The March 11 earthquake and tsunami caused major damage to schools, disrupting the lives of thousands of young people throughout the region. Fukiura Tadamasa, president of the Eurasia 21 Research Institute, reports on national and international efforts to get students’ extracurricular club activities up and running again.
It will soon be five months since the massive earthquake and tsunami struck northern Japan on March 11. Aid continues to pour in from overseas as Japan does its utmost to recover from this unprecedented disaster. Thousands of people are still living in evacuation centers and temporary housing, but the aftershocks are now far less frequent and life is beginning to return to normal.
Recently I visited a number of junior and senior high schools in the disaster areas of Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures. My visit took place in June, when the focus of people’s priorities was starting to shift from emergency relief to reconstruction. Thanks to the dedicated efforts of over 100,000 Self-Defense Force personnel, remarkable progress had been made in removing the debris and rubble left behind by the disaster. Most of the region’s key lifelines—roads, railways, water, and gas—had been restored. The medical situation was also much better than it had been in the early days of the disaster. Nevertheless, in what had once been the downtown areas of coastal towns, there was nothing but a flattened wasteland. The devastation stretched as far as the eye could see, in scenes reminiscent of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, or Tokyo after the firebombing earlier that year. In spite of the difficult conditions, the region’s schools have made up for school days lost after the disaster by holding classes on holidays and shortening their summer vacations to ensure that students receive the necessary amount of classroom hours. I have the deepest respect for the dedication and hard work of the teachers and their students.
Lending Brass Bands a Hand
Watanoha Junior High School in Miyagi Prefecture was completely swept away by the tsunami. After the disaster, students were divided up by grade (there were only three grades in the school) and sent to live in buildings belonging to three nearby schools. Their principal visits the evacuated students on a daily basis to supervise their studies and oversee teaching staff. In Iwate Prefecture, students of Kamaishi Higashi Junior High School lodged at Kamaishi Junior High School, where the gymnasium was turned into an evacuation center. The two schools decided to combine a number of their club activities. One result of this decision was the creation of a joint brass band that is now preparing to take part in music competitions.
One of my reasons for visiting the disaster areas was to help revive the brass bands at eight schools damaged by the earthquake and tsunami. It was my pleasure to present them with a donation of ¥35 million (approx. $400,000) worth of musical instruments. Our hope is that these areas will resound to the sound of music again as soon as possible. The instruments were paid for by funds raised through a May 20 charity concert held in Tokyo and through contributions from individuals and companies.
Trumpeting French-Japanese Relations
On June 18, a group of 25 Japanese trumpet enthusiasts, ranging in age from 13 to 79, performed a concert with 85 French musicians at Beauvais Cathedral, 80km north of Paris, under the direction of trumpet virtuoso Eric Aubier and Sugiki Mineo, a professor at Tokyo University of the Arts. The concert raised ¥160,000 (approx. €1,300) in donations—opening a new page for amicable Japanese-French relations. The plan is that trumpets purchased with these funds, along with a matching donation, will be signed by Aubier and Sugiki and presented to Miyagi Prefectural Kōbun Kan Senior High School in the city of Ishinomaki. The school’s brass band will give a performance using these instruments at an August 5 concert in Sendai hosted by the “social welfare foundation” Support 21 (of which I am chairman). We have invited people throughout the disaster areas to attend the concert, which will include performances by Aubier and the Sendai Philharmonic Orchestra.
August Trip to Russia
Three of the eight recipient schools are also sending members of their brass bands to Russia, where 33 students are scheduled to participate in a Japan-Russia youth exchange project in Vladivostok on August 18. The Japanese students will spend just over a week living with their Russian counterparts, playing music and sports together and taking part other activities. The idea for the exchange was suggested by the wife of Russian President Dimitry Medvedev when she visited the Japanese Embassy in Moscow to express her condolences following the March 11 disaster. I hope that this trip to Russia—along with the gift of musical instruments—will prove a source of hope and joy to children in the disaster areas.
Although contentious issues remain to be resolved between Japan and Russia on a diplomatic level, surely no one could object to this effort to promote mutual understanding and cooperation between the next generation of young people. I hope that these efforts to promote friendly relations between the two countries will provide some solace and hope for the children’s parents as well.
The cold autumn days arrive early in northern Japan, where people are still struggling to cope with the aftermath of the disaster in their daily lives. But what better remedy could there be for the spirits of people in these devastated communities than the sight of their children throwing themselves energetically into their studies and pursuing their interests in sports and music again? (Written on July 4, 2011.)
In This Series
An International Aid Specialist’s View of Japan
Instrumental Support for School Bands (July 4)
Showing our Gratitude to Taiwan (June 3)
Thoughts on International Support (May 9)
Japan as Seen Through Relief and Reconstruction Efforts (March 29)
Completed his doctoral studies in political science at Waseda University. Has been a professor at Saitama Prefectural University, vice president of the Association for Aid and Relief, Japan, and executive director for research at the Tokyo Foundation. Is now president of the Eurasia 21 Research Institute. Author of Kokki de yomu sekai chizu (Reading the World Map Through National Flags), NGO kaigai borantia nyūmon (An Introduction to NGO Volunteer Activities Overseas), and other works.