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April 2012

This weekend, I held “Komo’s English Reading-aloud club in Rikuzen Takata.” I plan to visit the city once every month for the next 10 years. This time, 5 volunteer coaches joined me.

【Friday, April 6】

At 6 a.m., I drove my NOAH (Toyota) to the Shinjuku station and picked up the members who had gathered there. We were able to exit the Ichinoseki intersection early in the morning without having to fight any traffic or frost bound roads.

As usual, we first visited Kesennuma.

 

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Little by little, we can see that debris removal and various restorations are in progress. However, it is also true that a tremendously long road to recovery remains given the fact that it is still at this stage after 13 months.

The coast in front of the old joint government building is like a graveyard of earthquake-stricken cars. There were many people who lost their lives while still in these vehicles. I put my hands together and prayed.

 

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You can see a mummified tuna stuck in the first floor ceiling of the old joint government building.

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I have heard that there have been divided opinions on whether to save this ship in the Shishiori district as a monument. This time, I found a new sign asking people to be thoughtful of the victims when taking pictures. Maybe they decided to keep it.

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For lunch, we stopped by at the restored Kesennuma shopping street as usual. We enjoyed ramen and hairy crab fried rice at Cafe Mambo, and also hot croquettes from the croquette store. Very delicious, indeed.

Then off to Rikuzen Takata via route 45. Just then, a snowstorm took over the previous clear weather. We decided to check in at the Suzuki Ryokan Inn first and wait for the blizzard to pass before heading to the tsunami-stricken area.

Since it is the first time for some of the volunteer coaches to visit the place, I would like to share the context as much as possible. Even after 13 months, there still remain things that speak for themselves.

I wanted my team to see and feel as much as possible, of the place that lead to my strong belief that “I must do something here.”

After seeing the vivid state of the MAIYA supermarket, the agricultural cooperative, the city hall, and the fire station in the central area of Takata, we moved on to the gymnasium. This is where the tsunami swallowed the whole building and took the lives of the people that had evacuated there from their homes.

 

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We as a stranger do not know anything about the children who passed away here. But we know that they were here just by looking at the remains.

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The remains are self-explanatory. They speak out strongly that there were children here.

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We should never forget what happened here.

After visiting the Imaizumi~Yahagi area, we returned to the central area of Takata and dropped by at the Sato Taneya seed shop. Mr. Sato always participates in the Saturday’s reading-aloud session first thing in the morning.

Over 100 people have already read the personal notes, “The Seed of Hope in the Heart”, created by Mr. Sato with my team’s support. I hope people around the world will have a chance to read this note of the earthquake disaster.

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In the evening, many of the volunteer coaches gathered and dined at the temporary housing of Ms. O whom they regard as “the mother of Rikuzentakata.” Halfway through, Ms. Okuda and I left for another temporary housing where we held a special session for two elementary school students.

The members that remained at Ms. O’s seem to have had a chance to hear many valuable stories. To actually see the traces of the tsunami with one’s own eyes and to hear stories from the surviving witnesses like Ms. O, are imperative experiences for the volunteer coaches of this Foundation.

【Saturday, April 7】

The following day, I woke up before 5 a.m. and saw a blanket of snow outside. Rikuzentakata is called “the Mediterranean of Sanriku” and is known for its relatively moderate weather even during winter.

According to the locals, they have not experienced such chilly weather in April since the following year after the end of World War II. I saw the sunrise as I inhaled the cool air.

 

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The reading-aloud session began at 8:30 a.m. Two people arrived first thing in the morning.

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Mr. Sato of “Sato Taneya” eagerly read out his personal notes created in the “English Correction Course.”

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Some people use picture books as their reading-aloud materials. At Komo’s English Reading-aloud Session, students are encouraged to individually pick out their own class materials depending on their interests.

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Sometimes, we translate Haiku or Tannka (forms of Japanese poems) created by students into English and provide those as class materials for individuals.

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There was a student who brought an article written in English which she found in the local newspaper. We strongly value the interests of the individuals.

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From 1 p.m., Nikkei Weekly English Reading-aloud Course began. In this course, the students are asked to study an article chosen monthly by myself before the session. On the actual day, we check the vocabularies after reading the materials and thorough instructions are given on pronunciation correction.

During pronunciation correction, we concentrate heavily on three types of pronunciation which is unique to this session. The reason being that if you concentrate on these three types, pronunciation becomes more like a native speaker.

It is so intense that after the session, some students experience sore muscles in their faces…

 

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There were a lot of participants in the afternoon and volunteer teachers were in full operation. This kind of a busy day is good as we are here as a team to be of use.

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The Saturday session ended with an orientation session for the first-time attenders from 5 p.m. to past 6 p.m. We then took a picture with all the volunteer teachers.

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From left, Mr. Shiraki, Ms. Momma, Ms. Okuda, Ms. Yamasaki, Ms. Lee and Ms. Sugisaki who came along with us to shape ideas for certain publishing planning.

Members of this team take the Friday off, drive together a round trip of 1,100 km, and spend a busy weekend together. They also bear the travel expenses. I cannot express my appreciation enough for their commitment.

In the evening, we again gathered to have dinner at Ms. O’s temporary housing. The first-time attenders seemed to have gotten used to the atmosphere well.

【Sunday, April 8】

At 8 a.m., we prepared the classroom and from 8:30 a.m., two students participated in today’s session.

A junior high-school student recently returned from a 10 day trip to Europe. He was chosen as one of the participants to travel abroad in some kind of a quake-hit support program.

“You can pretty much get around just by connecting the words,” he said with a gleam in his eye. He must have had a really good experience. It made me so happy, listening to his words.

Another student came in. She started studying in hope for her grand child to become interested in English. She works hard every month using pop up picture books as the materials. Her attitude is so admirable.

We left to head back home a little after noon time. Before leaving Rikuzentakata, we drove to Imaizumi area and dropped by at the “Rainbow Library.”

This library with a bright atmosphere was built with the support by the people from Kanagawa University, Mitsui & Co., Ltd., and many others. It is situated in the premise of the disaster-struck shrine, Imaizumi Tennmanngu.

One of my facebook friends, Ms. Araki is the manager here. We were only facebook friends until today when I finally met her for the first time.

 

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Ms. Araki is an official of the Imaizumi Tennmanngu and is very knowledgeable about the history of the Shintoism. I would love to schedule a time to hear more about it. (Thank you very much for the coffee!)

On every trip, in addition to the students of the reading session, I am blessed with an opportunity to meet various people. If you believe in the mission that reside within yourself and act obediently and eagerly, you somehow are presented with good encounters.

There are a number of students who have accomplished clear improvements and changes. This also seems to be helping them in becoming emotionally optimistic.

Since I have repeatedly mentioned in every session that “all it takes is to start making an effort and continuing it”, it would be a lie if I myself, do not continue this activity.

I’ll keep my passion alive and continue commuting.

 

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