EDITOR’S NOTE: In March 2011, the tsunami  resulting from the Great East Japan earthquake killed nearly 16,000 Japanese, damaged up to a million structures, and triggered the Fukushima nuclear disaster. It also came close to erasing Hamagurihama, a small ocean-side village. But a native of the village, Kameyama Takakazu, whose wife died as a result of the earthquake, wanted to do something to rebuild. A year after the tsunami, he returned and started recruiting volunteers to help reestablish Hamagurihama. The project has brought unexpected results. “If the earthquake hadn’t happened, I don’t think I would have ever come back here,”  said one volunteer.

Journalist Clary Estes documented the Hamagurihama Project, as it became known, while in Japan for a two year fellowship. Her video report shows a village the preserves tradition while looking to the future. “It’s not just about the old ways, but about how we can combine them with the new,” Kameyama said.

Below the video, Clary explains how she got involved with the Hamagurihama Project and describes some of what she learned.

The Hamagurihama Project, はまぐりはまプロジェクト from Clary Estes on Vimeo.

I found the Hamagurihama Project through a work contact at Reuters Japan. He mentioned wanting to do this project but not being able to, so he passed it my way. I contacted a staff member for the project and resident of Ishinomaki, Japan, the nearby town, to get the project planned and was able to make a couple trips up for a week each time to work with them. For each trip I took a bus for 12 hours from Nagoya. Luckily the busses were very comfortable. I stayed in the town of Ishinomaki, which was also hit pretty hard, and was driven into the village of Hamagurihama, about 5 miles away. I stayed with Ryodai and Jordan Foxwell, who runs a local missionary organization, while I photographed the project. While in Hamagurihama I was able to interview Kameyama Sensei, the founder of the project, and staff members Ryodai, Chie and Sayuri. They all came to the project for their own unique reasons. Talking to the team members was very easy and they were all very open and kind, but more importantly, they understood why this project was so important and were all very committed to its success.

While I was shooting at Hamagurihama, they built the cafe and got it fully functioning. Same with the camping area, though the camping area was not in wide use yet. They were also in the process of renovating a home for a guesthouse and had built a truly awesome tree house on the grounds. The amount of things the project was building was mind blowing. They had their own garden, where they grew produce for the cafe (the rest they bought locally), bee hives and a single black sheep, all of which they were planning to expand on. They were in the process of learning how to make wool goods as well. They have plans for marine leisure activities, since the village sits on a cove.

The main goals of the project were to insure that the village would not die, and may in fact thrive, after the tsunami, to learn and preserve traditional Japanese fishing village practices, artistically, agriculturally, and spiritually, and to make rural Japan a place that Japanese wanted to move back to and contribute to, instead of moving to the city for work. They put forth these goals on every level, by learning traditional Japanese ways themselves, inviting people of all ages to come see traditional ways in practice, and passing their knowledge to the youth of the area through educational and outdoors programs. As Jordan Foxwell said to me the first day that I came to visit Hamagurihama, “It is hard not to be in awe of what they are doing there.”

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