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Strengthening the Ties between Kesennuma and Waseda to Prevent Memories of Natural Disasters from Fading

WAVOC Kesennuma Team
Shuya Wakayama (left)
Keisuke Makino (Middle)
Yuko Tanaka (Right)

Two years after the Great East Japan Earthquake, students continue to serve as volunteers in Kesennuma City, Miyagi. They are members of the Kesennuma Team, a student team formed as a part of the Great East Japan Earthquake Reconstruction Assistance Project of the Hirayama Ikuo Volunteer Center (WAVOC). These students, easily recognizable by the burgundy tops they wear, have been seen around Kesennuma a lot over the past few years.

Waseda students have been involved in a variety of volunteer activities since the earthquake struck. Many Waseda students themselves come from Kesennuma, and despite the miserable conditions they live in, the people of Kesennuma always give the students a warm welcome. With memories of the earthquake and its aftermath still fresh in their minds, the students established the Kesennuma Team in September 2011 with the aim of offering continuous assistance to the people of Kesennuma. Since then, the volunteer students have often visited Kesennuma.

The team currently has about 20 members. Members are actively recruited from among the freshman class.

The reasons why each of the twenty team members decided to join vary. Having joined the team at its inception, Shuya Wakayama is one of its oldest members and its current leader. He explains his reason for joining as follows: “The Great East Japan Earthquake struck on the day of my high school graduation. Experiencing the earthquake on a day that marked a turning point in my life was one of the reasons I joined the team, but mostly I felt compelled do something to express my sympathy for the victims of the earthquake. After I entered Waseda University, I joined the WAVOC volunteer bus and visited the area that had been hit by the disaster. That was the first time I saw the devastation that had befallen the area with my own eyes.”

The Kesennuma Team is involved in three major activities. The first is the holding of monthly Tea Parties for all the people living in temporary housing so as to offer them a place for interaction; the second is the provision of support for Kesennuma tourism; and the third is the provision of study assistance during the summer vacation. Yuko Tanaka, who joined the team last fall, describes the appeal of Kesennuma as follows: “I first joined the team out of a sense of responsibility. But now, I just want to go to Kesennuma and to see the people there again. Visiting Kesennuma is now part of my life.” Another member, Keisuke Makino, says, “I’m happy to hear that the people of Kesennuma say that only Waseda students still visit them. Some people say that they look forward to the Tea Party, and that attending it makes life worth living. Hearing them say that ‘The earthquake took everything from us, but it brought you’ is something I will never forget.”

After approximately two years of activity, the team is now doing all that it can to prevent memories of the earthquake from fading. It was the desire of the team when it was first formed to remain in contact with Kesennuma for as long as possible. “It was easy to assemble a group of people immediately after the disaster, but it’s not so easy anymore. We need creative efforts to get more people involved. We want to come up with plans that freshmen will want to participate in,” says Shuya Wakayama. The team will never cease to be grateful to the Waseda Supporters Club, which provides monetary assistance. Also, it is fellow students that offer them places to stay during their visits to Kesennuma.

This volunteer work began out of a sense of responsibility. A year and a half later, though, the drive that propels the team forward is the team’s passionate desire to want to tell people about what’s going on today in Kesennuma, a city that they truly love.

Work being done at the Tourist Information Center. The team has created a novel bicycling map, and it conducts questionnaire surveys of tourists as requested by the City Office.

Becoming friends with young children at the Tea Party.

The team helping to clear wreckage in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake.


Shuya Wakayama (left)
(3rd Year, School of Human Sciences)

Originally from Saitama, Shuya Wakayama graduated from Saitama City Urawa High School. He is the new leader of the WAVOC Kesennuma Team.

Keisuke Makino (Middle)
(3rd Year, School of Human Sciences)

Originally from Aichi, Keisuke Makino graduated from Aichi Prefectural Kariya Senior High School. He uses the team’s blog to provide information on foods produced locally in Kesennuma. He highly recommends horumon (broiled beef or pig offal)!

Yuko Tanaka (Right)
(2nd Year, School of Advanced Science and Engineering)

Originally from Tokyo, Yuko Tanaka graduated from Futaba Private High School. Her aim is to become like family to the people of Kesennuma.