“Matsuri”, Traditional festivals bring people together

Japan National Council of Social Welfare reported that the number of volunteers in August was 29,800, an increase of 8,300 from July. The number had been decreasing since last May. One reason for this significant increase seems to be summer vacation, and another reason is considered to be summer festivals.

In August 11, 13 stricken areas hosted a firework night concurrently and fireworks of various sizes lit up the night skies of Tohoku. The event was organized by a volunteer organization, Light-up Nippon. Over 40,000 people at each areas looked up at the sky to see total of 30,000 firework displays. Kinki Nihon Tourist, a tour company, arranged a volunteering tour specifically for this event and around 80 people joined from all over Japan. A tour organizer Mr. Ishii comments, “The main casts of this event are the locals – tour company and volunteers will only act as supporters. Locals and volunteers working together to accomplish one project lead to natural interaction and communication among them. I believe this will further nurture feeling of attachment to the local community and the people, which will prevent making the disaster a thing of the past.

over 2000 paper lanterns floated on the Ogatsu coast

In Ogatsu town, young volunteers and the locals together created “Toro”, paper lanterns, on August 14 August. Ogatsu is a coastal town and one of the most stricken areas by the Tsunami in Ishinomaki city, Miyagi-prefecture. There is a Japanese traditional ceremony to float paper lanterns during Obon week, a week when the lost spirits come to visit this world. Lantern lights are believed to send spirits off back to the other world. In Ogatsu, it was considered difficult to conduct this traditional ceremony with just the locals since 3,000 of the initial 4,000 people left the town after the earthquake. However, with the help of volunteers, over 2000 lanterns floated on the Ogatsu coast. One university student from Tokyo comments, “It felt like we were welcomed to participate in the event, and it was not like helping them. I feel delighted to find such place in Tohoku. I hope to visit here regularly and liven up the town together with the local people.” Therelationship between the locals and volunteers seems to be shifting from simply giving aid.

The decrease of volunteers is a crucial challenge for the stricken areas. Also, people mention the importance of increasing the number of visitors. Traditional ceremonies and festivals will be a cue for more people to visit Tohoku. The sense of connection with the local town and people would be a big motivator to revisit the site. While the need for volunteers of administrative work is settling down, collaborative volunteering such as participating in festivals may be a key to increase volunteers and visitors.


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