[Project] NIshimiya Fellows Program 2013: Seminar in Fukushima, Japan

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Honorably, I have been accepted to NIshimiya Fellows Program 2013 and will go to Fukushima this summer. Nishimiya Fellows Program is a program at Columbia University Medical Center. Fellows will stay in Fukushima and attend seminars at Fukushima Medical University on radiation biology and visit local communities. I will go to Fukushima in the end of May, a little earlier before the program starts from 6/7 to 6/14 to visit my friends and place I wanted to go. After the program I wil start my internship in Tokyo till the end of August.

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You can read my blogs as reports on the Nishimiya Fellow Program above.

Here I paste my application essay in which I describe my passion and plan.

1) Please briefly describe your future plans (limit 300 words)

My ultimate goal is to cultivate opportunities, relationships and communities in society through which each individual, unique and different, can embrace their own lives, play their own roles, and discover and live their own stories.

As a way of approaching my goal, I will pursue, as a business person or politician, the universal design of society in which various groups, including marginalized or vulnerable groups such as disaster victims and people with disabilities, can be empowered and work together. After graduating from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, I will work at a Japanese social business company that focuses on empowering people with disabilities through initiatives such as job training for adults with disabilities, education for children with developmental difficulties, and consulting with Japanese companies looking to make their work environment more inclusive. I will also continue my commitment to the recovery of northern east disaster areas in Japan, which I elaborate on in essays 2 and 3.

One of my goals of working with the company and in northern east Japan is to empower people who are in disadvantaged positions, such as jobless people with disabilities or those hurt by the tsunami, to work by themselves and develop their communities. Within 5 to 7 years after graduation, I will run for national election to be a congressional representative of Japan. I will leverage my experience in social sectors to design national strategies and policies.

In parallel with my career development in business and politics, I work as a writer and expressionist to deepen my understanding of humanity and philosophy. Through these activities, I seek a point at which every individual can be connected and have compassion. I strongly believe that narrative stories and literatures can shed light on society and give people a piece of hope.

2) Why are you interested in participating in this program? Why would you be a good fit? (limit 500 words)

For me, as a Japanese citizen, as an individual who lived and worked in Ishinomaki in Miyagi prefecture, as a public health student, and as a youth in charge of future society, Fukushima has been a physically near, but still mentally far place. Therefore, I feel I need to go to Fukushima now, and even feel called by the place.

Two incidents prevented me from going to Fukushima while I was in Japan, and I am therefore highly motivated to visit the disaster-stricken areas now. My first encounter with issues of radiation, the nuclear power plant, and Fukushima was just two days after the disaster happened on 11th March. Friends who specialized in nuclear power engineering as graduate students of Tokyo University called me. They wanted to do something for the people panicked by the accident at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. They started commenting on news and providing basic knowledge about radioactive issues. I played a significant role of spreading out such information on Twitter. It might have relieved people to some extent, but I felt exhausted by seeing a vast amount of posts on Twitter that reflected both positive and negative feelings of people. At the time, this experience discouraged me to deal with such sensitive and uncertain issues related to the nuclear plant or Fukushima.

In addition to that, as I will mention on the essay 3, I moved to Ishinomaki in Miyagi prefecture and started working for the projects in Oshika Peninsula. That made me busy, and I couldn’t go to Fukushima before entering Columbia University. Since learning about the epidemiology and biological basis of radioactive effects on human health, I regret not going to Fukushima, and therefore am eager to go now.

Furthermore, continuous interactions with my friends from or working in Fukushima, and encounters with personal stories related to the disaster in Fukushima posted on the internet, gradually drove my mind towards Fukushima. Of course the word or the place “Fukushima” does not exclusively point the Fukushima Daiichi accident or the radioactive issue, but contains various aspects. However, public discourse tended to simplify Fukushima as the nuclear power plant accident. I have seen polarized extremists for or against nuclear energy attacking each other. One of the most impressive comments I read was a post from a female who was originally born in Fukushima, but lived in Osaka, apart from her family when the tsunami hit Fukushima. Her bitter voice prayed, “Please, do not tear out my home, no more.” At the same time, however, she said, “But still I am an outsider,” because she was in Osaka. The fact that even Fukushima-born people have such complex feelings towards the disaster has moved my heart towards Fukushima. I feel the need to go to Fukushima to gain a deeper understanding of specific situation in Fukushima, to do something for the recovery of Fukushima, and to make my heart closer to those who cherish Fukushima.

3) How do your academic and extracurricular activities prepare you to participate in and contribute to this program? (limit 500 words)

First, my academic experience at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health is a fit with the program as it relates to radiation issues. As radioactive materials spread out geographically, and effects on our health are associated with the amount and duration of exposure, my knowledge of epidemiology and biostatistics gained through coursework at Mailman is key for understanding and contributing to the program. For my certificate, I have been studying health policy analysis. My skills of program evaluation and policy memo writing will be useful to understand the current situations of Fukushima, judge problems, and seek policy alternatives. Although I do not have medical degree, I am convinced that I can contribute to the program by providing other participants with population and system-level perspectives.

Second, my professional job experiences in Ishinomaki, another disaster area in Miyagi prefecture, before coming to Mailman have prepared me to participate in the program in Fukushima. Soon after the disaster happened, I started volunteer work in Ishinomaki from April, and then I and other colleagues established a new organization, “tumugiya,” to deal with problems after the emergency phase. Knowing the problems of job loss and disconnection in a community in Oshila Peninsula, and the strong needs and passion of local women to work by themselves, we developed two projects. One is “OCICA,” a local accessory brand, and the other is “Boppora Shokudo,” new food store. Both are run by local mothers as their new jobs. Now both projects have created sustainable incomes, and reconnected people in and out of Oshika Peninsula across various generations, whether in their20’s or in their 70’s. From these experiences, I understood the importance of local ownership and designing activities based on specific local problems and resources. I also developed my skill to have ongoing, mutual communication with local people. Of course the situations and problems in Fukushima must be different from that of Ishinomaki, but I am excited to go to a new place, and sincerely determined to learn from local residents and hospital workers, and connect my past activities with this experience.

In terms of post-field activities in Fukushima, my past experiences in public speaking, including a presentation as a guest speaker at the symposium on 10th March by the Consortium for Japan Relief, will allow me to successfully disseminate the Nishimiya Fellows Program’s activities. Also, I joined CJR as a member after the symposium, and am planning for further actions such as a trip to Tohoku from New York, the translation of research articles and other literature from Japanese to English, and the sales of local products from Tohoku. I will utilize these personal commitments related to Tohoku, and the wide network gained through CJR activities and my work in Ishinomaki to help develop and expand the Nishimiya Fellow Program. As my these three points above illustrated, I am confident that I am a both academically and professionally eligible to participate in and contribute to the Nishimiya Fellows Program in 2013.

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