While on Miyakejima, we were introduced to a husband and wife team who own a small gift shop on the island. They’ve endured quite a bit, including losing their home and first shop because of a volcano many years ago, only to have to leave Miyakejima after the 2000 volcano eruption for 4 1/2 years. He and his wife returned however, and have opened a new shop. After picking up a few gifts for friends and family back home, the gentleman agreed to sit down with us and share his story.
Before he evacuated, he had the foresight to bring his collection of photographs of Miyakejima. An amateur photographer, he had taken beautiful photos of the island’s natural beauty, including sunsets, plants and the ocean, going back decades. While in Tokyo, he had a number of photos printed as postcards, and sent them to many of his friends and neighbors from Miyakejima. He made a special effort to send these postcards of home to many of the senior citzens. Word spread about the postcards, and other residents requested to be on his mailing list.
The postcards helped this gentleman re-create his community in Tokyo, but in a completely different way. Those who received his postcards told him that they waited in anticipation to receive the next card, and it played a tremendous role in keeping their spirits, and their hopes, high. By the end of his time in Tokyo, he sent thousands and thousands of cards, at his own expense.
We were all so impressed with how what started as a simple gesture by just one person helped to create a real sense of community hundreds of miles from home and provided so many people with hope and happiness.
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After the exchange program, the Learning from Disaster (see earlier posting below), finished, a small group had the priviledge of visiting Miyakejima. After an overnight boatride, we spent a day and half visiting two schools, meeting with staff and members of the House of Wind (Kaze-no-Ie), visiting Ako port and meeting with fishermen, driving up the volcano to an observation area to look at the volcano’s damage up close, and meeting with citizens and local government officials.
Miyakejima is beautiful, and the damage from the 2000 volcano eruption, and an earlier eruption, caused great damage. One of the things we were so impressed with was the great spirit and sense of hope expressed by everyone we met with, young and old.
Here are some photos from the visit.
The ship from Tokyo to Miyakejima
Fishermen unloading the day's catch
Junior high school students
The road up Miyakejima's volcano
Richard McCarthy presenting Mayor Hiroyasu Hirano with a market umbrella
House of Wind
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As part of Learning from Disaster: Miyakejima and New Orleans, we organized a number of meetings for the delegation from New Orleans. Over the next week or so, I will be writing about some of things we learned.
On the first day, we met with the Ward Chief for Sumida Ward and heard about the preventive measures the local government and citizens are taking regarding potential flooding, fires and earthquakes.
On the bank of the Sumida River
Despite the fact that the last major flood in the Sumida Ward of Tokyo took place in 1958, the local government and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government take seriously the possibility of flooding. Two rivers flank Sumida Ward—the Sumida River on the east and the man-made Arakawa River on the west.
Part of the flood control system
The biggest problem is concentrated torrential rains that are contained to small areas. Even if the torrential rain doesn’t take place in Sumida Ward, it is vulnerable because water flows to Sumida Ward via the Sumida River. The result is overflowing sewage drain pipes.
Efforts are underway to separate the sewage system and the rain drainage systems, but to help alleviate the effects of rain, the Ward has developed a rain harvest system to lesson the load on the sewage system.
The water is not potable, but can be used to wash cars and water gardens, for example. There are over 100 facilities to store rainwater large and small. Small efforts include homes in the neighborhood have pipes to collect the rainwater and facets that residents can go to in their neighborhoods to access the water.
Large efforts includes the National Sumo Stadium, which has one of the largest rainwater collection facilities. The rainwater collected here is stored underground and is used to flush the toilets in the stadium.
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Betty returned from Tokyo. She told me that the symposium on April 18 had more than 200 people in the audience, who were very engaging and active in the Q & A session. She also visited Miyakejima along with ３ participants from New Orleans. We will be updating our blog with stories from the exchange.
There is a blog entry (in Japanese) by Eri Goto, a reporter for Asahi Newspaper, one of the leading newspapers in Japan. She wrote about the site visits, which were conducted prior to the symposium. Participants visited several places including Sumida ward, a below sea level area in Tokyo and Sanya area, which is a community of day-laborers.
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While I have been diligently twittering away, I have not been such a good blogger. From the tweet I read, I found out Acumen Fund just celebrated its 8th anniversary today! Congratulations! Jacqueline Novogratz was doing a book reading and signing at Tribeca last night. I dropped by to see how it was. There were about 80-90 people in the crowd. I have probably heard her speak more than 10 times, but I am always so impressed by her ability to speak in an articulate and inspiring manner. I am looking forward to her lecture here at JS in May. Prior to that, Alan Webber will be returning to JS on April 22 to speak about his new book Rules of Thumb – 52 truths of winning business without losing yourself – . He is another great speaker, who is a lot of fun and very insightful at the same time. I enjoyed reading his book! Hopefully it will be translated into Japanese. In a couple of weeks, my coworker Betty will be going to Tokyo to organize an exchange titled “Learning from Disaster: Miyakejima and New Orleans”. This is a second part of an exchange program that started last April. Miyakejima is an island about 110 miles off the coast of Tokyo. This small island with several thousand residents has an active volcano. In 2000, the volcano erupted and all residents needed to evacuate. In 2005, after 4 years and 5 months, the residents were allowed to return to their home. A group of people, who were involved with the relief and recovery effort at Miyakejima went to New Orleans last April to meet with like-minded people who are rebuilding the post-Katrina community as members and leaders of the local government and non-profit organizations. The exchange was started as a way to learn from each other’s experience and share wisdom. In turn, this April, a total of 16 Americans including observers, will be visiting Tokyo. Some of them are planning to visit Miyakejima, which is mainly accessible by a ferry. (There are flights, which get canceled frequently due to precarious weather conditions.) There will be a public symposium on April 18 at Meiji University. The outcome of this exchange will be published as a book in Japanese and English. (Fumiko)
New Orleans April 2008
@Ashe Cultural Center April 2008
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