Remembering the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami in 2024

posted in: Feature

11 March 2024 marks the 13 year anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. Our charity who supported the orphans of the tsunami disaster closed last year, however, we are still in touch with the orphans and their communities who survived the natural disaster.

Our trustee Yuka Harada-Parr went back to the Tohoku region which was struck by the tsunami 13 years ago. Yuka went to see how the area has been recovering and to stay in touch with the people the charity has been close with over the years.

Day 1: Friday 1st December

Arrived at Honshiogama at 11:00 am

Today is a packed schedule and Mr. Saito took me for a bit of early lunch at his favourite Ramen noodle restaurant. Mr. Saito ordered, “A vegetable noodle with a half portion noodle” and I followed his advice. It was a huge amount of freshly cooked vegetables, very tasty and filling but not heavy and we warmed up to be ready to visit locations of the film Eternal New Mornings.

We visited the location where the first scene of the trailer was filmed. It was a big empty space surrounded by concrete seawalls. All of them were constructed after the Tsunami and it was a residential area before. I cannot imagine that there were once a lot of houses here.

I stood by the signage that marked the arrival of the Tsunami. The sign said that the Tsunami reach 787 cm high at this point and was 0.6 km inland from the sea. This is a place that Akemi and Richard have visited before. Currently at the Nobiru coast, there is nothing built in this area. I was speechless that it was a residential area with bustling communities before.

Mr. Saito took me to the ex-Nobiru primary school. This school was ruined after the disaster but Ms. Mitsui renovated the school and set up a facility that educates disaster prevention skills through community activities called KIBOTCHA: (KIBOU= Hope, Bosai = Disaster prevention and Future). There is accommodation, glamping, restaurant, library and lecture room. In the ground floor meeting room there is a big wall picture of a blue koi carp done in chalk.

Mr. Saito gave me a full two-hour lecture about the 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake and Tsunami. It included some actual video footage of the moment the Tsunami surged; an interview with Honoka Shino who lost her grandfather when she was in Year 6 at Nobiru Primary School; a documentary about two young storytellers, Ryo Koyama and Ayano Saito. These young storytellers told how they came to express their emotions and became storytellers to keep their memories alive. They also emphasised how important it is to pass one’s own experiences on to everyone else, from the perspective of public duty and to help mental wellbeing for those who must to carry on living with their tragic past.

Two comments from these young storytellers which I felt resonated strongly were:

“It is not the same to forget and to overcome.”

“After 12 years the towns have changed but people’s core feelings will never change.”

The memorial for five toddlers of Hiyori Kindergarten who were left on the bus and killed by fire.

Day 2: Saturday 2nd December

I was surprised when I went down to the dining room because I was not expecting much for breakfast in a business hotel, however, a very homely buffet (as if you stayed at your friend’s house) was provided! They even served Zunda mochi (Miyagi Prefecture’s delicacy rice cake).

The second day began with a full stomach.

In the morning we made a visit to Ōkawa Elementary School, and in the afternoon we had a meeting with orphans in Ishinomaki. At the end of the day I participated in a disaster management training workshop in Aoi town, reconstructed by the students from the Faculty of Environment and Information Studies at Yokkaichi University in Mie Prefecture.

Saito Sensei picked me up from the hotel at 8am. First, we went to Ishinomaki, where Ōkawa Elementary School is located. Ōkawa Elementary School was the most severely affected by the Tsunami with 74 students and 10 teachers and staff killed.

I was not sure how to prepare myself to visit a place where the sheer scale of the tragedy had happened. The information alone was suffocating. Saito sensei’s car drove along the Kitakami River. The difference between the right and left sides of the river, and the slight difference in the undulations, is that one side had been swallowed by the tsunami and turned into a clearing, while the other side is lined with former dwellings. As the car approached the mouth of the river, the buildings disappeared and a wide space opened up, similar to the Nobiru beach we visited yesterday.

The Shin-Kitakami River is on the left and the Fuji River on the right. Somehow the children of Ōkawa Primary School followed their teacher to evacuate at what is known as the triangular point where these two rivers intersect, and 74 children lost their lives. Standing at the point and looking around. Saito Sensei stopped the car here and told me that many children had been swept away here. On the other side of the river, the remains of the Ōkawa Primary School could be seen.

We got into the car again and went to Ōkawa Primary School. There were three fathers of victims of the tsunami there who were volunteer storytellers and tour guides. One of the fathers, Mr. Shitou was giving a tour and I was able to join. Mr. Shitou lost his second daughter, Chisato, who was in fifth grade at the time. Even today, Mr. Shitou and other parents who lost their children volunteer to explain what happened at Ōkawa Primary School.

The corridor connected the main building and the sports hall.

Pointing to the ruined school building, Mr. Shitou explained calmly and earnestly the situation before and after the disaster. Each word was carefully spoken, and his desire not to let the children’s deaths be in vain was clearly conveyed. I was struck by how desperately he controlled his anger, which had nowhere to go in such a quiet talk, so as not to let it boil over and explode. It was as if such regrets were still swirling inside of people in an invisible tsunami.

An independent documentary film, Ikiru (To Live), which documents how the relatives of the victims, in pursuit of the facts and reasons which caused the tragedy filed a court case against Ishinomaki City and Miyagi Prefecture has just been released in 2023. Mr Shitou carefully pointed to various parts of the remains and explained calmly what had happened on the day of the disaster. At the end of the tour, all of us visitors climbed up to the high ground behind the school. He told us that there was one teacher who had evacuated to this hill on the day of the disaster and survived. If everybody had evacuated with him up here, then everyone would have been saved. He quietly swallowed his deep regret.

After lunch we headed to the Ishinomaki Grand Hotel where we met Kana whom our charity have been supporting over the years, as she lost her parents to the tsunami. Seiko-san the grandmother of Manami who is one of the orphans and now at university and therefore could not join, also came. Our conversation covered what happened at the time of the earthquake, the launch of our charity, the mental support being provided (or not), and the current situation. It was quite a heavy subject to talk about and it also included talking about Akemi Tanaka’s death and the charity’s situation after the loss of Akemi. However, thanks to Seiko’s exuberant cheerfulness and happy spirit, the conversation was surprisingly fun (!)

The words which most resonated with me were when Seiko-san said, “I can’t do anything for people who are grieving forever like my granddaughter, but it’s important to be there. It’s not about doing something for them, it’s about being there for them when they need somebody.”

It is impossible to completely heal the hearts and minds damaged by the disaster, and mental care is a lifelong issue. Children who have been affected by the disaster are at various stages of growing up and suffer one after another, which is unthinkable for those who have not experienced the disaster. When they grow up and fall in love, if their partner is someone who has not experienced the disaster, they cannot shake off the feeling that no matter how hard they try, they will never be able to understand what they experienced as children and they stubbornly deny the past to accommodate their partner.

I was reawakened to the importance of Aid For Japan’s 12 years of supporting the orphans emotionally. It was the first time I truly understood the gravity of the charity’s work for the victims and the community. The charity will close, but we hope to stay connected with those we have engaged with in the past and those we have met in Tohoku on this trip. We parted with smiles and promised to meet again.

After leaving Ishinomaki Grand Hotel, we visit Kadonowaki Elementary School and MEET Kadonowaki, Ishinomaki City Earthquake Remains ( Unlike Ōkawa Elementary School, where we visited in the morning, Kadonowaki Elementary School, which is an official earthquake ruin of Ishinomaki City, has perfectly preserved exhibits and is an excellent museum that can be easily viewed on your own without a tour guide. Although Ōkawa and Kadonowaki Elementary Schools were both affected by the disaster, Ōkawa Elementary School, which was the subject of a lawsuit against the city, is not recognised as official remains, which seemed to symbolise the difference in the wounds caused by the disaster.

There was a display at MEET Kadonowaki about five toddlers of Hiyori Kindergarten, who were left on the bus and lost their lives. The shoes of one of the victims, Airi Sato, were among the displays and it was still so vivid and I felt horrified at the incident. I thought I had understood the disaster to some extent through my involvement with the charity, but seeing the disaster area with my own eyes, walking there, and hearing the stories of the victims overwhelmed me with an understanding that was not only in my head, it seemed greater than reality.

The information and what I experienced was so profound that I cannot put it into words. I felt that I had been struck by something unknown, and even though I read the materials I had collected, the books I had purchased, and the book Saito sensei had given me, I could not actualize the matter truly and it made me feel at a loss. However, I felt I understood a little about how hard it is to go forward while facing immense hardships at the same time. I admired Saito sensei for his energy, his positive attitude, and his generosity. I sincerely respect him on all accounts.

After leaving Kadonowaki Primary School we went to our last stop of the day, Aoi West Assembly Hall in Aoi District, Higashimatsuyama City, where Saito sensei was to give a lecture at a seminar on Disaster Prevention with university students from Yokkaichi University’s Faculty of Environment and Information Studies.

Before the seminar, Saito sensei showed me around quickly the Aoi area, which has successfully achieved its goal of creating the best reconstruction housing area in Japan. The town is the largest collective relocation area in Higashimatsuyama City, where 580 households are living after 1,110 deaths and 24 people are missing. This town was created by the administration and residents working together to rebuild the town and community. There are some strict rules, for example, neighbourhoods are 1.5 m from each other, and trees are planted. Fences should be transparent and less than 1.2 m high to prevent accidents like children falling off them. Although the rules are quite strict, they created an environment that everyone can be proud of by improving the overall appearance of the town.

In addition, innovations have been made to improve the quality of life for the public such as parks and assembly halls and pets for the community as a whole. There were many lessons learned to benefit all people, not just survivors who had overcome the truly painful and sad disaster of the earthquake. Everyone was helping each other without pity and hopeful towards the future; working hard to find a solution, not just the right answer. From Saito sensei’s lecture, I chose one keyword or phrase I have learned: “Otagaisama”, which means mutual respect, “So do I”.


Day 3: Sunday, 3rd December 2023

On the last day, I planned to take a famous Matsushima cruise for sightseeing, as I had to leave Sendai to back to Kyoto at noon, but the Tsunami warning was issued after the earthquake off the Philippines in the early hours of the morning, and although the warning was lifted, I didn’t feel like taking a pleasure boat ride at that time. So Saito sensei suggested to visit a seafood rice cracker theme park, which was part of the reconstruction project after the earthquake.

The first stop was the Kaisen Senbei Shiogama, a theme park for seafood rice crackers created in the aftermath of the earthquake. The factory sells a wide range of rice crackers and you can try all samples! They were all so delicious that I ended up shipping a box of crackers to my mother’s home. Afterwards, as we had come this far, we wanted to see Matsushima, so Saito sensei gave us a lift to the sightseeing spot at Matsushima Beach, where I said goodbye to him.

Thank you very much, Saito Sensei. This trip to Miyagi was the conclusion of Charity Aid for Japan’s trip on behalf of Akemi Tanaka. This will certainly be the end of our activities as a charity, but I will not forget what I learnt on this trip and will continue to link it to new activities in the future.

Thank you!

Aid For Japan Memories

posted in: News

In 2023, Aid For Japan announced that after their 12-year anniversary event and a final outing at Doki Doki Japanese Festival in Manchester, the charity would close.

To mark the decision, we have created a special Memorial Page for the charity which features testimonies from the orphans as well as volunteers and the trustees. There is also a brief history of the charity looking at some key moments and celebrating Akemi Tanaka’s foundation of Aid For Japan and its achievements.

In Japan, there is a belief that stages of life are divided into 12 cycles. 2023 marked 12 years since the Earthquake and Tsunami and 12 years since the foundation of the charity. In that time, Aid For Japan has achieved a great deal and seen the young people they have worked with flourish. Trustees and volunteers remain committed to working together on future projects promoting Japanese culture in the UK.

Read more here:

Our final Doki Doki Manchester Japanese Festival – Summer 2023

posted in: Feature, News

Our final outing as a charity coincided with the final Doki Doki Manchester Japanese Festival this year. The charity and the festival have grown up together, and so coming to a close together was a bittersweet feeling. Incredibly, over the past twelve years, Doki Doki Festival (organised by the stalwart Andrew Gaskell) has raised over £50,000 for our charity! Without their donations we would probably not have existed.

Aid For Japan is completely funded by donations and all our dedicated team work on a voluntary basis. Ever since the Tohoku Disaster of 2011 the volunteer teachers, homestay hosts, students and supporters have kept this charity going through their generosity. We’d like to thank everyone from the bottom of our hearts. We also know that if Akemi Tanaka were alive today, she would feel happy about what the charity has managed to provide –importantly – a supportive and caring environment for the orphans of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami.

This year Doki Doki Festival raised for our charity £5,404.74. The designers at Genki Gear created an original T-shirt for Aid For Japan which raised £710. Extra donations were received from Meian Maid Café and CLAM Fashion. Our charity team member Yuka Harada-Parr wrote names in Japanese kanji calligraphy – producing over a hundred people’s names – and together with book sales from Akemi’s book The Power of Chowa, raised £652.60.

In total, thanks to everyone’s efforts we raised £6,768 at Doki Doki Festival this year!

Aid For Japan had a stall over the weekend manned by trustee, Richard Pennington, where people could come and talk to us about Japanese culture and traditions. We gave away free Japanese language learning resources provided by HABaLook, held free origami craft sessions and helped run the saké tasting workshop hosted by Miki.

The Japanese independent film Eternal New Mornings 『有り、触れた、未来』was also screened as its UK premiere (watch trailer here). For the first and last time in the festival’s history, inspired by the closing scene in the film Eternal New Mornings, a giant koi karp was crafted and placed at the front entrance, so that well-wishers could write messages on coloured pieces of paper representing the fish’s scales and stick them up.

It was a wonderful to see over the weekend the blank koi karp fill up with loving messages and become more colourful. Koi karp streamers in Japan are flown across the country on Children’s Day because they symbolise hope and the energetic spirit of children, which is a fitting image for the closure of our charity which supports the orphans of the tsunami.

Our charity director, Rimika Solloway, gave a speech to the festivalgoers at Doki Doki about why the charity is closing now. For the benefit of those who couldn’t be there, here is the speech in full below:

12 years ago, an earthquake struck Japan. You might remember seeing footage on the news. Debris crashed to the ground. Waves knocked buildings into rubble. People ran for higher ground.

Akemi Tanaka (my mother) was watching the news that day. She sat in her living room in England and saw a tidal wave of water swallow cities on the East Coast of Japan. It was devastating.

At that moment she thought of all the children who might have lost their parents and families due to this natural disaster. She wanted to help them and protect them from what would be a very difficult life ahead.

This is why Akemi founded our charity: Aid For Japan.

Since 2011, we’ve existed to support people orphaned by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Over the years, that support has taken many forms, such as home-stays in the UK, summer schools in Japan, and cultural exchanges.

Looking back, I can say our charity grew up alongside the orphans who are now happy, confident adults. They are entering a new chapter in their lives – and so are we because this year, 2023, is the last year of our charity.

There are three reasons which have led us to this decision and sharing them will hopefully help you understand why this is a bittersweet occasion for us.

Reason number one brings us a lot of joy: the people we’ve been supporting don’t need us anymore. Some of the orphans we have known since primary school age have now grown up and are going to university or getting jobs.

When we close, our funds will be divided between this group of young people. Some of them will use it to buy a plane ticket to England for a holiday. Others will use the money to go on a trip in their home country with the people they care about.

This summer one of our longest-standing beneficiaries, Maria-chan, returned to England using her own money to visit us. The charity team met up with her and took her on sightseeing to places like Windsor Castle, also we went to see the musical Moulin Rouge in London’s West End.

まりあちゃん had a wonderful time and she told us that she would be coming back to the UK regularly, as we feel like family to her. Us charity members feel the same, so the relationship will continue long after the charity closes. She hopes to get a visa one day so she can live and work abroad.

Last year, with the help of your donations the charity sponsored Maria-chan to take part in a prestigious hair styling course at Vidal Sassoon Academy.

Since then, Maria-chan has landed her first job at a hair salon in Tokyo! She’ll be starting work as a hairdresser in the busy Ikebukuro area of Tokyo from next April. We are so proud of her for getting this job in the industry she wants to work in. And without the charity’s help she might not have been able to do this, so she really wanted to say thank you to everyone here.

Doki Doki Festival donates all its profits to our charity – something which I’m sure all of you will agree is amazingly generous and I think deserves a round of applause – especially to Andrew who organises Doki Doki.

I’m afraid I’m going to have to change the mood because reason number two brings us a great deal of sadness: Akemi Tanaka is no longer with us. She passed away from cancer in 2021, and as well as missing her as my mother, friend, and teacher, we miss her as a leader. We miss her vision.

Some of the orphans along with our charity lead in Japan, Sumika-san, have visited Akemi’s cemetery to do grave rites, which are so important in Japanese culture. Recently my family also remembered her at Obon, the Japanese Ancestor Festival.

Then, reason number three comes down to timing. The timing feels auspicious.

In Japan, there’s a belief that life goes in 12-year cycles. It matches the number of symbolic animals in the Zodiac. As we’re back in the Year of the Rabbit we have now completed a whole 12-year cycle since the Great East Japan Earthquake.

So, all that remains for me to say is thank you for your support. For both coming here to listen to my talk and attending Doki Doki Festival to celebrate Japanese culture, just like Akemi would have liked. All of the orphans who are now adults in Japan thank you too.


Eternal New Mornings – Japanese independent cinema

posted in: Events, News

We are very proud to present the Japanese independent film 『有り、触れた、未来』Ari Fureta Mirai or Eternal New Mornings (English title) directed by Toru Yamamoto this summer at Doki Doki Japanese Festival in Manchester.

The film is about the importance of community and finding the strength to live after a tragic natural disaster befalls a small coastal town.

HABaLook’s Yuka Harada-Parr translated the film trailer from Japanese to English. You can watch it on YouTube here (please turn ON subtitles/CC):

Eternal New Mornings is an original story inspired by the book 生かされて生きる―震災を語り継ぐ Ikasarete Ikiru: Life lessons from the Great East Japan Earthquake, written by Yukio Saito, who was a headmaster of a high school hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011. Saito-Sensei continues to give lectures on disaster prevention around Japan.

The film’s story revolves around several characters: A pro boxer who doesn’t give up fighting; his wife, who has terminal cancer but wants to stay alive as long as she possibly can to attend her daughter’s wedding. A group of young actors who perform a “story of a soul”, while feeling anxious about their own future. And lastly, a girl who has lost her family members to a natural disaster and has thoughts of suicide.

Each of the characters suffer different hardships, but they are all stories about carrying on.

Here is a message from the film’s Writer and Director, Toru Yamamoto (山本 透), telling us the inspiration behind the film.

“Since the onset of COVID-19, Japan has seen a rise in suicides among young people, and children refusing to go to school has become a serious problem. This movie is meant for everyone out there who finds it hard to live in an increasingly stifling society, and for the children who will live in our future. It was made with donations from both Japan and the rest of the world, in the hopes that it could give these people “the strength to live”. All filming was done in Miyagi Prefecture, which was badly damaged in the 2011 Japan Earthquake. But this is not a film about the natural disaster or reconstruction.”

“It is about people who suffered deep wounds in their hearts, but came together to support each other for the sake of their children. By depicting their lives, I want to bring “the strength to live” to viewers through the screen. That’s why I chose to set it in an area affected by the Earthquake. The countless koinobori streamers that you see in the ending are a Japanese traditional symbol embodying the hope that our children will grow up to be healthy and strong.”

“Many of the people in Japan who commit suicide are actors and performers. But in an era filled with war, poverty, infectious disease, and other dark things, artistic creatives need to keep our spirits up, work together, and bring people into a brighter future. I believe in the power of culture and the power of film. And I hope that many people can experience the energy of this film in the theatre and come to believe in a brighter future.”

Doki Doki – The Manchester Japanese Festival takes place Saturday 9th and Sunday 10th September 2023.

Ticket Details:
Ari Fureta Mirai’s website:

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