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

Japan in Asia: Hope and Solidarity Shown During the Decade Following the Great East Japan Earthquake
GOTO Ai / Chief Officer, Arts, Culture and Exchange Section II, The Japan Foundation Asia Center

February 12, 2021

March 11, 2011 - Do you remember where you were and what you were doing then? Everyone in Japan has a vivid memory of that moment. Each of us recalls clearly: some were working in offices, some were on trains, and some were on their way to pick up their children from school. Would you ever imagine that the unprecedented catastrophe also served as a catalyst that brought people together?

I was working at the Japan Foundation Jakarta since 2012. Through a casual conversation with an Indonesian colleague, I realized that the young people of Indonesia possessed a strong desire to contribute to society. This inspired me to plan pitch contests over the two years (2012-2013) where college students presented ideas for disaster prevention education for their communities. The timing coincided with the rapid increase in the use of smartphones and SNSs among the young generations in Indonesia, and this contributed to an unexpectedly large number of participants - 556 in the first year and 1,276 in the second year.

As I pre-screened the short videos uploaded on YouTube and when I met the finalists in person in Jakarta, I was inspired by their palpable excitement in "creating a bright future through disaster prevention". I had expected that the mood of the contest would be one of hesitancy, obligation, and pity, but it wasn't. How could it be so cheerful, positive, and full of hope? Though I was a little taken aback by the winners’ exuberance at receiving the sought-after study trip to Japan, I realized that connecting the desire to contribute to society among the younger generations in Southeast Asia with disaster prevention in Japan might be an opportunity to increase international mutual understanding between countries. It was a tangible step forward.

Based on these contests, in the following year, 2014, we created the "HANDs! Project". The name was a shorthand expression of what we expected of the participants, "You are our Hope ANd Dreams".

It has since expanded into a multinational project, and by 2020, has evolved into a platform for implementing post-research-trip projects. From 9 countries (Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, India, Nepal, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Japan), 100 participants, who are called “Fellows” and who are disaster prevention activists, teachers, and creators, are diligently working together in friendly competition. In Japan, they visited the disaster-stricken areas of Tohoku and heard directly from the survivors. The post-research-trip projects of Fellows have resulted in 38 disaster prevention education projects, and the seeds of this disaster prevention education were planted in the hearts of about 250,000 people at sites throughout Asia and 1.9 million people through internet-based projects.

Is this something that was possible because it was from Japan? Is this project unique to Japan? There is no end to the debate regarding these questions. However, this initiative by design might have involved something that maximizes the advantages of Japan. For example, when the project was in its planning stage, a representative of a UN agency, who is a European, who was asked about the local situation made the following remarks about our project involving the youth as teams rather than experts as individuals. "People in Asia have a tradition to work collectively. You, coming from Japan, may be able to do engage them in ways we cannot."

An aging and declining population, the depopulation of rural areas, and this COVID-19 pandemic. These are some of the piles of issues that Japan faces. However, every country also has its own piles of issues. We should discipline ourselves not just to be sentimentally worried about these realities. What we should do is to analyze the issues, create teams with members from diverse backgrounds, and take specific actions no matter how small they might be. As an example, in October 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Fellows from Japan, Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia joined an online seminar for local children in response to a call from Fellows in Nepal. They reported on the situation in each country and encouraged each other’s efforts.

Fellows who were in their 20s to early 30s when they participated in the project will now enter the most productive 20 years of their lives. Based on the experience of solidarity across nationalities and races and the personal networks gained through these projects, Fellows will continue to take actions against uncertain and diverse challenges aiming for a better world of 2040. The rest of the world will also support citizen-based activities that go beyond international borders, as progress towards Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) proceeds apace and technology continues to develop.

It has been 10 years since the massive earthquake and tsunami. During this time, the young people of Southeast Asia and Japan that I have met represented the universal values that humanity embodies across all cultures and generations. These values include trust, empathy, resilience, grieving with those who suffer, and rejoicing in recovery. The whole world has been attacked by the COVID 19 pandemic and a lot of effort and patience is needed for recovery, yet I believe that the future is bright, because I know that there are those people out there with these values deeply instilled in them.

Ai Goto is Chief Officer, Arts, Culture and Exchange Section II, The Japan Foundation Asia Center.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

後藤 愛 / 国際交流基金アジアセンター文化事業第2チーム上級主任

2021年 2月 12日



そこから翌年2014年に派生した次なるプロジェクトを、私達は「HANDs! プロジェクト」と名付けた。”You are our hope and dreams (あなた達は私達の夢と希望です)”という、参加者に込められた期待感が、プロジェクト名になった。






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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Japan in Asia: Hope and Solidarity Shown During the Decade Following the Great East Japan Earthquake