By Ayaka Kaji / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer ISHINOMAKI, Miyagi — A Singaporean man has launched an English website through which foreign freelance writers describe the charms of Ishinomaki, a Miyagi Prefecture city recovering from the impact of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.
Dennis Chia, 31, is calling for more foreign writers to contribute to the website, which was launched this spring. A graduate of Waseda University, Chia said he was touched by the warmth of Ishinomaki’s residents when he participated in the removal of debris there after the disaster.
“I believe there are aspects of Ishinomaki that can be perceived through [writers’] interactions with the local people — I want to widely convey such scenes,” Chia said.
Lisa Wynne of Ireland contributed an essay about a cafe in the city that also has a coworking space. Through the cafe, the 29-year old conveyed the city’s atmosphere of recovering from the disaster, saying, “We can learn a lot about Ishinomaki, and about not just recovering in the event of a disaster, but innovating.”
She also talked about the construction of Ishinomaki-Minamihama Tsunami Memorial Park, saying, “[This work] tells us a lot about Ishinomaki ... striving to innovate and improve.”
The site was launched by Chia on March 12. Chia invited foreign freelance writers to Ishinomaki and asked them to write essays. He visited symbolic places with the writers, including the former building of Okawa Elementary School, and arranged for them to meet people engaged in reconstruction work.
Chia became interested in Japan through Japanese pop music, which has become popular in Singapore. In 2008, he came to Japan to study Japanese intensively, and enrolled in Waseda University.
Soon after the 2011 earthquake, Chia, who was in his third year at Waseda, visited Ishinomaki to help remove debris. “I wanted to do something for Japan,” Chia recalled. When local people warmly accepted him despite suffering from the disaster, he understood “the appeal of local areas [in Japan].”
In February 2017, Chia established a company in Tokyo that dispatched foreign students to various rural regions in Japan to help promote tourism in the area and revitalize towns “from the viewpoint of foreigners.”
Chia said by being engaged with various local areas, an idea grew in his mind that materialized as the website. “I think Ishinomaki is interesting because local people aim to create a new community together with newcomers who moved there after the disaster,” he said.
The results have shown Chia that it is worthwhile, and the essays have drawn comments from abroad, with one person commenting, “Written with great feeling and sensitivity to the local people’s experience and challenges.”
He plans to continue periodically inviting foreign writers to Ishinomaki and introducing them to various people, including shopkeepers in shopping streets and fishermen.