My name is Nishant, I’m an American living in the Tohoku Region of Japan. I work for the Tourism Bureau in Kesennuma, the northernmost city in Miyagi Prefecture. Kesennuma was recently featured in Chris Broad’s YouTube series, “Abroad in Japan!”
I first came to Japan in 2014, on the JET Program. Having never been to Japan before, I figured I’d have a memorable experience regardless of where I was sent, so I elected not to indicate a location request on my JET Application. However, when the JET Program Office in Boston told me that they would be sending me to Kesennuma, I was shocked to learn that I’d be going to a community that had been devastated by the Tohoku Tsunami just three years earlier.
As I began to do research on the city that would soon be my new home, I immediately discovered that there were precious few English-language resources available. And the photographs I was able to find were all from news articles documenting the terrifying scale of the disaster. It was difficult to get a clear picture of the scene that would be awaiting me on my arrival to Kesennuma, and while there were plenty of things that I was uneasy about, I also felt very fortunate. The JET Program was giving me a chance to live in a community whose existence I would have otherwise been unaware of. Perhaps this would be my first chance to make some sort of positive impact on the world, in my own small way.
Kesennuma is one of Japan’s most famous fishing ports, and the apartment I lived in was located less than 100 meters from the pier. In spite of the apparent damage from the tsunami, I was lucky to be living in what was still the liveliest part of town. That was thanks to the presence of the Fukko Yatai Mura (Recovery Village). The Recovery Village was a cluster of small shops, restaurants and bars that were operating out of pre-fabricated shelters, a temporary setup for local business owners who had lost their shops to the tsunami. Having a no friends or acquaintances in town, and little more than a rudimentary grasp of the Japanese language, I’d come to the Recovery Village night after night to eat and drink with the locals. And before I realized it, I was a regular! The friends I made at the Recovery Village became like a family for me, and made me feel like I always had somewhere to come home to.
On JET, my official job title was Assistant Language Teacher (ALT). I was assigned to three local schools, where I would assist with preparing and conducting English classes. Kids in rural communities like Kesennuma don’t often have the opportunity to interact with people from other countries, so part of my job was to be sort of an unofficial global ambassador and inspire kids to look at the world outside of their neighborhoods. I loved hanging out with kids, and the kids I taught always seemed to look forward to my classes, so I woke up every morning excited to go to work. When kids told me that they wanted to visit my hometown in the U.S., or that they wanted to learn to speak English better so they could make friends from other countries, it made me feel like there was a real purpose to my work. At the same time though, I felt that while I was confined to the structure of a school, it was difficult to make a broader impact on this community that I had fallen in love with.
Before the tsunami, Kesennuma was a popular tourist destination, famous for fresh seafood and beautiful beaches. For the past four years, the city has been investing in reconnecting with its roots as one of Tohoku’s ocean paradises. In 2017, I was given an opportunity to come back to Kesennuma to work for the city Tourism Bureau, to introduce Tohoku and the Sanriku region, to not only to Japanese visitors, but travelers coming to Japan from all over the world.
Over 24 million travelers from abroad come to Japan every year. But only 1% of these travelers visit the Tohoku region. Tohoku is Japan’s best kept secret, but it’s a place that shouldn’t be missed. Come here and experience wonders that have yet to be discovered by the world at large. Experience breathtaking natural beauty and a deep history of local traditions. Come to Tohoku and meet people who make magic happen here every day.
Start in Kesennuma, and allow me to be your guide.
See you soon.
Kesennuma Tourism & Convention Bureau
Contact me at: