The Japan News by The Yomiuri Shimbun

Home > Campus Now > SPECIAL REPORT : Early Spring Issue (Apr. 2014)

Campus Now

Early Spring Issue (Apr. 2014)


Waseda’s support for reconstruction

—3 years after the Great East Japan Earthquake—

3 years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011. Reconstruction is still lagging behind schedule.
From immediately after the earthquake, Waseda University has considered what can and must be done for regional reconstruction and a brighter future. Waseda has conducted a variety of support activities both inside and outside our school.
In this article, we will review past activities, discuss recovery from an academic perspective, and convey our university’s position towards disaster.

Support Activity of WAVOC

Support together with community and residents

We discussed reconstruction and support activities for disaster regions with staff at the Waseda University Hirayama Ikuo Volunteer Center (WAVOC).

Waseda volunteers striving for social contribution through a trinity of alumni, students and faculty

Staff from the Waseda University Hirayama Ikuo Volunteer Center (WAVOC).
Front row, from right: Chisako Homma (Office Manager) and Masashi Hashiyada (Coordinator; stationed at the Athletic Center from January 2014) Back row, from right: Full-Time Instructors Mamoru Suzuki and Ayako Fukumoto

WAVOC fulfills a core role in Waseda’s deployment of volunteers to support reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake. Following the earthquake, WAVOC immediately deployed an advance team of volunteers. As of January 31, 2014, the center has deployed a total of 4,404 volunteers in 302 missions. Activities range from shoveling mud and removing tsunami debris immediately after the earthquake to reconstruction events, tourism support, sports/cultural exchange conducted by athletic teams and clubs, community-building in temporary housing, learning support for children, and translation activities. From 2013, WAVOC started internships through partnerships with corporations from the disaster region.

Students who volunteered immediately after the disaster witnessed cut-off roads and impoverished towns. They listened to local residents who had lost their families. In the midst of such tragedy, each student continued to search for ways in which they could help. When confronted with the overwhelming task of reconstruction, some students were swallowed by the feeling of helplessness. However, interaction with local residents showed students that even the smallest effort can make a difference. Spurred by this recognition, students continued to make small efforts. The keyword behind activities is “together with the community and residents.” Unlike the development of infrastructure and other visible forms of reconstruction, emotional recovery takes a long time. We hope that young Waseda students can aid in emotional recovery by visiting disaster regions, spending time with residents and listening to their experiences. Many people have sent our school messages that they now feel a fondness for Waseda after witnessing the kindness of students. Furthermore, by listening directly to the needs of local residents and continuing to hold activities, it is possible to diversely change the form of support to match regional conditions.

Chronicle of volunteer activities to support reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake—“even the smallest effort can make a difference.”

WAVOC acts as a pipeline between society and our university, supporting social contributions by students through the provision of a broad range of experience-based learning opportunities. In terms of reconstruction support, we have received great support from residents of the disaster area and from Waseda alumni who are now active throughout Japan. In order to respond to the expectations of such individuals, we will pass the baton from alumni to our university, and from our university to students, faculty and staff. This will enable each Waseda volunteer to work for the good of society from their own perspective. Such individual contributions are essential to our continued efforts for reconstruction.

WAVOC website

Report 01: Kesennuma City, Miyagi Prefecture

For the people of Kesennuma!
Students’ compassion leads to support activities in Kesennuma.

Exchange activities held at assembly hall of temporary housing (November 2011)

Opening ceremony of Kesennuma Port Festival (August 2012)

Holding of Waseda Cup (June 2012)

Every weekend from May to June of 2011, student volunteers conducted cleanup activities in Kesennuma inland bay.

Located in Miyagi Prefecture, Kesennuma City is based on the core industries of marine products and tourism. The city is well-known as a production center for shark fin. The Kesennuma region was devastated by the earthquake, tsunami and fires. In response to requests from many alumni for support, Kesennuma was one of the first regions in which Waseda University started activities to support reconstruction. Alumnus Masaki Takahashi, President of K-Shokai Corporation, provided his company’s health facilities as lodging for student volunteers.

“To be honest, I originally felt that the idea of student volunteers was nothing but trouble,” recalls President Takahashi. “However, my feeling changed when 4 bus-loads of students arrived equipped with work clothes, helmets, work gloves and masks. All the students had grim, serious expressions on their faces. As a Waseda alumnus and a resident of Kesennuma, I felt that I had to respond with a smile to show that such concern was not necessary. This was my first smile in a long time, and it gave me renewed energy. Student volunteers had undergone preliminary training and showed great consideration for our situation. From their attitude, it was obvious that they had come with strong resolve. I felt embarrassed at how I first thought that their presence would be troublesome. Even today, I am driven by their tearful rendition of the Waseda school song which they sang before returning to school.”

Spurred by students’ strong resolve to help Kesennuma and Waseda alumni, WAVOC staff decided to continue activities in Kesennuma as part of the WAVOC Great East Japan Earthquake Reconstruction Support Project. At the same time, President Takahashi was so impressed by the hard work and compassion of student volunteers that he introduced the Board of Education and Tourism Office in Kesennuma, helping to expand the range of our activities. From October, we implemented activities which focused on caring for residents through support for study and sports. Particular emphasis was placed on support for residents living in temporary housing. In 2012, we started volunteer activities in conjunction with a meeting to determine renewal measures and a future vision for the regional tourism industry. Every weekend, students traveled to Kesennuma and asked major tourist facilities such as hotels, Japanese inns and restaurants to distribute/collect questionnaires to tourists. Volunteers also performed data entry for the collected questionnaires and analyzed the results. In 2013, students proposed calisthenics using the Kesennuma City’s mascot Hoya Boya. It grew popular among local residents, and these calisthenics are still performed today at nursery schools in Kesennuma. Students continued to pass the baton of volunteer activities, thus creating a bond with the hearts of regional residents.

Even today, WAVOC continues a variety of activities to help Kesennuma. One example is the “Evergreen Seaside Afforestation Project,” which uses evergreen trees to form a tide-water control forest as a disaster-preparedness measure for coexistence with the ocean. Based on vegetation in the Kesennuma region, the project involves the harvesting of seeds or seedlings, raising and planting of them. Throughout the long-term process of supporting reconstruction, Waseda University cooperates with its affiliated high schools. Volunteer projects include participation from university students, alumni and students from Waseda University Honjo Senior High School. “In order to renew the tide-water control forest in the disaster area, we are raising seedlings of camellias and other trees taken from the region,” explains Takeshi Hiroshige, Coordinator at WAVOC. “We plan to hold a tree-planting festival in several years. Volunteer activities feature participation from people in a wide range of age groups and positions, including Kesennuma residents and members of other support organizations. In the future, we plan to invite people living near our university to participate. By creating opportunities for more people to become involved in reconstruction activities, we can ensure continued recognition for conditions in the disaster area. It will also lead to improved regional welfare at Waseda.” Hiroshige speaks with great conviction about continuing to value the bond formed with the Kesennuma region through reconstruction support.

A cappella concert held by Street Corner Symphony in the lobby of the gymnasium used as an evacuation shelter at that time (August 2011)

Participating in tree-planting festival in the Hashikami district of Kesennuma (October 2012)

Fishermen’s banner discovered in the rubble. Masaki Takahashi is 5th from the right. (June 2011)

Report 02: Miyako City, Iwate Prefecture

Sports, jazz, cheerleading…
Continue to cheer for Miyako residents in many ways

Musical instruction by the New Orleans Jazz Club (July 2011)

President Kamata participates in cleanup activities. (July 2011)

Volunteers gather around Miyako City Mayor Masanori Yamamoto (center) on the day after a Christmas Illumination Concert. Yasuko Matsubara is standing to the left of the mayor. (November 2012)

Miyako City, Iwate Prefecture has been prone to tsunami since ancient times. Despite having a large breakwater wall, Taro Town and other coastal villages suffered catastrophic damage. Many alumni work as school faculty in the Miyako region, which led to Waseda using Miyako Kita High School as a lodging facility for starting volunteer activities from May 2011. Support activities in Miyako were mainly aimed at “raising spirits” by responding to requests from regional residents. The Cheerleading Club continued to urge on local residents, while the New Orleans Jazz Club held a “Tanabata Concert” and performed jazz on the platforms and in the railcars of the Sanriku Railway.

“Following the disaster, it was the first time that music flowed through a silent city,” says Miyako City resident Yasuko Matsubara when recalling her experience with the many forms of support from Waseda students. “I still vividly recall how the sound of jazz filled my body. I was refreshed and galvanized by the performance held in the shopping districts around stations and at the Sanriku Railway. Following a Christmas concert held in 2011, Waseda students stood on a pedestrian bridge in front of the city hall and sang to Miyako’s ocean, where so many of our loved ones now sleep. I felt my spirit being saved by the melody which sparkled in the night sky.”

Waseda has also actively engaged in sports interaction through wrestling, judo, baseball and other games. “I am grateful for how Waseda University, which seemed so far away, came to Miyako High School,” says Aoi Sasaki, who was a 2nd-year student at Miyako High School when she was taught by the Waseda Judo Team. “Thanks to the kind instruction which I received, my affection for Waseda grew.” Sasaki decided to enter Waseda University. Today, while studying at the School of Social Sciences, she participates in sports interaction in her hometown of Miyako as a member of the Judo Team. As such, Sasaki has experience in both receiving and giving aid. “I hope that Waseda will conduct support for further interaction with local residents,” she says. “We must visit with disaster survivors and listen to their experiences. A deeper understanding is important for formulating support which meets real needs.”

Joint performance by the Cheerleading Club and junior high school students (October 2011)

Members of the Waseda Baseball Club provide technical instruction. (January 2012)

Joint practice with the Waseda Judo Team. Aoi Sasaki is 4th from left in the middle row. (July 2011)

[Report 03] Rikuzentakata City, Iwate Prefecture

“Even the smallest effort can make a difference.”
Study support through a Schooling Room & the Hamarassen Farm Project

At Tomon Festival, selling vegetable harvested at the Hamarassen Farm.
From right Kazuko Kanno, Taro Yamamoto (October 2013)

At the Hamarassen Farm, working together with locals (September 2013)

Waseda Table Tennis Team instructs and interacts with children. (July 2011)

Volunteer students help children with their studies in the Schooling Room. (February 2013)

Waseda Cup was held with participation from 8 teams and 320 players. (September 2012)

Students remove rubble and cut grass in the fields of Takata Town. (August 2011)

As part of exchange through baseball, Waseda athletes receive an explanation about the day of the disaster while walking through the damaged buildings of Takata High School. (January 2012)

The Waseda University Mixed Chorus sings at Takataka Festival, the cultural festival of Takada High School. (August 2012)

Located in Iwate Prefecture, Rikuzentakata City is home to the “miracle pine tree” which is a symbol of hope for reconstruction. The city was devastated by the tsunami. Immediately following the earthquake, the city was in no state to search for ways in which volunteers could help. Then, in June 2011, the Takata High School Table Tennis Team secured a place in an inter-high school tournament and the Waseda University Table Tennis Team was deployed. “The students of Takata are our top priority,” said the Waseda coach, despite the collegiate championships being just a short while away. “Put your full effort into helping them.” Encouraged by their coach’s words, Waseda athletes began to instruct and interact with the high school players. “I was a selfish person whose only concern was personal victory,” said one Waseda athlete after getting to know a high school student who remained positive despite losing both of his parents in the tsunami. “Now, my dream is to find work which will allow me to benefit society.” The athlete’s values were changed by his or her experience in the disaster area. Today, he is a working member of society but still visits Takata High School on his own to play table tennis with the students.

Support needs are changing as time passes. There is a shift from labor-based support such as removing rubble and shoveling mud from gutters to support which focuses on interaction with people. Examples include instruction for clubs at elementary schools, junior high schools and high schools and cheerleading clubs, study support such as providing a “Schooling Room,” personal interaction through sports, and concerts held at hospitals. In August 2011, the Judo Team delivered tatami mats to local high schools. The Baseball Club held a baseball camp in January 2012. In September, the Waseda Cup was held through cooperation from the Waseda University Association Football Club and alumni Hisashi Kato, who was Special Coach of the Japan Football Association at that time. Local coaches were thrilled to see the children’s eyes filled with excitement for the first time in a long time. Countless people requested that the Waseda Cup be held at the same spot in Rikuzentakata every year.

In December 2012, plans were finalized for the study support program “Three Days Program” (held in Rikuzentakata during 3 weekdays) which would be jointly held with the University of Tokyo during vacation. Alumni Ichio Yamada, Director of Education in Rikuzentakata City, played an instrumental part in realizing this program. Also held bimonthly is the “3-Days, 0-Night Program” in which Waseda students depart Tokyo on an overnight bus, provide study support to junior high school and high school students upon arriving in Rikuzentakata the following morning, and then return to Tokyo via an overnight bus. “Immediately following the earthquake, students full of Waseda spirit came quickly to the disaster area on the tough schedule of the 3-Days, 0-Night Program,” recalls Director Yamada. “I have never felt such pride, trust and affection in my alma mater Waseda University, which cultivates such students. As an alumnus, I am overjoyed that Waseda University has become part of our children’s lives and given them something to aspire to. Through its students, I hope that Waseda will continue to utilize its power to conduct continual support activities, particularly for young students in the disaster area. I also hope that Waseda will continue to offer study support to children in Rikuzentakata, as well as to provide instruction to athletic teams and cultural clubs.”

In addition to study support, Waseda has started the “Hamarassen Farm Project” which is held once or twice every month. In the Tohoku dialect, hamarassen means “everyone is welcome.” The Hamarassen Farm Project is promoted by the Iwate Prefectural Takata Hospital, where Waseda alumnus Mikihito‎ Ishiki served as Director until March 2013. In order to prevent disuse syndrome, the project encourages residents of temporary housing to participate in farm work, thus maintaining a healthy mind and body. “I am grateful to Waseda University students for coming to Rikuzentakata,” says temporary housing resident Kazuko Kanno when discussing her interaction with students.”The students all seem very bright, and they have the solid support of alumni and the university. I hope that they will conduct activities in our town for a long time to come. My fondest memory is when I participated in last October’s Tomon Festival and sold vegetables which were harvested at the farm together with students. I hope that I can participate again this year.”

Taro Yamamoto (4th-year student at the School of Creative Science and Engineering) is the leader of the Hamarassen Farm Project and is touched at how local residents welcome him as if he were their grandson. “Conditions in the disaster area can only be understood by interacting and speaking directly with people in the community,” says Yamamoto resolutely. “Students may not be capable of doing a lot, but I now realize that even the smallest effort can make a difference. For example, I am capable of making a steady, sustained effort. At this time, I want to help Rikuzentakata in some ways even if it is small. In the future, I hope to play a leading role while contributing to the reconstruction of the city as an engineer.”