The TOMODACHI SoftBank Leadership Program, which began in 2012, has sent some 900 Japanese high school students overseas for an annual short-term summer study program. The students and the program’s staff are connected on Facebook even after the students return to Japan.
“I feel motivated when I find people announcing their new plans,” says Kanako Furuichi [sp.?], 18, a freshman at Tsuda University College of Policy Studies who took part in the summer program two years ago.
In August this year, Furuichi joined the SoftBank Tohoku-Kizuna CUP as a staff member after she saw the announcement of the project on Facebook. The project provides sports and other opportunities to elementary and junior high school students in areas affected by the powerful earthquake and tsunami that hit the Tohoku region in March 2011. And the project’s soccer event was held in her hometown of Naraha, Fukushima Prefecture. In fact, Furuichi’s family could return to their house in her hometown that summer for the first time in seven and a half years after the earthquake.
Furuichi was in the fifth grade when the earthquake occurred. Immediately after the earthquake, she evacuated to her relatives’ homes in Aizuwakamatsu City, Fukushima Prefecture, and Iwanuma City, Miyagi Prefecture. She went on to Fukushima Prefectural Futaba Future School and actively engaged in reconstruction activities. She then went to the U.S. during summer break in her second year in high school. Furuichi says: “There was an atmosphere of tolerance in the U.S. back then despite the country having many immigrants. I felt it was different from Japan, where I hear of a lot of trouble between evacuees and locals.” Meanwhile, Furuichi was surprised when she told Americans about the Fukushima nuclear accident and found that many of them had never heard of it.
After she returned to Japan, Furuichi launched a project to deliver via virtual reality the landscapes and local specialties of Naraha to people who still can’t return there. She suffered a setback halfway through the project because many elderly people were not used to operating the VR system. But she continued to make efforts “for the sake of Fukushima” by taking advantage of the drive she acquired in the U.S.
But this spring, she advanced to a university in Tokyo and found herself hesitating to tell the people that her hometown is Naraha. She says, “I don’t want people to sympathize with or pity me.” She loves her hometown very much and wants to return there. But recently she also “wonders whether it’s OK to be obsessed with Fukushima forever.”
She revealed her true feelings which she can’t speak of at university to a friend who had joined the TOMODACHI program before her. She was told: “You can start by doing whatever you like. That may help Fukushima sometime in the future.” That advice put Furuichi at ease. She says, “The ties with the people who have joined the TOMODACHI program and gone to the U.S. are valuable to me.”