The following is a summary of the Special Address by Mayor Futoshi Toba, Mayor of the City of Rikuzentakata, at the 2015 U.S.-Japan Council Annual Conference in November 2015.
Mayor Toba first thanked the U.S.-Japan Council and all those who supported Rikuzentakata and Tohoku after the Great East Japan Earthquake. He said that Rikuzentakata is a very small town, and that 1,800 people, or 8% of the population of 24,000, were lost in the tsunami. The disaster occurred only a few weeks after Mayor Toba was appointed to his position, and on March 11 he was overwhelmed with the responsibility. He chose to focus completely on fulfilling his duties as Mayor, only to discover that his wife died in the waves very close to his home. He felt utter despair for the first time in his life, and he said that he will always feel guilt over his choice.
After the disaster, Mayor Toba met with Ambassador Roos, and asked the Ambassador to give hope, a future, and dreams to the children of Tohoku. Ambassador Roos, the U.S.-Japan Council, and many sponsors responded with transformative exchange programs that have sent hundreds of children to the United States. Mayor Toba expressed his deep gratitude for the support of the people who made the programs possible.
Mayor Toba then outlined transformative changes in Rikuzentakata that he has implemented based on his experience in the United States. Out of the destruction wrought by the tsunami, an inclusive society is being built in Rikuzentakata that considers the needs of people with disabilities, the LGBT community and the elderly. He noted the incredible help immediately following the disaster, and noted that there are still people suffering in the disaster zone. He asked the leaders gathered at the Conference for their continued support in the form of their input, intelligence and assistance in creating a city that inspires hope in all of its citizens.
Click here to learn more about the 2015 Annual Conference.