Head of Network Miyagi, a volunteer group formed in the wake of the Tohoku tsunami. Originally a professional skiier who experienced his own tragedy through injury, his life has been dedicated to helping children utilize art and sports to balance their lives. When the tsunami hit, he led an alliance of local non-profits to set up Network Miyagi. The group has been dedicated to assisting the child victims of the tsunami, and to facilitating victim self-reliance via his “kitchen trailer” concept.
Najib Ullah Ayaz & Anees Ahmad Nadeem
Ayaz and Nadeem are workers with Humanity First, a humanitarian organization that has been working worldwide since the Yugoslavian crisis in the ’90s. They are emigres from Pakistan who have chosen to live and work in Japan. Nadeem and his wife live in Nagoya. When the Tohoku disaster occurred, Nadeem , reluctantly said goodbye to his 1-month baby daughter so he could bring relief to Tohoku. For 8 hard weeks, the two lived on the floor of the Minato-sho Shelter’s gymnasium, serving curry to the victims. In spite of such personal challenges inherent in doing relief work in the face of a “Thousand-Year Tsunami” these heroes sacrificed themselves for the victims. They are living proof that compassion is universal, regardless of country of origin.
High school student and drummer Kento Itoh lost his grandparents, his mother, and his baby brother Ritsu (age 5) to the freezing waters of the tsunami. Just as deep depression and survivor’s guilt pushed him towards taking his own life, Kento found hope in a small blue koi-nobori (carp streamer) covered in mud amongst the debris. Remembering how he used to fly the koi-nobori with little brother Ritsu, Kento vowed to live on and honor his lost loved ones with a very special ceremony and the help from a group of highly talented taiko drummers.
The caring principal of Ogatsu Middle School, Sato was at the school when the 9.0 earthquake hit. Ironically, graduation ceremonies were held earlier that very day and the children had all gone home. Principal Sato fearlessly gathered up the entire faculty and led them to higher ground at a close-by park. In the aftermath, Sato and his dedicated teachers spent days and nights searching desperately to find the school’s students. Ultimately, even in the face of such devastation, miracles do happen and Principal Sato was able to rebuild this community pillar.
As passionate about teaching her students about local history and culture as she is about teaching them art, Seto-sensei wandered the ruins of Ogatsu Middle School looking for her students’ treasures, and the rare raw materials she needs to teach the craft of Ogatsu stone carving. She shows us that even seemingly common-looking black stone can be incredibly precious when it represents the legacy of generations living on the Ogatsu peninsula.
Shoji-san is a City Councilman in Ishinomaki. In the midst of the crisis, he took charge of the Minato-sho Shelter, the local elementary school. His wisdom and quiet justice led the survivors through the most difficult first few days after the tragedy, and prevented further tragedy. It is only in crisis that you find the mettle of true leaders. In a desperately hopeless situation, Shoji-san showed his true colors as one of our heroes.
A native of the Tohoku region, Chiba-san is one of the founding musicians in M’s Japan Orchestra, a musical group the fuses elements of Rock, Jazz, and traditional Japanese music, especially taiko drums, to create a unique blend that is a part of the soundtrack of PRAY FOR JAPAN.
He is also part of our story as well. Chiba-san and his fellow musicians banded together to help Kento Ito achieve his dream of honoring little brother Ritsu with a special memorial koi-nobori ceremony.
Young Endo-san is not only one of the local Ishinomaki volunteer leaders, he is also owned by a rabbit. His furry companion, Coco-chan was pressed into service as a therapy animal, providing comfort and emotional therapy to those victims of the Tohoku tragedy. A cartoon version of Coco-chan is now an unofficial mascot for the City of Ishinomaki.
At the very beginning, after the quake and tsunami, he was a key communicator, venturing out with a digital camera to take pictures of the devastated streets and people at the shelters, hoping to help people find their loved ones since phone and other communications were knocked dead.
Before the disaster, Ito was president of a construction company. He was also a leader in the local chapter of the Jaycees. Once the tsunami hit, Ito took charge, leading an entirely different effort as chair of the Ishinomaki Disaster Recovery Assistance Council. His wealth of technical knowledge makes him a very important member of the recovery team.
You can read a message from him here.
Kurosawa-san has been a ubiquitous presence in the devastated region, utilizing years of knowledge as an expert canoe-man, forester, and disaster recovery leader. His work at the Nippon Foundation has been critical in utilizing thousands of volunteers in Tohoku and his previous experience during the Kobe and Chuetsu earthquakes.
Kurosawa-san has been updating his blog for many years and even throughout the post-tragedy recovery period. It’s only in Japanese but take a peek.
Monma-san teamed up with other volunteer leaders Abe-san and Endo-san to form Network Miyagi immediately after the tragedy. Together, they led dozens of college students and volunteers from across Japan establishing a myriad of soup kitchen projects, delivering emergency provisions and assessing the needs of pocket areas not served by the larger non-profit organizations.
Monma-san continues his dedicated service to restoring the beautiful Miyagi coast through his community activities. The blog for Monma-san’s non-profit Genki Miyagi is here (Japanese only).
Otsuki-san had lost just about everything in the tsunami. His home was gone, he had somehow managed to relocate to an intact apartment building, but nothing was the same. Instead of despairing, he became one of the leaders of the volunteer effort in Ishinomaki City. Setting his feelings aside, he helped establish and lead the Ishinomaki Volunteer Center. “This job is my duty to others,” he humbly explains.
Compatriots with Kurosawa-san, Seiji Yoshimura has dedicated his life to community service, volunteering across the globe, from Afghanistan to Cambodia and across Asia. Founder of non-profit Human Shield, he spent 12 years working on the recover process from the Kobe (Hanshin) earthquake.
Previously a city councilman, YMCA and youth group leader, canoe-man, forester and disaster recovery expert, Yoshimura-san arrived in Tohoku early morning after the tsunami hit. He helped establish the volunteer center and Disaster Recovery Assistance Council in Ishinomaki, working with Shuki Ito, Hideo Otsuki and others. Yoshimura-san founded the online support base website. His blog can be found here (Japanese only).