“Please promise me one last thing. Love the ocean until you grow up and become a grandpa or a grandma.” Yura Asanuma (17), a second-year high school student in Tono City, Iwate Prefecture, wrote that in the first picture book she created.
Asanuma was nine years old when the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred and ever since has been afraid of the ocean that had taken people’s lives and livelihoods. “But the ocean also taught us the importance of human bonds. We should never forget our gratitude to the ocean,” she says. Asanuma’s book is filled with the words and thoughts of her grandmother, whose house was swept away by tsunami.
This summer, Asanuma joined a short-term study abroad program for high school students who suffered from the earthquake. The program, sponsored by SoftBank Group and others, sent students to the University of California, Berkeley to learn about leadership and regional contribution. Applicants to the program were required to make a presentation on the theme of “trying to do a new thing” in the screening process. Asanuma, who has enjoyed drawing pictures since childhood, created picture books and read them to pupils at a neighboring kindergarten as part of her application to the study abroad program.
Asanuma happened to learn about the program when she saw the program’s ad displayed in her school’s classroom. She says, “Looking back, something in me had already changed when I decided to apply for the program.”
The 21 days Asanuma spent in the U.S. were “full of first experiences.” She exchanged opinions with entrepreneurs younger than her and recounted her experiences in the earthquake to Japanese working in the U.S. The most impressive event for her was a workshop for making ideas to revitalize a town. Asanuma’s group considered ways to rejuvenate a deserted residential area in North Richmond, California.
Her group suggested brightening up the town with designs. They spent a half-day painting rainbows, flowers, and messages like “LOVE & PEACE” on the walls of houses based on their original drawings. Asanuma says, “Residents told us ‘Thank you,’ but it was OUR pleasure.”
Asanuma returned to Japan, but the program continues. She is now creating a sightseeing map to liven up her hometown, Tono City. She wants to discover and make known the city’s charms by interviewing people who have moved to the city from elsewhere about their impressions of Tono. “I’d like to ask local residents for cooperation. I think it might be a good idea to contact a designer I know of who moved to Tono.” Asanuma keeps coming up with new ideas.