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US-Japan high school students summit 2015

On July 11, 2015, the 4th Annual U.S.-Japan High School Summit was held at Rikuzentakata Community Center which just opened in May.

This year’s topic was “How can the City of Rikuzentakata build communities where there is no need for the word Normalization” which means how they can build an inclusive society as they recover from the 2011 Tsunami disaster. The city is building its environment and society from the scratch, not rebuilding what they were. And all discussions and ideas generated at this summit would be submitted to the City of Rikuzentakata.

Over 30 students from all across the U.S. and a total of 25 students from Takata High School and Ofunato High School participated. 18 volunteer facilitators from across Japan including 6 from Let’s Talk Foundation also joined the summit to support students communicate with each other.

The summit kicked off with a message from Mr. Kiyoshi Murakami, representative of AidTakata, and upbeat opening notes by Ted Sato, a member of Let’s Talk Foundation. The students and facilitators were divided to eight different groups and were sent out for the fieldwork to their assigned sites throughout the city.11745509_977407092289881_2855614383652092652_nThose sites included Community Center, Miracle Pine Tree, Takata Hospital, Takata High School, Disaster Recovery Public Housing and more.

After the fieldwork and discussions, students presented their ideas of how the city can change things to be an inclusive society for all people. It was quite impressive to see American students presenting in Japanese and Japanese students presenting in English by helping each other.

Their proposals were realistic such as replacing regular doors with automatic sliding doors, changing stairs at the entrance of buildings to slopes, moving a pharmacy to be next to the hospital instead of across the street, expanding aisles in the stores for elderly, children and people in wheelchairs. One team suggested that they create a Facebook page called “PORT” – People Of RikuzenTakata to connect the local community with other communities especially where these American students are from. This has already been realized as you can see in the link here:https://www.facebook.com/PORT-People-of-Rikuzen-Takata-376128585918649/timeline/

At the beginning of the summit, everyone looked nervous, especially Japanese students looked very shy but there was a big and clear change by the end of the day. They were so energetic, chatting, laughing, singing together and giving each other hugs… They all embraced the challenges in communicating with each other and even offered the city meaningful suggestions. It was a reflection of an inclusive society that the city is aiming to become in coming years. Truly inspirational.

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