December 23, 2012

Kizuna Project: An Overview

Kizuna Project group at Tsuruga Castle, Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima prefecture
Despite an unexpected tornado (Auckland), earthquake and tsunami (Japan), I made it safely to Japan and back, and had ten of the most action-packed days of my life, along with 105 students from Australia and New Zealand.

First we spent two nights in Tokyo for orientation. We visited the Ikebukuro Life Safety Learning Centre and used their earthquake simulator room to experience what different types of earthquakes actually feel like. Next up was a lecture at Meiji University, detailing the March 11 disaster and reconstruction efforts.

We then rode the Tohoku shinkansen to Shin-Shirakawa station in Fukushima prefecture, watching the landscape slowly change from urban high rises to a snowy countryside. From the station, we got on a bus and headed to Minamiaizu, a town nestled in the mountains, buried under a metre of fresh snow. We spent the next 3 nights at a ski resort there, called Resort Inn Daikura.

At Minamiaizu we visited the mayor's office and learned about the effects of the disaster on the town. We were taken to a rice production hut, and witnessed the inspection of local rice for radiation levels. Following this was a lecture on the safety management of agricultural products in Fukushima prefecture. The mood was lightened with a trip to Tajima Junior High School, where we spent an afternoon doing origami and calligraphy with the students.

The next day we took a scenic train to nearby Aizuwakamatsu city. At Aizuwakamatsu, we visited temporary housing for residents of Okuma town, which is uninhabitable because of the nuclear disaster. An evacuee shared her story of the accident, and her experience in evacuation shelters and temporary accommodation. That afternoon we visited two of the city's tourist attractions, Tsuruga Castle and the Aizu Sake Brewery Museum.

We got back on the shinkansen in the morning and headed to Nagoya, to participate in a homestay programme for 2 nights. My homestay family were located in Gifu prefecture, and they took me to a place to make soba noodles, the Agigawa Dam, a museum and art gallery.

At the conclusion of the homestay programme we went to Nagoya University of Foreign Studies, and spent a morning doing disaster preparation activities with students there. Then it was back to Tokyo, where we went to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to give a final presentation about our findings from the project. Finally it was time to head to Narita airport and fly home.

During the Kizuna Project I learned so much about the earthquake and nuclear disaster. In Aizu, while the physical damage caused by the disaster was minimal, economic damage has crippled the region. While reconstructing buildings and cities is relatively straightforward, rebuilding a reputation is not so easy: it's difficult to shake the link between 'Fukushima' and 'radiation'.

I'm going to write some more detailed posts about my experiences in Fukushima, but hopefully this gives some idea of what I've been up to over the past couple of weeks. The Aizu region is truly beautiful, and I hope I get the chance to go back and explore Fukushima.


  1. That sounds incredibly interesting and educational. It's good that they gave you time to go sightseeing and have a home stay despite the busy schedule. It definitely sounds like a great experience.

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