To be honest, I’m not quite sure where to start—the agonizingly long plane ride, our serene time in the onsen (hot springs bath), or the food. Oh man, the Japanese cuisine! Everything has truly been such an amazing experience.

Today was, however, especially special as it was one of the greatest highlights of our trip thus far—visiting the disaster-stricken sites in Ofunato and Rikuzen Takata City. We first visited the Saito Confectionary factory to see the process of making their specialty “seagull egg,” which we also received as delicious omiyage (souvenirs). Mr. Saitou, the CEO, himself gave us the tour before leading into a presentation of his experience evacuating his office and employees, searching for his missing family members, and enduring life at home without heat, electricity, and other needs. Everything was so overwhelming, but it was a reminder of how important it is to be able to share what we’ve learned once we get back. Something that was really memorable for me was seeing the word kizuna (bonds of friendship) at the end of his presentation, and then being able to speak about how the kizuna between Japan and the US has strengthened from our experience today. (Of course, seeing the TV camera up in my face as I gave the thank you speech will also be something to look back on … and hopefully laugh about in the future.)

Afterwards, we went on a bus-tour guided by Mr. Konno, another survivor in the neighboring town. From the authentic replica of a traditional wealthy farmhouse, to the remnants of Mr. Konno’s home, everything was truly unbelievable. I could not believe that I was really seeing all of the damage and debris in person, and then what a rare opportunity this experience was. While we’ve all seen pictures or perhaps videos of the area on the news, to be able to stand in front of a building with just a few survivors …. I was once again reminded how much my responsibility as a participant of this trip had grown. Mr. Konno was an incredible man—friendly and humorous, but also very earnest and sincere. I feel really honored to have been able to meet him and hear his story.

The Solitary Miracle Tree. The Flame of Hope. Both were inspiring monuments of Iwate Prefecture’s efforts to recover and determination for the future. But above that, Mr. Konno’s words—what was said and unsaid—were the most touching symbol of Japan’s will.

“Please don’t cry for me.” 

7/13/2012 07:13:30 am

Your way with words is so touching - sorry I was really feeling the devastation as a lump in my throat before I got to the end and saw the comment not to cry. I do feel empathy with their situation. Makes one stop and appreciate everything in our daily lives, as who knows what might happen tomorrow.

Kim Yi
7/19/2012 02:17:21 pm

What a beautiful piece of writing, Grace! I hope this trip has been a wonderful life experience for you.

Young Moon
7/20/2012 05:57:14 am

Beautiful writing! Reads like a poem. It is touching and describes what this program (kizuna) is all about. Hope what you learned from this trip guides you through your life.


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