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US-Japan High School Students Summit in Rikuzentakata 2012

In the afternoon of July 15th (Sun), following a monthly “Komo’s English Reading-aloud Club” held that weekend, our volunteer instructors and supporting staff joined the US-Japan High School Students Summit in Rikuzentakata 2012.

It was a month before the summit when Mr. Murakami of AidTAKATA (not-for-profit organization for the restoration of Rikuzentakata), the main organizer of the summit, contacted me. We managed to find the time out of our busy schedules to meet and discuss the event late at night in a Japanese style pub in Shinjuku.

An opportunity to interact with the American high school students who are visiting Japan to study the Japanese language through the Japan Foundation’s JET program — Isn’t there any way we can give an opportunity to give Japanese high school students in the Kesen-area (Rikuzentakata, Ohfunato, Sumita) to meet those students from the States?

I could tell that Mr. Murakami was very passionate about it, so we decided to make it happen together. Once our missions were aligned, we decided we will “execute it no matter what,” and what that entails followed. Thus, Let’s Talk Foundation became a co-organizer to support planning, management and financing of the summit, and rushed to prepare for it.

The summit was hosted by: Main organizer: AidTAKATA Co-organizer: Japan Foundation, Let’s Talk Foundation Supporting entities: The Education Board of Rikuzentakata, The City of Rikuzentakata

 

After an intensive dialogue through emails, telephone conferences, and breakfast meetings in Tokyo, we were ready for the event. On the day of the summit, we had 59 students (32 of whom were from the States and 27 were from the Kesen area), city and school officials, and the press. The meeting room at the city hall was fully occupied and filled with the excitement. 

Mr. Murakami of AidTAKATA gave an opening remark, followed by a brief introduction by myself.

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After the opening, representatives of both American and Japanese students each gave a speech. US students spoke in Japanese and Japanese students who represented Ohfunato and Rikuzentakata spoke in English. Their proud and sincere attempts moved me so much that deep in my heart, I was welling up with emotions.

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Mr. Sato, a member of Let’s Talk Foundation, facilitated the event. He kindly came to Rikuzentakata the day before and made thorough preparation. His energetic and upbeat talks produced many laughs.

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Then, students were divided into 8 small groups and went into a group discussion session. The discussion topic for the first summit was “What can we do together for the future?” Each group was supposed to make a 3 minute presentation after the group session. In the two-hour event, only one hour was allocated for the discussion. Therefore, it was really challenging for students to have an effective discussion within a limited amount of time.

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Staff from Let’s Talk Foundation or Japan Foundation joined each group as a facilitator.

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Japanese students were trying hard and having good discussions. Although I had worried about their English proficiency, I found my concern proved unfounded and moved to tears in my mind again…

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After the group session, each group made a three minutes presentation. Presenters representing each group consisted of at least one Japanese and one American. Each group made meaningful contributions despite of the limited time due to the language barrier.

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Some Japanese students had done very well in both communicating in English and in their presentations. I felt they were full of promise! I also felt the future of this area will show promise if such young talents would grow and get more experiences. In the end of the event, Mr. Murakami and Mr. Kubota, a deputy mayor of Rikuzentakata, made closing comments.

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Although it was a two-hour event, it has provided students with a lot more experience than they could get otherwise in two hours. Through this experience, I hope Japanese students got some clues to their future. Finally, “Takata no Yume-chan” stepped in the room and we took photographs together!

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After the closing, many students remained in the room to become friends on Facebook or exchange email addresses. It was the beginning of building a bond with others! Once you connect with others, something will happen between you and them.

We continue to support to host this event going forward. I have a secret vision for the future. In 10 years from now, I hope I hear: “The Rikuzentakata area produces a lot of global talents.” “I want to go to Rikuzentakata to learn English.” Due to the lack of sufficient local demands for goods and services, the domestic effort to economic restoration of the damaged coastal area is likely to remain unrewarded.

Therefore, I believe the interaction with other areas especially overseas is necessary to achieve the truly effective restoration. In order to connect with people overseas, people in the damaged area have to overcome the language barrier. Once they overcome, they can connect to billions of people on this planet.

To achieve the goal above, we continue to host “Komo’s English Reading-aloud Club”, support the summit and similar type of events, and plan other various activities.

Dear Partners and Contributors of Let’s Talk Foundation, thank you sincerely for your continued support and cooperation!

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