Kizuna Project, Part One – Tokyo
It’s been over almost two months since I returned from Japan, as part of one of the Australian delegates for the Kizuna Project. Unfortunately, my access to internet was not as constant as I would have liked, so I wasn’t able to update while I was in Japan, and it’s only now that I find myself with the time to write down my experiences.
First off, what exactly is the Kizuna project all about? The Kizuna project was not, as some people have said to me, a free sightseeing holiday to Japan. In a nutshell, the major aim of the program were to learn and experience first hand the difficulties that Japan faced in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. Another aim was cultural exchange, between the people we encountered in Japan and the Australian/New Zealand participants, but I would say also between the Australians and New Zealanders themselves!
Before we flew to Japan, all Australian participants congregated in Sydney for a little meet and greet. Interestingly, a lot of the people from out of state had never been to Sydney before, so all of the Sydney-siders took the others on a walking tour around the city, to Circular Quay and then to Darling Harbour. Yes, it was a pretty exhausting walk, but I think I personally needed that exhaustion so I’d sleep on the plane!
The next morning we flew from Sydney to Narita, and after an uneventful flight, we arrived in Tokyo. We stayed in a small hotel near Kachidoki, not in the Tokyo city itself, but around a 30 minute subway ride there. Most of the first night was spent being very cold and wandering around all the 24 hour convenience stores in the area (there were two 7/11 stores within 300m of each other… Somewhat overkill…) and trying to investigate how they differed from each other (They didn’t!) The real project would start the next day.
The next day, December 10th, we had our group orientation, where we found out who exactly was in our group and met our group co-ordinators/translators Sohma-san and Hayashi-san. At the orientation, we were also greeted by members from the Japan International Cooperation Center (JICE) who had organised the whole program.
After orientation and lunch, we made our way to the Ikebukuro Life Safety Learning Centre (I’m sorry, that link only contains Japanese information) where we watched a short video on the March 11 earthquake and tsunami disaster, participated in a fire and smoke safety drill and also an earthquake simulation.
The video was incredibly emotional, and unfortunately there was no copy that I could procure, but I must say before this trip I hadn’t seen any footage of the earthquake. It just wasn’t something I wanted to make myself watch. So I cried upon finally watching footage of a such a real and devastating disaster occurring, and real people and their houses being swept away.
During the earthquake simulation, I experienced and earthquake of seismic intensity 5-lower (on the Japanese scale, this is an earthquake where unstable items would fall, people would find it difficult to move, and hanging objects would sway violently, please see this wikipedia article on the Japanese scale of seismic intensity for a summary of the different levels). Take a look at my friend Rachel’s video below to see what the simulation was like for an earthquake of seismic intensity 7.
Despite the laughter going on in the background at the poor boys being jolted around, what I think the video doesn’t show is exactly how scary it feels. Living in Australia, a country that sits in the middle of a tectonic plate, means that I have never experienced an earthquake in my entire life. The 1989 Newcastle Earthquake happened before I was born, and the earthquakes in Melbourne hasn’t affected Sydney. So having never experienced an earthquake before, even though I knew it was a simulation, I was scared out of my mind.
The day was quite draining, emotionally and physically. I remember sleeping a lot on the bus back to hotel, and after wandering around the area after dinner for a while, I think I fell asleep quite quickly. For the next week, I was going to get little sleep, but it was all so worth it.
(Next part coming soon!)