May 6

Thank you to Vancouver-based JET alum Alison Dacia Brown (Iwate-ken, Rikuzentakata, 2005-2008) for sharing the below piece which she originally wrote for JETAA British Columbia:


Rikuzentakata in Iwate prefecture is the best little town that you’ve never been to.

I think I can safely assume that. I think Vancouverites in particular would have appreciated it because to me, Rikuzentakata as of March 10, 2011, was Vancouver in miniature, complete with a beach and mountains in the background. It made me feel like I was just across the pond from Canada. I actually requested Iwate on my JET application, which hardly anyone does. I was more than lucky to be placed where I was, and not just in terms of geography.

It had a quaint little sake factory called Suisen that held hanami parties during the cherry blossom season. It had a gorgeous, sandy beach lined with thousands of slender, yet majestic pine trees. It had the best neighbours a foreigner could ever have when she is away from home. Neighbours who fed her when she was sick with a stomach infection. It had an amazing Japanese woman, who translated all of her farewell speeches from Japanese into English. It had a hard-working Board of Education. It had an amazing ALT from Alaska.

Suisen is gone but I was told that in the days after the tsunami, the smell of sake permeated the area. I’m sure it was hiding more insidious smells. All of the trees which lined the beach are gone except for one. This tree is now called ‘The Miracle Tree’ and it’s giving hope to tsunami survivors. Unfortunately, it’s become a tourist destination and it’s making transportation into Rikuzentakata difficult.

The neighbour who fed her when she was sick, sometimes 3 times a day, lost her house which also housed the family’s tatami business. Her son was a volunteer firefighter and went directly to the beach to close the tsunami wall. His body was found 4 days ago and he has been cremated. The woman who translated her farewell speeches into English, Mutsuko Ozawa, is alive but has lost her mother, sister, nephew and cousins to the tsunami. Only her sister was found. Her house is gone and she has sent her children to central Japan while she and her husband fix up a new house to live in.

21 out of the 26 people who worked at her Board of Education are dead. It was an emergency meeting point, but unfortunately, the building which housed the Board of Education, was only 3 stories high. The tsunami went over it. My good friend, Kie Murakami, was still working at the Board of Education when the tsunami hit. I was hoping she wasn’t, as people change jobs every 3 years, as many of you know. I prayed she was somewhere else, away from the shore. She was found two weeks ago, and she has left behind a daughter and a husband who will miss her immensely. Kie was with Monty Dickson, who was the current JET ALT. He had taken over my position a year after I left Japan, and I know he loved the place as much as I did. I have a picture of Kie and Monty on the top of the local mountain, and it’s very hard to look at, knowing what has happened to them.

I hope to return someday to help. I think many of the former Iwate JETs feel this way. Right now, the only way I can help is by donating money, which we have all been doing. I have given hugs to Japanese people on Granville street in exchange for money. I have bought t-shirts. I have done a charity walk for Japan to raise money through JETAABC. I have donated money directly. But of course it is not enough. I desperately want to return to my adopted city which took care of me for 3 years to let them know that they have not been forgotten.

4 comments so far...

  • Sarah Ruddy Said on May 6th, 2011 at 11:39 am:

    Thanks for writing this Alison. I miss Rikuzentakata and the people everyday. It is an incredible place and I can’t wait for the opportunity to go back as well and do whatever I can to help out.

    Rikuzentakata, 2008-2009

  • Marie Ridley Said on May 6th, 2011 at 9:02 pm:


    Thank you for sharing this. I am an alum ’87-’89
    Iwate-ken Ninohe Kyoiikujimusho. When the tragedy struck
    I thought of all the teachers I met from the coast,
    and know that there are people who touched my life that are now gone.

    I was in Maine when the earthquake struck in Japan, and I
    suddenly woke up feeling that gentle and kind
    souls that I met were suddenly no longer with us.

    Your writing filled a void and I appreciate you sharing your
    story with everyone.


  • Alison Dacia Brown Said on May 7th, 2011 at 4:10 pm:

    Thank you Marie, and my successor Sarah. I’m glad you liked the article, although I wish I never had to write it in the first place.

    I hope all is well with you on the east coast!


  • Steve Dowty Said on June 19th, 2011 at 11:02 am:

    My son has just been assigned to Rikuzentakata. As you might guess, we’re more than a little concerned at the situation he might be sent into. If anyone can contact us and let us know what things are really like there right now, we would be most grateful. My email is steve [at]


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