October 3, 2012
Kizuna: The Ties that Bind
Oct. 3 – Ofunato, Japan – When the strongest earthquake and tsunami in Japan’s history struck in March 2011, a coalition of domestic and international relief forces emerged to support the nation’s Tohoku region, with the resulting bonds to those in need dubbed “kizuna“.
Media colleagues who had covered other global disaster zones told me their amazement at the calm and order that prevailed in Japan following the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident, as well as how quickly the country offered its thanks for the broad assistance.
I visited the region months after the events, a time when northern Japan’s Iwate Prefecture still appeared devastated and the lives of those relocated in Ofunato and other seaside towns changed forever.
Recovery has continued over the last 18 months, with efforts to clear the mountains of debris as well as shelter the tens of thousands left homeless.
Habitat for Humanity Japan has been part of the solution, with its volunteers aiding more than 4,000 families, or around 15,000 survivors.
Muneo Oikawa, a spokesman for some of the families in Ofunato, says kizuna has been a byword for the rebuilding.
“There are many people that we wouldn’t have known if this hadn’t happened, including the people who came from Nissan,” said Oikawa.
“I am glad to have become very close to these people who have come from very far places and I am thankful to them. For this reason, I feel very strongly the ties of “’kizuna’.”
In a weekend visit of Nissan staff to Ofunato, kizuna, selected as Japan’s word of the year in 2011, meant action for volunteers such as Masakatsu Sugo, a Nissan employee who grew up in the port town of 40,000 and wanted to help in its rebuilding.
“I was born in Ofunato and I wanted to give back to my hometown and the region where I grew up in. I was very happy that Nissan is connected to my hometown with this project. I was very touched,” said Sugo, who wore his high school baseball cleats throughout the weekend as a sign of his own ties.
Locals, who grilled saury fish and made box lunches for the volunteer group, welcomed visitors and their own chance to be part of kizuna.
“People have come from very far to help build us these infrastructure and we wanted to do our part, so we thought they would like to taste our homemade pickles,” said Yasuko Ozaki, staying at Ofunato’s Konakai temporary housing complex.
“We’ll gather the ingredients that we have at each house and decide what we cook for them.”
“We decide on the main dish but everybody chips in more than that,” added resident Emiko Owada.
For information on how to chip in by volunteering in Japan, please email email@example.com
Dan Sloan, Editor in Chief
Global Media Center