Japan Earthquake & Tsunami Emergency Relief

Japan Earthquake & Tsunami Emergency Relief (161th report)
Opening ceremony for Asahi Kindergarten's new school building in Minamisanriku

[MIYAGI, JAPAN, 30 July 2012]

Building architects Takaharu and Yui Tezuka.

In response to numerous requests received from municipal governments in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima Prefectures, the Japan Committee for UNICEF (JCU) provides assistance for the construction of new temporary and permanent facilities and for large-scale refurbishments to preschools and kindergartens heavily damaged by the Great East Japan Earthquake. One of those locations, Asahi Kindergarten in Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, held an opening ceremony for its new building on 28 July.

Students, teachers and parents were met with beautiful sunny weather when they gathered at the school for the event. The ceremony was also attended by Minamisanriku Town Mayor Jin Sato, Board of Education Chairperson Tatsuro Sato and Ofuna District Mayor Eiji Saijo. Asahi Kindergarten celebrated its first day with the warm company of its entire family.

Ms. Yumiko Endo, a teacher at Asahi Kindergarten.

The new building, which stands atop a highland area like the famous Kiyomizu Temple of Kyoto, was constructed using a giant Japanese cedar that lined the approach to Minamisanriku's Daioji Temple. The 300-year-old cedar was heavily damaged by the tsunami and ended up dying as a result of damage done by the salt in the seawater. Architects Takaharu and Yui Tezuka received a request from the kindergarten's principal to use the tree in constructing the school's new building. In consultation with the school's teachers, they set out to come up with a building design that brought out the natural warmness of wood. At the opening ceremony Mr. Takaharu Tezuka commented, "The tree was not only a building material used to construct the school; I want you all to understand that it is where animals of Minamisanriku lived and it is home to the spirit of the townspeople." Ms. Yui Tezuka followed by addressing the children: "It took some time but I am so happy that we have made it to today. Many people assisted in the construction of the building. I hope you all will truly enjoy your new school building."

A congratulatory message was also received from Makoto Hasebe, who provided generous support for the reconstruction of the school: "I am overcome with joy that the school is complete and that the children again have a place where they can enjoy learning. I speak on behalf of people across Japan in saying that the construction of Asahi Preschool is an expression of a hope held by everyone in Japan for early reconstruction in the Tohoku region. I look forward to coming and playing with all of you again soon."

Asahi Kindergarten lost its building in the tsunami on 11 March 2011. The school was able to start temporary nursery care at Shizugawa Primary School from June 2011—three months after the disaster—and at the Ofuna District Public Hall from October 2011.

Ms. Yumiko Endo, a teacher at Asahi Kindergarten, reflected on the disaster in her greeting to the audience: "When we started out in our empty classroom I was given a cardboard sliding board. The children, without being asked, kindly took turns using the slide. The children were more than anything happy to be reunited with their friends. It brought me to tears to see the children play and take care of their friends. When the new desks were brought in the children hugged them and cheered in joy. Seeing the children become overjoyed at the sight of such a common thing made me realize again the unbelievable situation that the disaster had imposed on the children. Despite their situation, though, the children were full of energy, and the source of that energy is the generousness and kindness of people across Japan. Thank you so much."

After the opening ceremony all of the children gathered for a tour of the new building. A girl sitting in one of the school's new chairs beckoned another student to join her, saying, "Hey, come sit here next to me!" Meanwhile several boys excitedly investigated every corner of the classroom. The laughter of the children resonated through the building and the cedar wood created a gentle, welcoming smell in the school's hallways through which the children ran. There was even one section where there were remnants of an old woodpecker's nest.

        An open porch encircles the entire building.

All photo credits: © Japan Committee for UNICEF

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