Ms. Tabata is currently a participating as a mentor on the TOMODACHI Career Mentoring Program in Fukushima supported by the TOMODACHI Combini Fund. She is a sophomore at Nihon University.
On November 9, 2015, she had an opportunity to speak in front of approximately 850 people at the TOMODACHI Reception and Celebration at the U.S.-Japan Council Annual Conference. Her speech is below:
Hello everyone. I am Yuri TABATA, a TOMODACHI Alumnus. My hometown is 2 hours away from Sendai, in a place called Minamisanriku. I am currently a student at Nihon University, and I study intercultural understanding.
March the 11th, 2011 was a day before my graduation ceremony. I was expecting the day to be an ordinary day.
However, my house washed away by the tsunami, and I lost an honorable teacher. I had to remain at the earthquake shelter until the summer; sometimes I wondered why I was born in such a town.
Warm letters and thoughtful messages were sent to us from all over the word and it helped me recover from despair. After reading them, I always had the will to thank the thoughtfulness of those caring people.
When I was a sophomore in high school, I encountered the TOMODACHI Initiative and participated in the TOMODACHI Coca-Cola Educational Homestay Program.
For the essay section of the application, I was asked, “What do you wish to do in America? What do you wish to accomplish after you return from America?” Before that moment, I had only thought about what I wanted to do in America: to thank the people for their kindness, and I had never thought about what I wanted to do in Japan after returning. Henceforth, I started thinking about the reconstruction my hometown Minamisanriku.
Even though it was almost two years after the Earthquake, there was not much progress with the earthquake disaster reconstruction. “What are the adults doing?” I thought to myself. But, thanks to the essay question, I also found out that I was not doing anything either except blaming everything on the adults.
Thus, I searched for something “I” could do, and decided to use my communication skills to be a “storyteller (kataribe)” of my earthquake experience. I became a storyteller among the young generation, also being an English storyteller of those from abroad. That is why I desired to learn English in America for such activities in Japan. The ticket to America was in my hands.
Until then, my future plan was to become a successor of my mother’s beauty salon. I always thought society was cruel to women, having limited occupational choice. However, in America I saw many women working actively, facing challenges in recovery of social problems.
TOMODACHI stimulated my mind and took me out from a small and limited world. I am now developing as one of the next generation of leaders.
My current dream is to create opportunities of international exchange for the children in my hometown, Minamisanriku. When comparing the urban and rural areas, there is a big difference in the opportunities of international exchange programs, and I think this is a big issue. Just as how TOMODACHI gave me a great opportunity, I wish to give the children the chance to expose to different culture.
I currently continue my storytelling and have conveyed my experience to over 30,000 people from all around the world I am also working as a mentor for the “TOMODACHI High School Women Career Mentoring Program in Fukushima 2015”, supporting the learning of students. This 6-month program is funded through the “TOMODACHI Combini Fund,” which is supported by Lawson Inc. and FamilyMart Co., Ltd. convenience stores. The high school student participants, even while struggling through their life, are expanding their world, just how the I had.
Today, as a representative of the 4,000 TOMODACHI alumni who have the same dreams and hopes that I have, I wish to express my gratitude. For everyone here, I wish that you will pass the baton of dreams and hopes to the next generation of young people.
Thank you all for your kind attention.
Below is Ms. Tabata’s story after she participated on her first TOMODACHI program:
For me, March 11th 2011 was the day before junior high school graduation. All of my hopes for the high school years to come were dashed when the earthquake struck. My house was washed away by a tsunami, and the town I grew up in was no more. I was in utter despair. What cheered me up during those hard times was the disaster relief sent in from around the world. As a volunteer for distributing these goods, I came into contact every day with the kindness of people all over the globe. Since then, I have wanted to somehow give back to those whom supported us. When I found out about the TOMODACHI Summer 2013 Coca-Cola Educational Homestay Program, I applied immediately.
I experienced many things during the program, but perhaps most importantly I was made aware of my current English level. My host family was a very sweet elderly couple, and I had a great time as a member of their household. I sometimes struggled to communicate with them, however, as I could understand what they said to me but I had trouble speaking to them in English.
After I returned to Japan, I reflected on why I could not effectively communicate in English with them. I realized that despite learning English from a young age, I had never had any on-hands experience using it. Unlike urban areas, rural areas do not offer many chances to use English. Even looking at Japan as a whole, while there are opportunities to learn English itself, there are limited chances to actually use it. As we become adults, English will become more and more important. It is therefore crucial for children to be in touch with other cultures because it makes children more enthusiastic about using English.
I will create a treehouse called the Chance House, a boarding house where kids can become excited about English and other cultures. The Chance House will offer all children who visit a new experience and environment. Children from the countryside, such as my hometown Minamisanriku, will have the chance to build relationships with children from abroad. In turn, children visiting from other countries will come in contact with Japanese culture and be able to play sports with Japanese kids. As for Japanese children from urban areas, they will be able to experience a world surrounded by nature, something they perhaps lack back home. Finally, I plan to include information on disaster prevention and relief in all programs at Chance House.
Although children from abroad and Japanese children may find it difficult to communicate with each other at first, they will become friends through activities such as sports. In addition, children from urban areas will get a chance to interact with nature through activities such as growing their own vegetables and preparing fish that they caught on their own. Finally, all participants will leave with a better understanding of disaster relief and prevention. My ultimate goal is to give children from all around the world this rare opportunity to learn English, make new friends, and learn to communicate heart-to-heart.