Tohoku students showcase area’s products at New York fair


Staff Writer

Students from Tohoku University in Sendai on Saturday showcased artifacts and other products from the disaster-hit Tohoku region at the Japan Block Fair in New York’s West Village to help companies in the recovering region drum up more business overseas.

A group of 15 students showed off eight products, including three from Miyagi — a small traditional “tansu” (chest) from Sendai, hand cream and lip balm made with “tsubaki” (camellia) oil from Kesennuma, and tomato juice from Marusen Farm in Kashimadai.

Some 25 New York-based Japanese restaurants and food vendors participated in the fair. But this was the first time a group from Tohoku had joined since the event began five years ago.

The promotion is a collaboration between Tohoku University and the Isotope Foundation, which brings students to business seminars in New York to familiarize them with global commerce. Before they came to the U.S., the students canvassed Tohoku-based firms seeking to tap the U.S. market and offered to provide them market research based on surveys on price points and design.

Only 36.6 percent of disaster-hit firms responding to a recent survey by the Reconstruction Agency said sales had recovered.

“We’d like to support our community with grass-roots activities like this,” said Munenori Takahashi, a Tohoku University senior from Sendai. “But companies in Tohoku now need more than sympathy from people, which kept their businesses afloat, and they have to really show the value of their products.”

Passersby seemed to like that the products actually came from Tohoku.

“I think a small chest like this (Sendai tansu) is way too expensive for $850, but people would buy it if there was a story behind it,” said Charm Sue, 51, an interior designer from New York who bought a wooden sake cup for $30. The cup has a picture of the famous “miracle pine” in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, that initially survived the tsunami.

“It’s good that the students are raising awareness of Tohoku products,” said Jenesis Jimenez, 21, a senior at the University at Albany, State University of New York. “We remember it somewhere in our heart but this helps us not to forget about it.”