300 Students from Japan Learn Leadership Skills to Rebuild Hometowns

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Three hundred high school students from Japan’s earthquake and tsunami ridden Tohoku region, came to UC Berkeley on July 29 for a Tomodachi Fair to learn valuable leadership skills. The event was part of the Tomodachi Initiative, public-private partnership that supports Japan’s recovery from the disaster, and invests in the next generation of Japanese and Americans in ways that strengthen cultural and economic ties, and deepen the friendship between the United States and Japan.

Yuta Kondo(left) and Shima Kouki (right) were just two of the students learning leadership skills from the Tomadchi Fair on July 29 at UC Berkeley.

Students are currently staying at UC Berkeley for three weeks and will learn about leadership and community services so they can take the knowledge back to Japan. The Tomodachi program is supported by Japanese and the U.S. government, and Softbank Japan, and Ayusa International.

“The purpose of this program is to make [the students] excited and to help them make changes in their home town,” said Ayusa International’s Director of Grant Programs David Beiser. “I’d like to give them skills for reconstruction.”

During their time in the Bay Area, students are being lectured in English, but Japanese speaking staff will also be on hand to ensure that students completely understand. One of the topics included how to improve a city, with Berkeley used as an example.

The Tomodachi program also features several speakers from a variety of fields. Notably, Kristi Yamaguchi, an Olympic gold medal figure skater came to motivate the students who were all very excited to hear what she had to say.

During the course of the day, the Tomodachi Festival featured lots of entertainment including face painting and a chance to dress up in sumo suits. There was also many cultural performances including Taiko drumming, a traditional Japanese dance callled Soran, and there was even a Brazilian  dance. There was also a performance by the Brian Compton Band – with special guest Leon Hendrix, the younger brother of famed guitarist Jimi Hendrix.

“I like this festival because people, even Japanese are excited and dancing,” Hendrix said. He also noted that he’d like to talk to the students if he has the chance.

Students Yuki Tanaka (left) and Yuka Nemoto(right).

Beiser said though the students have been here for a short time, they are already changing, and have even begun to speak up more.

“When they just arrived, they were very shy and never asked questions,” Beiser said. “I hope they will go back to Japan more confident, inspired, and powerful,” he continued.

Yuki Tanaka a student from Fukushima, which suffered from nuclear disaster, said she hopes to take the skills she is learning from the program back home to improve the city.

Hikaru Sato, another student from Miyagi hit by the quake, said she’d like to be a nurse and eventually volunteer in Africa.

“When the earthquake happened, we were helped by people in other countries getting food and stuff,” Sato said. “I also want to help other people in the world.”

For more about the Tomodachi Initiative visit http://usjapantomodachi.org/.

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