Disaster Inspires Japanese Students to Devote Lives to Improving Japan

March 26, 2016
Photo of students visiting Mission District
The iLEAP delegation poses in front of one of the Mission District's famous murals with Fern Echevarria of Accion Latina.


Three visiting Japanese university students speaking at a Dilena Takeyama Center program said their desire to become social activists was sparked by experiencing the devastation of the “triple disaster” that hit the Tohoku region in 2011.

One of the students, Misaki Odashima of Tohoku University, said the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power plant disaster made Japanese people feel “powerless.”  The disaster led to about 15,894 deaths and the destruction of homes, businesses, farms, fisheries and schools throughout the region. Radioactive contamination from the destroyed nuclear power plant is widespread.

“The disaster uncovered the social vulnerability in Japan,” said Odashima. In response, she hopes to participate in the region’s revitalization and make people feel “powerful.” One of the first things she did was to help organize a TEDx program in Tohoku to help inspire people to help the rebuilding effort.

Also speaking were Kan Kikumoto of Sophia University and Yuka Iwabuchi of Rikkyo University. Kikumoto is working towards gaining greater public acceptance in Japan of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Iwabuchi said she hopes to help high school students to gain leadership skills and confidence.

The three students are participating in a leadership development program sponsored by the iLEAP Social Innnovation in Seattle Program, a 5-week program for social entrepreneurs and community leaders, age 18-25, who are making a positive difference in Japan.

Britt Yamamoto, executive director of iLEAP, said his program has helped to shape more than 400 leaders from 32 countries. The program for young Japanese leaders was started shortly after the Tohoku disaster.

The Dilena Takeyama Center invited the three students and Yamamoto to join in a networking forum with San Francisco State University student and Bay Area social entrepreneurs, artists, filmmakers and others who are involved in social change efforts. The program, the Nikkei Social Innovators Exchange, was held Saturday, March 19 at SFSU. The Dilena Takeyama Center also arranged for the iLEAP delegation to visit community leaders in the “Japantown” areas of San Francisco and San Jose and in San Francisco’s Mission District.