Leaders March 2015

Spotlight on Tohoku

The Duke of Cambridge visits Back to Business sites

On 1 March, in association with the UK government and the Royal Household, the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan (BCCJ) introduced The Duke of Cambridge to communities in Miyagi Prefecture. The region received support from the BCCJ Back to Business (B2B) initiative in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

The duke visited a museum that exhibits hand-written newspapers created in the wake of the disaster by Hiroyuki Takeuchi and his team at Ishinomaki Hibi Shimbun. Writers used bicycles—received via the B2B initiative in 2011—to travel from their emergency shelters to the newspaper office and to connect with survivors.

Personal stories
The duke then met Shinichi and Ryoko Endo, who tragically lost their three young children to the disaster. A carpenter, Mr Endo presented a gift of a hyoshigi. This small percussion instrument, comprising a rope connecting two wood clappers, was made by combining tsunami debris with English oak.

The couple shared an update of their activities with non-profit organisations Team-Watahoi and the Taylor Anderson Memorial Fund. The latter was set up by parents of Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme participant Taylor Anderson, who was taken by the 2011 disaster.

In connection with this organisation—I am honoured to be a board member—Mr Endo has constructed shelves for libraries in local elementary schools to promote English-language learning.

Culture and art
Travelling to Hiyoriyama Park, the duke met British Consul-General Michael Shearer OBE and Ishinomaki City Mayor Hiroshi Kameyama. One of our B2B local leaders, Kyoko Sasaki, read the poem, “To the Survivors” by 100-year-old local resident Toyo Shibata.

Two children, one of whom remains in temporary housing, gave the duke paper cranes symbolising hope.

The final stop was the Chime of Hope shopping area, where the duke was welcomed by Onagawa Mayor Yoshiaki Suda and a local dance troupe. The duke playfully succumbed to being “bitten” by a lion operated by children.

At the Onagawa Art Guild, he was presented with a picture combining the Union Flag and a lucky carp. Its creator Shuhei Sakimura led B2B volunteer activities in 2012, painting fishermen’s warehouses with designs that link the UK and Japan.

Helping trade
Takahiro Aoyama of the Onagawa Chamber of Commerce then guided the duke to the town’s remaining bell. Aoyama was instrumental in establishing the shopping area of about 30 small businesses. The B2B initiative provided solar panels, making business and community activities possible after dark.

On ringing the bell, the duke was greeted with cheers from the crowd, among who were representatives from our local B2B initiative partners.

Thank you to everyone who has supported our B2B work. It’s been a privilege to link communities in Tokyo, Tohoku and the UK.