two small children were
safe before his family heard about the large number of tsunami victims
and the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster.
• The entire town was thrown into panic – people trying to evacuate flocked
to gas stations and grocery stores before leaving the town for safer grounds.
• During the days following the disaster, there had been no business at
Kamiyama’s shop but cancellation after cancellation. Kids’ schools had
been shut down. No one knew what would come next. Everybody was living
in fear and anxiety.
• Kamiyama’s parents urged him and his family to evacuate outside Fukushima
Prefecture but he couldn’t make up his mind. Then, he heard that there
were people taking refuge in the city’s field stadium from the nuclear
• “They are having a harder time than we are – what can I do to comfort
them?” The answer was to make Japanese sweets and deliver them to the
evacuees, along with freshly-made sweet-rice balls. This was his first
step to getting involved in local community activities.
• As he was gradually better informed about the local situation, he decided
to stay put in Koriyama.
• His worst worry was the radiation in the area and its threat to his
kids. Schools reopened after two months of hiatus, but the children were
told to wear a raincoat to school every day in order to avoid getting
radioactive materials on their clothing. No outdoor play was allowed and
the windows of every school and home had to be shut. They were literally
fighting an invisible enemy.
• At times, Kamiyama felt a qualm about not having evacuated. But seeing
his children living their life under severe restrictions just as normally
as before helped him go through the hard times.
• Now eight years have passed, and Kamiyama’s life seems to have slowly
returned to normalcy. Also, he can’t forget all the words of encouragement
he had received from friends outside the prefecture.
• “I hope to use this experience and help people get their smile back
by providing Japanese sweets,” said Kamiyama, as he thanked Chicago for
hosting commemorative events every year. “I will make sure to tell the
people back home about what’s being done in Chicago.”
• Following his talk, Kamiyama gave a demonstration of Japanese confectionary
• The Kizuna commemorative program was initiated by Chicago-based musician
and journalist Yoko Noge in 2012, with the help of Ed Grant, the then
President of the Japan America Society of Chicago.
• Now that eight years have passed, commemorative programs, once held
all over the world, are now becoming scarcer and scarcer. Accordingly,
fundraising for such events is more difficult today.
• Not in Chicago, said Noge in her closing remarks.
• “It’s my guess that Chicago probably has the most extensive programs
[than anywhere else] to follow up people’s lives in Tohoku,” she stressed.
“You make these things possible, keep them going every year.”
• The ceremony closed with a sing-along of a popular Japanese song, “Ue
o muite aruko” (“Sukiyaki Song”).
A photo from Kizuna Photo
Exhibit: Mitsue Hikichi, seafood canning, canning factory Kinoya
in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture
Kizuna 8 Photo Exhibit
From right: Consul General
Naoki Ito, eroy Allala, Risa Kohnke, Sean Rapelyea, and
Tokiko Kimura (R2)
Shoko Takahashi (R) and
her daughter Iris Takahashi-Bloede
Teacher Natsuko (L) and
students of Chicago Futabakai Saturday School
Kamiyama, owner of Japanese confectionary maker
in Fukushima, demonstrates chrysanthemum shaped wagashi making.
Japanese confectionaries made by Noriyuki Kamiyama
Yoko Noge, intiator of
the Kizuna event
Participants of Kizuna 8 event held at the Japan Information
Center, Consulate General of Japan at Chicago