Tohoku Leaders of the Next Generation Study Tourism and Revitalization in the United States through the TOMODACHI Amway Japan Foundation Tohoku Future Leader Program
From March 23 to April 1, 2019, the inaugural year of the TOMODACHI Amway Japan Foundation Tohoku Future Leader Program was held successfully, with 16 high school students from Minami-Sanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, traveling to the United States for a ten-day program focused on tourism and cross-cultural exchange.
The high school students spent time in Washington, D.C., New York City, and coastal communities on the Jersey Shore. While in the nation’s capital, the students were based at a local high school with specialized hospitality and tourism curriculum. At the school, the Japanese students were paired with local students to experience the daily life of teenagers in the United States, by attending classes and joining after-school activities, including sports, Japanese language classes, and a marketing pitch “Shark Tank” competition. The students also did homestays for four days, where they had a chance to get to know and experience first-hand the home life of American families.
After D.C., the group traveled to New York City where they visited the 9/11 Tribute Center and National Memorial. There, they heard personal stories from those directly impacted by the attacks of September 11, 2001. The speakers stated that sharing their stories has helped them to deal with some of the loss and sadness they feel as a result of what happened that day. The speakers also had a connection to Japan, having traveled to the Tohoku region to help with humanitarian aid following the Great East Japan Earthquake. This shared experience of loss and disaster was a bond connecting the high school students with the speakers.
In addition to New York City, the group also traveled to the coastal towns of Ortley Beach and Seaside Heights on the Jersey Shore to learn about the impact of 2012 Hurricane Sandy on those communities. At the rebuilt St. Elisabeth’s Chapel in Ortley Beach, they heard from community leaders about how they have sought to reestablish a sense of community among those who live there year-round, as well as encourage new families to move to the town. They toured the boardwalk of Seaside Heights, hearing from the mayor the ways the town has tried to encourage and rebuild to attract tourism not just in the summer, but year-round, as well. During the tour, they also learned about the precautions the community has taken to protect beaches and seaside commercial areas from future floods or storms. The students saw many similarities between these New Jersey communities and their hometown of Minami-Sanriku.
Miyuu Haga shared her eagerness for the activities upon returning to Japan: “[After the site visits in Washington D.C.,] my biggest impression was that people were taking action based on their consideration of the types of areas surrounding their town, or what types of people would want to come to their town. [Before coming to Washington D.C.,] I associated the city mainly with politics. However, I found the city free and enjoyable when I was actually there. When you look at the town of Minami Sanriku from the outside, too, people mainly have images of the ocean or seafood. However, there are not only seas, but also mountains or people engaged in forestry. Moreover, I want people to know not only what’s in the town, but also about the people who reside there.”
Now that they have returned to Japan, the students will work together, drawing upon what they learned in the U.S. and applying it to a final project to encourage tourism in Minami-Sanriku. The Final Presentation is scheduled to be held in September 2019.