Chicago Shimpo
Chicago 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 Wave”

• 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 in Tohoku.
• 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 been provided.
• 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 of History.
• 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, Fukushima Prefecture)
・ Kimiyuki Sugeno, Japanese paper maker, Nihonmatsu Washi Denshokan (Nihonmatsu, Fukushima Prefecture)
・ Kazuo Matsunaga, pottery maker, Matsunaga Kama (Nishigo, Fukushima Prefecture)
・ Mitsue Hikichi, seafood canning, canning factory Kinoya (Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture)
・ Katsuyoshi Kuriya, soap maker, Sanriku Soap Factory Kuriya (Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture)
・ Hiroshi Oikawa, denim maker, Oikawa Denim (Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture)
・ Kazuyoshi Takahashi, workshop owner, Banzai Factory (Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture)
・ Kotaro Okumura & Susumu Niisato, sake brewers, Hamachidori Sake Brewery (Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture)
・ Tomo Yoshida, soy sauce brewer, Yagisawa Shoten (Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture)
・ 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 his trade.
• 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 plant’s peril.
• “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 making.

Closing Notes

• 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


Mayumi Lake


Noriyuki 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