Young hopes bloom eternal

by Edan Corkill and Tomoko Otake

Staff Writers

The first anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake is a time to commemorate the victims of that terrible tragedy. But it is also an opportunity to look to the future.

How will the events of March 11, 2011 — and the subsequent ongoing crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant — shape the rising generation? How will they influence their goals and dreams? What kind of country will they want for their children?

Although the disasters last March occurred in the Tohoku region of northeastern Honshu, their effects extend far beyond, both physically and through changed outlooks on life and changes in values among people throughout the country, from Hokkaido all the way to Kyushu, Shikoku and distant Okinawa.

For this special Timeout commemorative feature, The Japan Times asked school students from around the nation to share their thoughts, hopes and fears one year after the greatest disaster visited on their country since 1945.

Takumi Sato, 17

Sendai Seiryo Secondary School, Sendai, Miyagi Pref.

Enjoys baseball; aspires to be a science teacher at a junior high school.

My hope lies in the everyday smiles of children. Children affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake have gone through a lot — damage from the tsunami, loss of parents, friends and acquaintances, and the nuclear crisis. They have experienced sadness and sufferings beyond anyone’s imagination. It wouldn’t be surprising if they were in great despair, but the children are keeping such sad feelings to themselves and are trying to hang in there with the best smiles they can put on their faces. I think this will make them strong-minded, and they will be able to overcome any difficulty when they grow up.

I’m concerned about everything the government does. The government officials — at this very critical time when everyone has to help each other and tackle issues surrounding the earthquake together — are pointing fingers at each other and refusing to cooperate. I want government officials to think harder about Japan, because Japan can change in many ways if they do.

Following the earthquake, I have come to think that just being able to live every day is a great thing, and that I should cherish each day and live it with a purpose.

Kensuke Suzuki, 17

Sendai Seiryo Secondary School, Sendai, Miyagi Pref.

Favorite subject: classical Japanese studies. Wants to be a school teacher.

What concerns me most is the environment. People will continue to work on various development projects to “improve” our living conditions. As a result, the environment will be destroyed further. We already have enough environmental problems to deal with, such as global warming and holes in the ozone layer. And by the time I die, we will have had countless numbers of (environmental) problems.

I want to eventually leave behind the kind of Japan in which people speak the Japanese language correctly. Language changes over time, but that doesn’t mean we should let correct Japanese go out of use. We should not create a future in which the variant use of yabai (which traditionally means “risky,” though it is increasingly used by youths to mean “exciting” or “cool”) would be accepted in society.

I felt so sad when I saw the news of so many people killed by the disaster. A couple of months later, when I saw the news of some murder case or a terrorist attack, I found myself comparing the number of casualties from those separate incidents with that from the quake, and thought to myself that those cases were not so serious. Then I realized how stupid I was to feel that way.

Yui Shigihara, 16

Soma High School, Soma, Fukushima Pref.

Enjoys world history and art. Wants to work in the psychology field.

In the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake, the actions of Japanese people were applauded by foreigners. People delivered food where there was no food; they never stole stuff from others during all the confusion; and they were considerate and helpful to each other. It convinced me that people cannot live alone. I think actions based on kindness, however tiny those actions, bring a small happiness to people, which I think is the most important thing.

I live in Fukushima Prefecture, which has been most severely victimized by the nuclear power crisis. The residents of Fukushima Prefecture did nothing wrong, but we have been affected by negative rumors (about being contaminated with radiation). We are all Japanese, but some are discriminated against by others. That’s wrong. I’m worried about such “gaps within Japan.” I’m saddened by the fact that parts of Japan are branded as bad, when it’s the same nation. I want to eliminate discrimination and prejudice, and to create a Japan where everyone helps each other.

I myself have not lost my house or a family member, but I have experienced the horror of the quake and radiation leaks. “Ganbare” (“Hang in there”) is not the right message, because the victims were already doing their best when the disasters struck, and they are still hanging in there every day to rebuild their lives.

Hiroki Matsushita, 16

Soma High School, Soma, Fukushima Pref.

Belongs to the guitar club; wants to be a public servant.

My biggest hope is for the success of people who are involved in improving decontamination methods and working to research and develop ways to reduce radiation levels. In addition to these technological advances, I have hopes for a greater use of renewable energy. We can live in a much safer society if such energies grow and replace energy supplied by nuclear power.

I want to leave a safe and secure country for my offspring. It might not be possible to expect the country to be 100 percent safe and secure, but it could be a country with such qualities to a considerable degree.

However, I wonder whether getting rid of nuclear power would allow happier lives for our children. Fukushima Prefecture has received ¥1 billion annually in subsidies since it started hosting nuclear power plants, and municipalities have raked in lots of money through property taxes and subsidies from Tokyo Electric Power Co. (operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant). If we went nuclear-power-free, we would lose all those benefits. So we might need nuclear power plants.

The biggest impact of the quake has been the psychological damage. I lost a friend and an acquaintance and it was my first experience of losing someone I was always with or used to talk to every day, and it made me feel sad in ways I had never felt.

Rina Dishman, 15

Hokkaido International School, Sapporo

Daughter of a Japanese mother and an American father; enjoys literature and art class at school and hopes to be a journalist.

Japanese people value old traditions as well as newer technology and advances in knowledge, and they will continue to do so in the future. The unique and ongoing traditions and culture of Japan make the country seem accepting of anything new the world has to offer. This is something that makes me hopeful about the future.

The events that occurred after the earthquake worry me the most. The meltdowns at the nuclear power plant were the most disconcerting, since they are the cause of unsafe vegetables, fish and many other food items. Radioactivity is still prominent in many areas of Japan, although it has been almost a year. Sometimes I doubt that the country is making progress, which worries me a lot, since so many people are still living in horrible conditions after 3/11.

Hopefully by the time I have become an adult, the state of the economy will be better. In turn, I hope to make it better for future generations by working to create an environment that does not rely too much on nuclear power, and also by helping to create a more open and reliable government for the people of the country. By building trust and self-reliance, I strongly believe that Japan will be an even better country than it is now.

Aiko Hikota, 17

Kanazawa University High School, Kanazawa, Ishikawa Pref.

Favorite subject: chemistry. Aspires to be a doctor.

Japan has grown as a technology-driven nation. News stories demonstrating Japan’s high-tech power include such things as the No. 1 ranking for speed achieved by the K supercomputer. Japan will have to utilize these technologies in its education system so it can boost its international standing and make breakthroughs to overcome the many problems we face.

What worries me is the fact that Japan has not been able to get out of its recession although its Asian neighbors, such as China and South Korea, have grown rapidly. In addition, as we are heavily dependent on imports, I fear we might come to be subordinate to other Asian nations. We must work to maintain our national standing, but we are faced with depopulation and energy issues.

I want the future Japan to be an economically robust nation that is acknowledged by other nations. These days we see more people who put their interests first, but last year’s earthquake has reminded us about the importance of good hearts. In order that Japan is filled with good-hearted people, I feel it is our generation’s responsibility to keep such spirits alive.

Masahiro Higa, 17

Kanazawa University High School, Kanazawa, Ishikawa Pref.

Belongs to the school’s economics study group, and wants to be either an influential financial figure or a doctor.

Japan’s technologies such as hybrid cars and light-emitting diodes, and its subcultures including anime and pop idols, are the hopes of the nation. One of my friends, who was born abroad, was surprised by the superb quality of electronics and toilets in Japan. Virtual idols such as Hatsune Miku and the anime phenomenon help discount our fears about the recession.

What I’m worried about is, when we talk about 復興 fukkō (reconstruction), a lot has been planned about 復 fuku (restoring), but not much about the 興 kō (prosperity) part — namely, how these areas affected by last year’s disaster will be developed after they get back on their feet. By thinking about the 興 kō (prosperity) factor, I believe we can also achieve that other 幸 kō (happiness).

I’m also worried about the so-called backyard syndrome, when people act selfishly, saying how they want to help with reconstruction but not accepting disaster debris in their communities, or refusing vegetables grown in Fukushima.

Following the Great East Japan Earthquake, my club came up with some proposals that could lead to the reconstruction and prosperity of Tohoku. We made a presentation of our ideas at our cultural festival, and then got feedback from students in Tohoku. We are thinking of sending our proposals to municipal governments and to the central government’s Reconstruction Agency.

Yumi Ogawa, 18

Toyo Eiwa Jogakuin Senior High School, Minato Ward, Tokyo

Likes English; belongs to the dance club at school; wants to create a new international exchange program in the future.

I know many people who are genuinely concerned about the future of Japan and are trying to change it, such as a second-year high school boy who says he wants to become the prime minister, and a college girl who now studies at Harvard and says she wants to reform Japanese politics. I want to join a group of such highly-motivated people.

What I’m worried about is the radioactive substances still leaking from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Even when the mass media say there is no immediate health risk, nobody knows for sure what the health effects of long-term exposure to radiation could be. I’ve talked with classmates about how we might someday have babies with deformities. And I’m also worried about the state finances and the population decline. While we have so many other problems, the number of people capable of dealing with these issues is on the decline.

I want to leave a nation in which all children can pursue their dreams, free from radiation health-risk concerns. By rising successfully from the quake, the nuclear disaster and the long-running recession, I want to leave a strong society that makes children feel that we can recover from hardships.

Joy Hosoda, 18

Toyo Eiwa Jogakuin Senior High School, Minato Ward, Tokyo

Belongs to the English drama club, and is trying to figure out what to do after college.

I have experienced the scary nature of the media first-hand. There was a staggering gap between what was reported in the Japanese and foreign media. I routinely read The New York Times, and I was surprised it reported the disaster so differently. I wondered which reports to believe. And I couldn’t figure out exactly who is responsible for the nuclear disaster. I hope to see more consistency in how news is reported, even if it’s negative. That way, many people will be able to share wisdom and ideas, and that will help us find concrete solutions.

I was at school when the quake struck. We’d never experienced such a large quake, but being the most senior students in our school we reacted calmly. Our fears and the damage we suffered were trivial compared to those in the north, but we did suffer temporary communication problems. Trains stopped and cellphone services became unavailable. The easiest ways to reach people was through the social-networking services (SNS) on the Internet. It was scary to think that families and acquaintances we contact so often could suddenly become unreachable. But on the other hand, I received many messages on Facebook from friends overseas showing concern about Japan. I’m thankful we live in an era when we can easily learn what’s going on in the world.

Daisuke Matsuoka, 16

Koriyama High School, Koriyama, Nara Pref.

Head of the student council; wants to be a teacher, and eventually a leading politician.

The biggest glimmer of hope is the “solidarity” and “kindness” of the Japanese people. For example, the earthquake inflicted great damage on the (Fukushima No. 1) nuclear power plant, and now only two reactors are operating in Japan. Even before the quake, we were told that Japan would be thrown into turmoil if we lost nuclear power. But we managed to cope (with power shortages) last summer through energy-saving efforts by companies and households.

There is no shortage of things I’m worried about. But the insularism of Japan will be a big challenge for the country as we see more globalization taking place. The current social system and the mindset of people are built on the premise of “Japan on an upward slope.” But the country our generation will face is “Japan on a downward slope.” We must adapt our values to fit the changes.

I’m active in the student council, and I’ve done fundraising activities and debris-removal work as a volunteer in disaster-hit areas. It changed my values. I saw many problems that weren’t picked up on by the media, and I seriously thought about how I could get such problems to be understood by friends at my school. As a result, we started a campaign to collect stationery items to donate to the disaster areas.

Yui Fukuda, 17

Matsuyama-Minami High School, Matsuyama, Ehime Pref.

Likes studying chemistry; wants to become a dietitian “to bring health and smiles to people.”

Advances in health care, machinery and computers will offer treatments for diseases and injuries that have long been incurable or too costly to treat. As a result, many precious lives would be saved. I look forward to a future when everyone can lead safe and fulfilling lives. I want to study hard to build such a future. Our potential is unlimited.

What I feel is we have fewer and fewer playgrounds for children, and so the kinds of play are becoming limited. My younger brother, a sixth-grader in elementary school, has been practicing soccer for years. Before, he would run out to the nearby park the moment he came back from school to play soccer with his teammates and school friends. But fewer parks now allow kids to play soccer or baseball, because such sports could pose some kind of danger (to other children).

As children have fewer places to play, they end up meeting at somebody’s place after school, playing video games. I worry that Japan, for the sake of children’s safety, will keep losing the kinds of empty lots and parks that are often featured in anime stories like “Doraemon” and “Sazae-san” — and thus produce kids who are obsessed only with video games.

Kana Uneda, 16

Matsuyama-Minami High School, Matsuyama, Ehime Pref.

Enjoys mathematics at school and hopes to work in the airline industry.

With the Great East Japan Earthquake, the people of Tohoku really were placed in a situation of absolute despair. Even so, we have heard stories about how the Japanese spirit really shone. There were stories of a man who helped evacuate all the Chinese exchange students before he himself was swallowed up by the tsunami; stories about the father who went home to save his family only to lose his own life. Even within that darkness there was a light that was shining. I think that “spirit” is the greatest asset that the Japanese possess. I think that in the future, no matter what happens, that strong bond between people’s hearts will save Japan.

I think the flipside to this ability to care for other people is a tendency to rely on other people’s judgments — for there to be a lack of individual decisiveness. This tendency is often discussed with regard to young people like me, but I think it is the same with adults, too. When I look around me, and even when I look at politicians on television, it certainly doesn’t seem like there are many people who are acting and speaking entirely on their own initiative. If we continue like this, then it will become more and more difficult for us to express what is good about our country.

Fuma Yamaguchi, 17

Yukoukan Nagasaki Prefectural High School, Hirado, Nagasaki Pref.

Enjoys soccer and aspires to be a public servant in regional government.

The thing Japan can be most proud of is its scientific and manufacturing technology. We have a level of quality manufacturing and a creativity of ideas that does not exist within China’s mass-production model. I look forward to seeing a revolution of technological inventions and developments that will enliven Japan once again — like it did in the postwar period.

Since the start of problems at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, there have been calls to rethink the use of nuclear power. But at the same time, other energy sources are also limited or have adverse effects on the environment. We need an energy revolution — we need to improve the efficiency of things such as solar- and wind-powered electricity generation.

I think to date it has been difficult for Japanese to have a big dream and pursue it — because of the Japanese tendency to cut people down whenever they diverge from the norm. As they say here, “The nail that sticks out will get hammered down.” I hope that my children grow up in a Japan that is not afraid of change.

Mayuko Kakizoe, 17

Yukoukan Nagasaki Prefectural High School, Hirado, Nagasaki Pref.

Enjoys English, mathematics, physics, science and music; aspires to be a doctor or researcher.

My greatest hope lies in science, which harnesses Japan’s talents for precision technology and careful planning. For example, the small-scale unmanned space explorer Hayabusa (developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency [JAXA]; launched May 2003) really thrilled me. I think the success of that mission (which brought a sample of material from an asteroid to Earth in June 2010) stemmed from the seriousness and perseverance that characterize the Japanese people. I think it’s interesting that as the unknown aspects of the world are researched, our lifestyles also become richer.

When I think about the problems Japan faces, I think they all have the same source — and that is the Japanese people’s lack of confidence in themselves.

The thing I worry about most is the lack of leadership. When I look at Japanese politics I end up thinking, “Oh, what a terrible job that appears to be.” Even in times of crisis, the measures taken are vague, and things quickly degenerate into arguments over responsibility. This probably occurs because the people who lead have no confidence in what they themselves are saying and doing.

The second thing that worries me is that the idea of Japanese-ness is becoming more diluted. I think it is good that Japan is gradually becoming more global, but I feel Japanese traditional culture is gradually being usurped by foreign culture — be it with regard to music, language or whatever. This is probably because the Japanese people lack confidence in their own culture.

Naoki Irabu, 17

Showa Pharmaceutical University-affiliated High School, Urasoe, Okinawa Pref.

Enjoys Japanese history; hopes to be a public servant working in a job related to the environment.

When presented with a goal, Japanese people are good at working step-by-step toward achieving it. When something goes wrong, they can band together. So whatever difficulty comes along, I think Japan will be okay.

Still, I worry that the Japanese have an aversion to things that seem difficult. They fear the idea of trying to make progress. At the same time, I think a lot of people have started to believe it might be best to make do with a life that consists of just the bare essentials. If they do that, then if something goes wrong they will have less to lose. Thus the natural human desire to want to make things better, to make things good, might be lost. I find that very concerning.

I want to leave my children a society in which, if you work hard, then you will be able to achieve your goals. For example, if someone wants to be a professional sports player then pure effort will never be enough. That person will also need equipment and a place to practice. I want to create an environment where people with dreams will receive the necessary support — not just from the government, but from concerned private citizens, too.

I was not affected by the quake directly. But, with the daily reports of “death” that we received from the news media, I became very sad and also lonely. I have lost someone close to me to illness before. That was such a sad and lonely experience.

Natural disasters are different to illness in that they come so suddenly.

How should people overcome sadness? Since the disaster, that’s what I’ve been thinking about. I hope it’s true that sadness heals with time. Maybe that is why people have in the past been able to carry on.

Takahiro Uehara, 16

Showa Pharmaceutical University-affiliated High School, Urasoe, Okinawa Pref.

Interested in politics and economics; hopes to be a lawyer.

Since World War II ended in 1945, Japan has played a very important role in international society in the promotion of peace. I think Japan’s stance of standing firm on Article 9, the war-renouncing peace clause in the Constitution, is significant in terms of maintaining this role. As long as Japan does not forget how frightening land war and nuclear war can be, hope will remain.

What worries me is the fact that Japan’s population is aging and at the same time decreasing. What this means is that it will become difficult to maintain regional communities. If those communities disappear, and their unique culture and identity goes with them, then Japan will become an entirely homogenous society.

I hope to leave to my children a Japan in which each regional community is able to maintain its unique identity. Take, for example, Okinawa, where I live, there is a wonderful natural environment, which is a priceless asset. But this is gradually being destroyed by development, and it could be more so by a relocation of the U.S. military base (from Futenma). Losing a natural environment is the same as losing culture, and so for all of Japan I think it is necessary to establish a country in which those assets will be passed on to future generations.

I learned from the disaster that I must be vigilant about events that could far transcend anyone’s expectations. Living surrounded by water, like we do in Okinawa, and having seen how easily a tsunami can swallow up coastal towns, I realize I have to discard that naive assumption that everything will always be “OK.”

The Japan Times would like to thank the many teachers and school authorities who assisted in collecting written submissions from their students, which are presented here in edited form.