The woman from Ishinomaki, in the Tohoku region of Japan, spoke with passion about the day, just one year ago, that a powerful tsunami, spawned from a powerful earthquake, changed the landscape of her life, both literally and figuratively. Using spare words, she spoke of the rising waters, the running, the devastation and then the despair. Her audience, a group of dedicated men and women who gathered at the British Ambassador’s residence in Tokyo, made no move to check their tears. The event, designed to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, was also a celebration of life. The people present had donated countless hours of physical labor for clean-up, and money to the British Chamber of Commerce’s (BCC) Back to Business (B2B) program which was started a year ago to fulfill needs of the people affected by the natural disasters. Indeed, the woman from Ishinomaki told of how she learned to have hope again when she met the executive director of the BCC, Lori Henderson, and together they found ways to rebuild the community. Under Ms. Henderson’s guidance, the B2B program has donated practical items such an industrial freezer to a fisherman so his catch can once again be preserved and sent to market, or tractors to help revive the once-thriving strawberry industry of the area. These are necessary items for rebuilding business for people who lost everything, including the tools for their trades. The donations from individuals and companies have been generous and continuous since the disasters. Another visitor from Tohoku who came down from her hometown to participate in the evening said that the generosity of not just the Japanese, but the foreign community, has been breathtaking in its expansiveness. A man who is a principal of a junior high school in the affected areas spoke of the destruction of his home and living in his workplace, which was turned into a shelter. There were pictures of the B2B initiatives including the British Ambassador, Sir David Warren, in his coveralls setting to work.
It was an example I will not soon forget. The British people living in Japan, like so many other communities here, came together to help those affected by the Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, and they understand that just because a year has passed, the need for help is still great. The event I attended raised a further 3.5 million yen for the B2B program. I was so grateful to be a part of the special evening, which of course included wonderful food, wines, and even a song debut by Nick Wood and Julian Lennon, the proceeds from which go directly to charity. But more than what was physically there at the ambassador’s residence, was the feeling present in every attendee: hope. Pride. The promise of the future. The beauty of Japan these days encapsulated in one room – full of non-Japanese people who believe passionately in the possibilities of that future and who actively work to ensure it.