Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

A Call for International Sharing of Knowledge and Skills on Disaster Preparedness
TAKITA Ayumi / The Japan Foundation (Chief Officer, Planning and Coordination / Americas Section, Japanese Studies and Intellectual Exchange Department)

March 29, 2019
As humanity is faced with an unending series of catastrophic disasters around the world, it has become even more important for Japan to share its knowledge and skills internationally.

I am among many who experienced the Hanshin Great Earthquake in 1995, and lived through the Great Flood in Bangkok in 2011 and Hurricane Sandy in New York in 2012. I remember vividly how, in an instant, the familiar roads and railway station turned to rubble, the school building tilted, fires raged the city, and above all precious lives, including my classmate, were lost. All this suddenly changed my outlook on life. As I pursue my career working to cultivate international exchanges, I have become convinced that personal interactions between disaster victims to share knowledge and skills surrounding disaster recovery and preparedness are a critical part of international exchange.

Immediately after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, under the initiative taken by Mr. Masaru Sakato, then Consul General of Japan in New Orleans, the Japan Foundation started a project for New Orleans and Kobe to learn from each other’s experiences. Kobe has accumulated a wide range of specialized knowledge that can be useful in preparing for future disasters, learned painfully through the Great Hanshin Earthquake. Voluminous records, analyses, research, and surveys from various angles were conducted to understand the damage, recovery, and reconstruction processes. Through three years of mutual visits between the two cities, the visitors from New Orleans gained valuable insights into how devastated towns were rebuilt, what role the media played, and how music contributed to the reconstruction. They joined the people of Kobe in offering prayers at the memorial service held precisely at the time of the day of the earthquake on January the 17th, 2010. They were moved to tears when they visited the Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institution in Kobe, and said, ”It was painful to watch the diorama and the photos of the damages that reminded us of the hurricane, but we took comfort in sharing the same sentiments across the ocean.” Empathy among those who shared similar traumas gave birth to new bonds.

There is no telling when and in what form disasters may hit us. Preparing for and mitigating the effects of disasters can no longer be considered a task limited to a handful of experts and those who experienced disasters. It is incumbent on the international community to tackle the common task of reaching out to those who are not inherently interested and to disseminate valuable lessons learned from the victims.

In Japan, there is a wealth of wisdom and knowledge accumulated over the years on how to educate people to prepare for future disasters. One well-known example is the story “A Fire on the Hill”(Inamura no Hi) read out in classrooms over generations to convey lessons from the Ansei Nankai Earthquake and Tsunami in 1854, in which a mayor set fire to his own rice paddies to alert his villagers about the impending tsunami. After the Great Hanshin Earthquake and the Great East Japan Earthquake, many architects, museum curators and creators have also engaged in these education efforts in a variety of ways. When disasters hit, numerous improvisations are necessary, such as using blankets as stretchers to carry the wounded or making waterless toilets. In Japan, such ideas for creative makeshift arrangements by disaster victims have been collected and compiled into videos, illustrated booklets, and apps. Disaster preparedness museums have been set up in various parts of the country, emergency disaster drills are organized frequently, and public education campaigns are carried out in tandem with private sectors such as MUJI.

The Japan Foundation has been actively introducing these education efforts in Japan to disaster-prone countries such as Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia. It has been sharing knowledge and skills gained through these exchanges with concerned people in the United States, encouraging people-to-people exchanges from the angles including design and art. They have borne fruit in various forms of long-lasting exchanges.

Though the United States has suffered the greatest economic losses due to natural disasters, disaster preparedness is not so high in the consciousness of the American public. Thus there is a lot that can be gained through exchanges with Japan in this field. In 2017, the Parsons School of Design at the New School in New York, a well-known institute of higher education in the field of design, launched an intensive course encouraging students to create design solutions in urban planning, architecture, industry, lighting and other fields to cope with disasters, emulating the examples set in Japan. Although many of the teachers and students were neither experts on disaster preparedness nor familiar with Japan, they were no strangers to hurricanes, extreme weather, and power blackouts. In fact, with 40% of students coming from abroad, many had experienced natural disasters back home, creating a high degree of interest among the students. Students inspired by the course went to disaster-stricken areas in Puerto Rico to take part in the post-hurricane rescue operation, creating new networks within the United States.

Needless to say, Japan has learned a lot as well. For example, the American Red Cross in the earthquake and fire-prone Los Angeles area of the West Coast has had to grapple with the task of educating the public, especially children, about disaster preparedness. In their efforts to attract the attention of children, they worked in tandem with Walt Disney Company to launch the Pillowcase Project, teaching children how to create their own emergency supply kit by packing essential items in a pillowcase illustrated with Disney characters. When the children go home and share their kits with their families, it leads to greater disaster resilience of the families and community as a whole. This was a valuable suggestion to the visiting Japanese experts.  

There are big differences in responses to different disasters in different environments. For example, preparing for earthquakes, which are hard to predict, and hurricanes, which occur periodically and are relatively predictable, are different. However, disaster preparedness is a common need, as is the challenge of incorporating the mindset of disaster preparedness into daily life. Although specific methods and approaches may differ, learning about different cultures and values and cooperating beyond national boundaries to share globally both the knowledge and skills of disaster preparedness as well as lessons about how best to reach out to and educate the public, will enhance the resilience of the international community as a whole in coping with natural disasters.

Ayumi Takita worked at the Bangkok and New York offices of the Japan Foundation and is currently Chief Officer at Planning and Coordination / Americas Section, Japanese Studies and Intellectual Exchange Department in Tokyo Headquarters.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

瀧田 あゆみ / 国際交流基金 日本研究・知的交流部 企画調整・米州チーム上級主任

2019年 3月 29日


2005年にニューオリンズをハリケーン・カトリーナが襲った直後、当時在ニューオリンズ日本国総領事だった坂戸勝氏がイニシアティブをとり、国際交流基金が、ニューオリンズと神戸とが学び合う交流事業を開始した。阪神大震災という未曾有の大災害を経験した日本には、多様な切り口から被害や復興の様子が記録され、調査研究がなされ、将来に生かすための専門的な知見が蓄積している。3年間にわたる相互訪問を通じて、ニューオリンズからの来訪者はまちづくりや報道のあり方、音楽を通じた復興の様子などを学び、2010年1月17日 の地震発生時刻に行われた追悼式で神戸の方々と共に祈りをささげた。神戸の「人と未来防災センター」を訪れて涙し、「ジオラマや被害状況を見るとハリケーンが思い出され大変つらかったが、海を越えて同じ気持ちを共有できたことが癒しとなった」と語った。経験者同士の交流が共感を呼び、そこに新たな絆が生まれていた。








一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > A Call for International Sharing of Knowledge and Skills on Disaster Preparedness