For the main reason of going to Japan this time round, was to make yet another part of Project YUME happen. This time round, it was the Iwate and Fukushima Prefecture that we visited.
Peter Draw Singaporean Artist (Initiated Project YUME together with Dennis) Dennis Singaporean friend whom is studying in Tokyo, Japan (Initiated Project YUME together with Peter) Baba Sensei Ex-Primary School Principal in Tokyo, Japan whom assisted us with the execution of Project YUME in Japan through his networks with various primary schools in Japan Bush Taiwanese friend studying in Tokyo, Japan whom is in this together with us Shinn As a photographer for this trip, in hope of capturing the most beautiful smiles and memories
We embarked on a 9 1/2 hours overnight bus ride to Iwate Prefecture from Tokyo. A 9 1/2 hours overnight bus ride, our initial thoughts of it being rather uncomfortable and would result in us having a lack of sleep did not come true, because Baba Sensei had kindly booked a slightly more expensive bus ticket that allowed us such comfort on the 3-seater per row bus!
We arrived at the Iwate Prefecture which is a few hundred kilometres north of Tokyo and in fact, just a few kilometres away from the coastal areas. Talking about coastal areas, that’s where the tsunami in March destroyed it all.
If not for Dennis’ post about this trip, I wouldn’t have known about what a local we met upon our arrival at Iwate mentioned. That local old man we met was feeding the pigeons and remembering about him speaking to us, this was what he explained “These poor pigeons do not have any food to eat. The fish markets have all closed down. The crows, the sea gulls… all of them are starving.” Upon reading this, it finally dawned upon me that in this world, it’s not only about us humans, but the other living things, like in this case the animals. It’s heartwarming to know that there’s someone whom still cares for those that we neglect.
Iwate Prefecture, it was exactly this part of Tohoku region that caused much fear and worry for the past few months ever since the natural disaster happened and caused many to flee elsewhere, or of those unfortunate, to leave us.
After a breakfast at the nearby standing soba shop, we set off in a taxi to Taro-daisan Elementary School.
Along the way, the taxi ride triggered much emotions in us for we saw the debris and ruins caused by the unexpected natural disaster.
I was more than eager to snap a few photos of those scenes, but at the same time, stirring in my heart was “How could I seem so excited to snap such photos of scenes that brought such agony and pain to the people in Iwate Prefecture”.
For a moment, I snapped a few photos and plonked back to where I was sitting in the middle at the back seat.
It was such photos that I did not want to miss out on. There were photos that could bring up so much emotions, for these were what I’d love to share with those back in my home country and whichever media publications would be more than willing to share with their readers then.
As we gradually approached to the small town of Taro, it brightened up my day seeing the locals doing their housework and daily chores just outside of their little house.
The taxi made a few rounds, asked for directions for a few times and before our eyes, was a brightly coloured wooden building, against the beautiful mountains and greenland, right in the arms of nature’s love. Now that we’ve reached our destination, we were beginning to do what we’ve been wanting to do: To allow children from the Iwate Prefecture to feel the love and encouragement from other children whom drew to share their dreams with them. To inject more hope and happiness to the children there ever since what we could label as the trauma disturbed them both physically, mentally and emotionally.
The school Principal Araya led us in upon our arrival, hosted us in the best way she could with green tea and soon she whipped out what made her most proud of, what she would love to share with us. It was none other than the newspaper and magazine articles, photos that said so much about her school, Taro town and the region. Fortunately, no one in the school lost their families, but one of them Maya lost her home in the tsunami though. With only 16 students (divided into 3 classes of Grade 1 & 2, 3 & 4, 5 & 6), it was a small school that gave me so much warmth, for the teachers were able to concentrate on that small amount of students, probably doing their best in giving them the best education in life.
We were allocated an hour each for the 3 classes to share with them Peter’s ‘The Sweetest Gift’ story, the drawings from Taichung, Costa Rica and Tokyo, for them to not be restricted and draw their dreams freely with pencil, crayons, paper and their imagination.
Grade 1 & 2
This was the first class we started off with. Still rather unfamiliar with how I should go about taking photographs, I just kept snapping and snapping. Things got better, I was explained about what kind of photos I should take (No, the kind of photos were not taken in accordance to media purposes, but of what kind of photos would bring about the strongest emotions in people when they view it, of what kind of photos I should not miss snapping because they are what we call: the most treasured moment).
They were the bunch of kids whom were so active. What I appreciated was, they took their rare chance of speaking their limited conversational english with us whom knows English. Every single student were more than eager to come up to me, starting our conversation with ‘Nice to meet you. My name is XXX’. I smiled, I couldn’t stop smiling, they were so adorable. See, even kids of age 6 and 7 knows how to strike when the iron’s hot, to speak english to me for they never know when they can do so again.
Grade 3 & 4
They were slightly quiet, but their dreams and interpretation of it were clearer for us. They were determined to do what they wanted to do. Their dreams were huge, their dreams as they drew on paper left me a few pauses as I stared at them choosing the crayons to colour their dreams. Their dreams were all so colourful, I want their dreams to come true. I can’t exactly be there physically for them to assist them in making their dreams come true, but the least I could do as of now, and the reason for me to be here together with the others was to let them pen down their dreams, to remember their dreams which they might have forgotten or given up on due to past experiences. Dreams are such powerful tools, you never know. We want to instill in the childrens’ mind and heart that their dreams will come true as long as they never be afraid and never give up. It will, as long as they work hard for it to happen.
Grade 5 & 6
With only 2 girls in the class, they were rather shy. In fact, what was most difficult, was to actually share this story and our intentions with children of their age. They have been through much more as compared to the Grade 1 – 4, they are much more mature, they think a lot more and to touch their hearts, it isn’t easy. Gradually, we tried, we tried to explain to them in different ways to let them know, as the elders of this school, they are dawned with the responsibility of inspiring the younger ones to not give up on their dreams but most importantly, it’s their dreams they should never give up on. It wasn’t easy for them to pen down their dreams, probably this is also the time they are uncertain of how they want to interpret their drawings on paper. They most probably have too many dreams, they don’t know which one they want. But when the two of them, under the assistance of their teacher, they drew their dreams – Maya who wants to be a pet groomer and Hikari who wants to be a nurse. This was when I smiled.
The few hours we spent there ended pretty fast, I didn’t bear to leave the children, they didn’t bear to leave us after their lessons ended too. Many of them popped by Principal Araya’s office to bid a final goodbye to us before they headed home. A pity I did not take any photos with the children, but only took photos of them. But that is exactly what made me satisfied, I hope I took the photos well enough to capture such vibrance and happiness throughout the sessions we had with them.
Not forgetting, Principal Araya also shared with us a story about her mother, which left us pondering a lot. Her 90 years old mother whom had experienced a previous tsunami 78 years ago, lost her whole family of 7. It was at this moment that my heart cringed. Losing your whole family, with you left alone to struggle physically, mentally and emotionally – she was one brave strong lady. Now, as she got married and gave birth to 6 children – her dreams of giving proper education to her 6 children came true, for 4 of her children are now school teachers/ principals. See, this is an example of how do dreams come true. And today, in 2011, she met another tsunami. 2 tsunamis in your life, that is how special her life story was. Of how she did not want her fellow locals to not be afraid of this place which indeed brought them some sort of emotional struggle when the natural disaster happen, she wants them to love this place, to embrace their hometown. It is part and parcel of life, should the natural disaster happen and inject disappointment in life – but this is what is most beautiful, you’d get to see the strongest spirit of the people as they struggle in life.
“A drawing to encourage the children in Japan to never give up on their dreams”
Principal Araya then brought us to her old home which had unfortunately been been destroyed by the tsunami. We stood in the middle of the mess, the debris filled with objects that told us so many stories. A hamtaro, a pair of russian dolls, a Japanese exercise book.. was what I remembered amongst those in the debris. All houses in that area were washed away, all. We stood there, dumbfounded, our face cringed into a sense of seriousness and an urge to help. We roamed further to witness the seriousness of the situation, the scary consequences left behind by the natural disaster.
We then moved on to staying at a business hotel in Morioka, the city centre of Iwate Prefecture where I finally slept on a bed for the first time in Japan and the trip, the previous nights were on futons and on buses.
For the first time, I step foot on a Shinkansen that sent us quickly to the Fukushima Prefecture where we met up with Bush and Satou Sensei (whom was a friend of Baba Sensei and assisted us in liaising with the school we were about to go to).
Upon meeting Satou Sensei, he drove us around his hometown where we had a brief look at the exterior of the nearby evacuation centres where hundreds of people are still living their lives there in until today, that’s nearly 4 months into the happening of the disaster.
As we arrived at Sabara Elementary School, once again we were welcomed by the school Principal Tamura. With initially only 20 students in the school, 100 students showed up at its entrance ceremony this year instead. If you’ve been wondering why, it’s none other than the Japanese families fleeing away from the cities they were living in for the nuclear radiation plants leakage left them with no choice. Only 2 months, these students have blended well into their new environment and friends they have just gotten to know are their daily partners now, which is definitely something that brought smiles to Principal Tamura and her staff everyday.
We presented to a group of students at its hall, some of them were eager to answer when we asked “What are your dreams?”, some were shy in the beginning but gradually paid more attention where as time goes by, they finally understood a little about what we were trying to share with them.
With just a simple word or action, we can help to change the world, to change the person into something/ someone better
With just one line, adding on to the character’s face, we have a smiley face instead of a sad one previously
Only the Grade 1 class children drew their dreams, it may seem like a small amount of children only but to think about it, it is these few children that have gave and taught us so much about things we never thought about, things we would never understand when we were of their age. When asked about their dreams, one of them raised his arm and said eagerly, wanting to share his huge dream, “I want to become Mario when I grow up!”
Mario?! It was such an adorable dream that the adults would most probably think he loves that character too much, must have played many of its games. The mushrooms.. the flower.. the bricks.. the kart… We went on with a “Why?” for his mentioned dream. “So that when another disaster happens at home, I can pick up all my family and friends quickly and drive them away to safety like Mario Kart”. See, this is what we’d never imagine ourselves, our kids in Singapore to think of. For we are always living in that protected environment, but at such a young age, these kids know. They know the importance, they have been through it. Our hearts smiled. Dreams to be that hero of his family.. this child is much more mature than I am.
Another incident that made me smile was Yuka-chan, whom started off her drawing with herself on the right of the drawing. Followed by a rack of clothes at the bottom. Gradually, as me and Peter looked at her draw, she never failed to stop drawing more and more racks of clothes that filled the piece of paper for her. This was how huge her dream was. She isn’t satisfied with just one rack of clothes, she wants to see herself sell more and more apparel. She is an inspiration; to dream big.
He was that boy that grabbed my attention. As I was taking photographs around in the classroom, he was that boy who looked at me wherever I went to. And when I looked at him, he gave me the widest grin. I couldn’t figure out what his dream was, and when my friend asked him about his dream, he remained quiet. I smiled at him whenever possible and thought about him as such a unique boy. I was looking forward to seeing his drawing, especially when they have completed it with their name, school and description of their dream. I took a photo with him, in remembrance of his beautiful smile and drawing. And as Dennis translated the content of the childrens’ drawings later on, this was only when I realised what he wanted to be was a dream so special: He wanted to be a Marathon Runner! I want to see him on national tv, doing his best as a marathon runner for Japan in the future. I want his dream to come true
It was this trip that also allowed me to learn in terms of photography: To take every single chance, to never miss it, to never to leave the camera, to never to leave my fingers off from the shutter button of the camera, to always look at those facial expressions and actions of those before our eyes.
It’s most probably the children and spirit of the Japanese that taught me so much during this trip. It’s also a lot about networking and the importance of finding out more that I learnt from Peter. Sometimes I’m not too sure what I exactly brought back home from this trip, but definitely, I saw a different me during the trip – something I am pleased with. For having taken part in such a project, has taught me quite a bit. There is just something that you’ll learn from every little trip and action, it’s how much you are willing to take back and receive.
Finally, presenting to all a video that Dennis did – showcasing the dreams of the children. Included in this video is also a short message by Principal Araya (Iwate Prefecture)’s mother, the one whom have been through 2 tsunamis in her life.