Congratulations Hana.bi! Thank you so much for letting me be a part of this new and exciting project! I am honored and I hope I can contribute much Nikkei goodness to the world.
As my first post I would like to tell you about my new project in Tohoku, called J-Station, by explaining how the idea came about.
J-Station will be based in the town of Karakuwa, which is part of Kesennuma City in Miyagi Prefecture. I first entered Karakuwa in June 2011 as a volunteer to help the disaster-stricken town after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Karakuwa is a relatively small town, with a population of about 7,000 residents, based around 12 little fishing villages on a peninsula that juts out from the most Northeastern part of Miyagi Prefecture. Out of the 12 fishing villages, six of the villages were completely destroyed by the tsunami with much damage to many other parts of Karakuwa.
Through the Nippon Foundation-funded Road Project, I have been coordinating student volunteer missions since early July 2011. During Summer and Fall, it was endless days of debris removal, cleanup work and assisting the reconstruction of the devastated fishing villages. We rummaged through the woods to recover fishing equipment that had been swept hundreds of meters inland from the coast, then sorted it for either reuse or disposal. We assisted local residents in clearing out and preparing their stricken houses to be torn down by heavy machinery. We also helped rebuild rafts made out of bamboo so the fishermen could jumpstart their oyster and scallop farming again. We thought we would never see the end of fragmented concrete, splintered wood and rusted metal scraps.
But with the help and dedication of hundreds of other volunteers and relief workers, we started to see a decline in the need for hard manual labor towards the end of Fall, and as we noticed this change, we began to think that there were other existing needs that had to be addressed. Gone was the urgency to jump into the rubble and get things cleared out. We realized that long-term emotional support and revitalizing the broken economy would be the key to further recovery.
As an artist, I also wanted to put my designer skills to a good use, and over a random lunch meeting with Akira Uchimura, director of the Nikkei Youth Network, I was talking about the needs of Karakuwa and what I felt Karakuwa could use at this stage of recovery. I felt that the people of Karakuwa needed a place to unwind, have fun and have “exotic” foods to eat to spice up their lives. The Karakuwa peninsula is blessed with amazing seafood and Kesennuma City is the main port at which Katsuo (Bonito) is fished, so the people of Karakuwa are used to amazing seafood and traditional Japanese foods. But because the peninsula is very isolated, there aren’t many restaurants that serve foreign foods or cafes that can brew a tasty cup of coffee. Because of that, the people of Karakuwa get excited about unattainable foods, namely spaghetti. On multiple occasions, residents have told me they wish they could get a nice plate of spaghetti locally, and that they probably have never in their lives had real spaghetti.
As I was talking to Akira-san about this, he looked at me quizzically and simply asked, “So why don’t you do it? We can call it J-Station!” It shocked me because it had never occurred to me that I could, or that it was even an option. Also, being an artist, I had never studied business or management, so coming up with such an idea was an extremely foreign thing to me. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt this is exactly what I need to do; this is exactly what I want to do. So from that moment, we started to develop the idea of J-Station.
J-Station will be a multi-purpose hub comprising a café, event space and public relations center for Karakuwa. It will be a creative art space to promote fun and creativity, and provide design solutions for local people. It will have guest chefs from all over to create special menus so Karakuwa can have a taste of the world. We will host art and music workshops so that kids and adults can unwind and learn something new. Bottom line, it will be a place for people to gather, talk, laugh and just have fun.
J-Station is far from being complete. We have yet to build a box where we can house the project, we are only planning the different events we can hold, and we are still far from getting the funds needed to run the project. I am currently in talks with a few awesome architects to help build J-Station, and am talking to a potential sponsor, and though there are many unknown variables and I feel like I’m sailing in the dark, this is a project that I believe in with all my heart, it is something that I feel needs to happen now, and I want to share it with the world.
What I really want to focus on in my weekly Hana.bi updates is the stuff that happens in-between the scenes. I want to show snapshots of what I see, little things that make me grin and the small stories that inspire me on a daily basis here in Karakuwa.