Goodbye Japan … see you next year

I’m all packed and ready to fly back to the UK tomorrow morning, after another very productive stay on Oshika.

This trip has generated an extra ¥590,000 (£3,800/$5,400) for Oshika. That will pay for the school uniforms for all the incoming students at Oshika Junior High School in 2019, the floor of the Koamikura shrine to be repaired, and six new working outfits for the men and women working in the fishing industry.

This trip also saw the completion of the Ajishima Farmers’ Market, the distribution of nine working outfits for men and women working in the fishing industry, and the commencement of repairs to the Ohara shrine’s tetsuibachi (hand-washing area).

Thank you so much to Miyabi Arashi Taiko Group, Leza Lowitz and Sun & Moon Yoga, Michiyo Matsumoto, Samantha Aso, Rochelle Kopp and Japan Intercultural Consulting, Matthew Smith, Kirk Patterson, HOPE International, Robin Maynard, Barbara Manning and Tours Japan, Dan Raines and General Union, Victoria Yardley, and the anonymous sponsor of the school uniforms for making all of the above possible. Your support is greatly appreciated.

I also met the parents of the 2017 incoming students, who all received school uniforms, and I was presented with a Certificate of Appreciation for providing school uniforms for all the students who entered the school since 2013. Thank you to everyone that sponsored them. I got to join in a couple of English classes with the students, and was touched to find out how much the Community Library means to one particular student.

I had the pleasure of sharing Mrs Sasaki’s birthday with her, and got to spend time on Ajishima Island to see how the other projects there are progressing. I had one of my many memorable moments of this trip when I got stranded overnight on Ajishima, without contact lenses or any change of clothing, and ended up sleeping in a building that is being renovated, and was without hot water or a toilet. That was an interesting experience! But only a few days before I had spent the night at a beautiful Fukushima onsen (Sansuiso Tsuchiya if you’re interested) and stood staring up at the night sky, with snow landing on my face, while pouring tubs of hot water from the bath over myself. Bliss! And that experience comes a close second to standing on the highest point on Oshika, watching the first sun of 2018 rise over the peninsula.

The hills and mountains of the peninsula are still stunningly beautiful, but much of the land is essentially a construction site, with some people, even now, still living in temporary housing. The constant disruption to everyone’s lives is now taking a different kind of toll on people’s spirits, and I often heard people say they were exhausted with having to “gaman” (be patient). One very emotional conversation one young lady had privately with me concerned how she struggles so much with both her love for Oshika, and her hate for it now — she (along with many others) hates the six-metre high sea wall that is now surrounding the peninsula, and feels that the local government doesn’t care. People feel that Oshika is a lost, forgotten place.

But in the middle of this is the knowledge that some people DO care about them. People from all over the world — people like you. From the UK, the US, Germany, Australia, Canada, even Israel … people who are committed to continuing to support this area. I cannot tell you how much it is appreciated. And that knowledge that people all over the world support them, and have contributed what is now a total of ¥26 million (almost £170,000 or $246,000) to this remote peninsula over the past seven years, really IS giving people encouragement, hope, and maybe a bit of confidence too.

During this trip I was asked to make a proposal that the locals can present to the local government, for a project that they want to go ahead with. It is the first time they have attempted to do anything like this themselves. I write a lot about how special these small communities are — how they take care of each other and all get along so well, and that is truly inspirational. But there are downsides to living in such small communities in this way — people don’t naturally have an entrepreneurial spirit; they are not accustomed to creating proposals and fighting with outsiders (which is what the local government is to them) to get their voices heard and their needs met. There are very few people who have the skills to move ahead with anything bigger than taking care of simple, everyday needs of their families and their neighbours.

I honestly believe that all of the projects that that ¥26 million has funded over the past seven years, all of the projects that they have seen completed, and the constant love they have received from people all over the world, has given them the ability to find that entrepreneurial spirit in themselves, to find the ability to attempt to fight for their communities on a much larger scale, and to dare to dream of a new future for Oshika.

On behalf of my Oshika friends, thank you all so very much for everything you have done, and continue to do. I’ll be back next year.

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