Reconstruction of Tohoku

Multifaceted support for recovering communities

“Arigato” Host Town for Supporting Reconstruction is a government project where towns in three disaster-stricken prefectures in the Tohoku region will host people and Olympians and Paralympians taking part in the 2020 Tokyo Games from various countries and regions, in addition to the conventional Host Town Initiative. Through hosting, each town will express their thanks to those who supported reconstruction efforts.

The Cabinet Secretariat of the Headquarters for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, under Shunichi Suzuki, minister in charge of the 2020 Tokyo Games, established the project last September as part of the Beyond 2020 Program, which transmits the attractiveness of Japanese culture to create a legacy.

The theme of the project is to promote exchanges toward or beyond the 2020 Tokyo Games between towns in Tohoku and countries and regions that provided relief during the disaster. The exchanges vary from those with elementary school children to local government officials.

Kamaishi, one of the Host Towns in Iwate Prefecture, will host Australian athletes as it has a heart-warming connection to the country. Scott Fardy, an Australian rugby player who was playing for the Kamaishi Seawaves at the time of the Great East Japan Earthquake, stayed in Kamaishi in spite of the Australian embassy’s recommendation to return home. Among other things, he volunteered with his teammates to load and unload relief supplies for area residents.

Macedon Ranges, Victoria, began welcoming junior high students from Kamaishi in the 2014 academic year as part of Kamaishi’s study abroad experience program.

Kamaishi also invited Fardy, who was also a member of the Australian national rugby team during the 2015 Rugby World Cup, to a variety of events on March 12 and 13. He played rugby with elementary school students, joined rugby practice at Kamaishi High School and Kamaishi Commercial and Technical High School, visited the construction site of a stadium to be used during the Rugby World Cup 2019 and spoke at a resident friendship event. Kamaishi is one of the RWC 2019 venues, as Japan is the host country for the tournament.

The town also plans to invite students from Macedon Ranges to show gratitude for hosting its students and take them to various locations to see the current status of reconstruction.

Watari, Miyagi Prefecture, is a designated Host Town set to host Israeli athletes. Celia Dunkelman, chairperson of the nonprofit organization Celia Circle, is a goodwill ambassador of Israel to Japan and sent aid to Watari residents in the wake of the 2011 disaster.

Celia Circle conducted workshops on music, painting and other activities to ease mental strain and led seminars to teach child care workers how to care for children affected by the tragedy. The art workshops are ongoing.

As an exchange activity, Watari Mayor Toshio Saito and two town officials visited Israel to thank Israeli government officials, the former Israeli ambassador to Japan, therapists who provided mental care to Watari children and others from Feb. 10 to 12. They also signed an agreement for Watari to be the Host Town for Israeli athletes for the 2020 Games and requested Israeli people visit Watari for general exchanges.

In another event, Watari joined a memorial event celebrating the 70th anniversary of the establishment of Israel. Watari’s elementary and nursery school children wrote messages to children of future generations on an Israeli flag and put it in a time capsule to be unearthed on the 100th anniversary of the event. Israel collected 5,000 such flags from all over the world and displayed 200 of them, including the one bearing the messages from Watari, at an open-air museum in Jerusalem. Watari’s was the only one with messages from Asia in the display.

The town is planning to hold lectures by Israeli embassy officials at local elementary and junior high schools, lead Israeli people on tours of reconstruction sites, as well as host friendly judo matches.

Minami-Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, will host athletes from Djibouti, Taiwan, the U.S. and South Korea, as each country reached out with donations after the disaster.

After learning about Minami-Soma Mayor through Time magazine’s 2011 list of the world’s 100 most influential people, Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh sent a donation to the tsunami-struck town located near both the doomed nuclear power plant and quake’s epicenter. In April 2012, Djibouti Ambassador to Japan Ahmed Araita Ali visited the city, bringing a second donation and offering prayers to the mayor from the president and the people of the African country.

In November 2011, the Rotary Club of Sanchong North, Taiwan, and other organizations donated a vehicle to transport food to Minami-Soma. Additionally, Taipei invited children unable to play sports outside because of radiation concerns to visit. Junior high school students also traveled to Taipei to participate in friendly baseball games.

In appreciation for support after the disaster, Minami-Soma sent karate instructors to Djibouti from Feb. 11 to 14. They gave karate lessons to Djibouti children and introduced Minami-Soma’s culture. They also established a solid relationship with the Olympic committee of Djibouti, paving the way for visits from athletes before the games.