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Remembering 3/11

INTERVIEW | Rebuilding Ishinomaki: A Teenager With a Special Calling

"People often say 'reconstruction' … Ishinomaki will never return to how it was before the disaster, but it can move forward." — Yusuke Takei

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Yusuke Takei (left) supporting disaster-stricken communities in Ishinomaki.

Yusuke Takei is a young man passionate about revitalizing Ishinomaki, a city in Miyagi Prefecture, Japan, that was severely impacted by the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011.

Although he was born and raised in Chofu, a suburb of Tokyo, Takei was deeply moved by the tragedy and decided to move to Ishinomaki after graduating from high school.

A Rare Experience

At the time of the earthquake, 10-year-old Takei was in fourth grade at an elementary school in his hometown. He and his classmates were having an end-of-term assembly when the quake struck.

They took refuge under their desks and then evacuated to the schoolyard, where they saw the pool rippling and overflowing.

A magnitude of just under 5 was recorded at that moment in Tokyo. 

Having experienced such a rare event, Takei and others decided to return to their classrooms to write down their impressions. However, the tremors were so severe that the school had to be dismissed. 

Since his parents both worked, he stayed with another family in the same apartment, waiting for his own family to return. 

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When his parents finally arrived home and turned on the TV, the first thing they saw was footage of the tsunami

"It's hard for me to forget how I hugged my mother and wept at that moment," Takei said.

Strong Sense of Connection

After the disaster, Takei felt a strong desire to help the victims. 

In his third year of junior high school, he joined the reconstruction support activities of a local nonprofit organization (NPO).

"In my first year of high school, I started visiting Ishinomaki on my own with the money I had saved. I wanted to learn more about the city and its people", says Takei.

Takei in front of the "Gambaro! Ishinomaki" sign.

After graduating from high school, he initially planned to attend a drama school, as he had a passion for theater. 

However, during a visit to the Ishinomaki Kawabiraki Festival in the summer of his third year of high school, he felt a strong connection with the people he met and the atmosphere of the city. 

Choosing Ishinomaki Over His Dreams

"I was walking alone with my luggage when a longtime resident spoke to me. "Where did you come from?" she asked. After having a lively conversation, I was amazed at how quickly 30 minutes passed," Takei said.

He continued, "In Tokyo, it is not common for people to talk to you on the street. So when that lady spoke to me, I was drawn to Ishinomaki because people were willing to talk to me, a stranger."

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"Later I chose to live and work in Ishinomaki even though it meant giving up my dream of becoming an actor," Takei added. 

Moving To Ishinomaki

Takei discovered the Chiiki Okoshi Kyouryokutai (Local Vitalization Cooperator), a program that invites young professionals to work in regions affected by depopulation and aging, through the Ishinomaki Theater Festival, a project he had participated in. 

Takei applied for the program. And in 2019, he was accepted as a member of the 3.11 Mirai Support (currently 3.11 Memorial Network). This is a public interest corporation in Ishinomaki that supports disaster reconstruction and promotes regional development. 

Takei at work at the 3.11 Memorial Network.

Using the Arts for Healing and Recovery

Takei played a key role in organizing the Ishinomaki Theater Festival. This is a wonderful event aimed at promoting the performing arts in the local community. In fact, he has been involved in every aspect of its organization, from programming to publicity.

He also contributed to the construction of the THEATER KINEMATICA. This is a theater-like entertainment facility that was constructed by renovating a vacant house. 

In addition to movies and plays, it is a public space with a cafe and beer stand. The space can be also rented out for movies, plays, music, and other events.

Takei (left) performs at a music event.

Takei believes that the arts are a powerful tool for healing and recovery. He also hopes that his work with the Ishinomaki Theater Festival and other projects will help bring joy and inspiration to his fellow residents.

Finding His Role in the Community

Takei's contract with the 3.11 Memorial Network ended in March 2021, and he became an Ishinomaki City Children's Center staff member.

In that role, he has interacted with children through several activities including cooking, music, and sports.

Takei teaches children about the disaster.

Inspired by the resilience and positivity of the children, Takei has begun to consider becoming a teacher. In the meantime, he continues to work with the children and also help the center develop new programs and partnerships with other organizations.

Overcoming Challenges

Despite the challenges Takei has faced living in a disaster-stricken area, he has remained committed to the community he has come to call home.

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Ishinomaki
Takei (right) receives a certificate of appreciation from Chiiki Okoshi Kyoryokutai.

In recognition of his contributions to the community, Takei has received a certificate of appreciation from Chiiki Okoshi Kyoryokutai. 

Looking to the future, Takei is optimistic about the prospects for his community but acknowledges that there is still much work to be done.

"People often say 'reconstruction.' But there's no definitive end to a recovery process. Ishinomaki will never return to how it was before the disaster, but it can move forward," he said.

Nevertheless, Yusuke Takei has helped to bring hope and inspiration to his fellow residents. And, along with them, he has become a symbol of resilience and determination in the face of adversity. His commitment to his community serves as an impactful reminder of the power of the youth in times of crisis.

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Author: Shaun Fernando