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Japan beyond 3.11 Stories of Recovery

GREAT EAST JAPAN EARTHQUATE PROJECT NHK WORLD
Teaching Children How to Save Themselves

This page is adapted from the original transcript of NHK’s TOMORROW, broadcast on January 19, 2015

Tomorrow Logo
Tsunami damage

The lives of more than 20,000 people were lost in the Great East Japan Earthquake. The number includes many people who evacuated to a safe place, but then returned to try and save others, and were engulfed by the tsunami.

Mamoru Usui

“One of my friends went back to look for his child, and he was swept away right in front of his child.”
(Mamoru Usui: Kesennuma Tourist and Convention Association)

Mamoru Usui

Whether to run for safety or to try and save other people? At schools all over Japan, how to teach children this difficult issue and evacuation education in general is now under review.

Manami Horie

“I understand it’s important to survive, but it’s a complex issue so we can’t simply tell children to think about their own survival and run for safety.”
(Manami Horie: 3rd Year Students, Department of Education, Shizuoka University)

Jason

“What do you do in times of natural disaster or emergency? Do you run for safety or do you help loved ones? That very dilemma that cost countless lives to the great earthquake of March 11th. Today I'm in Shizuoka, where we can see the beautiful Mt. Fuji. Local educators are asking themselves that very question and applying the lessons to learn to the classrooms today.”
(Jason Hancock: Reporter)

Elementary school kids

At this elementary school in Shizuoka, an on-demand lesson is being given by university students who are studying to become teachers after graduation.

Elementary school

“It's 4 p.m.”
(Hasumi Nishina: 3rd Year Students, Department of Education, Shizuoka University)

“See you tomorrow!”
(Miyako Matsui: 3rd Year Students, Department of Education, Shizuoka University)

Elementary school

Today’s lesson is about making the choice between two extremes on the way home: to evacuate or try to save loved ones.

Elementary school

“I would run for safety, because if a disaster occurred, I’d go panicky and I probably wouldn’t be able to think about other people.”
(Mizuki: Elementary school student, Shizuoka pref.)

Elementary school

“I understand what you’re saying, but if I went and helped someone and they were saved, I think that would be better.”
(Ichikawa: ES student, Shizuoka pref.)

Elementary school

“What do you think you should have done to save both of you?”
(Hasumi Nishina)

Hasumi Nishina

It has been four years since the Great East Japan Earthquake. We will report on the challenges of educators who are trying to develop the thinking and survival skills of children at the time of a disaster.

Teaching Children How to Save Themselves
Shizuoka

With a population of 3.7 million, Shizuoka Prefecture spreads around the foot of Mt. Fuji, a World Heritage Site.

The probability of a huge earthquake occurring here within 30 years is more than 60%, and it is estimated there would be numerous casualties.

Shizuoka University

Shizuoka University is the key institution for evacuation education in the Tokai Region. Many experts in seismology and disaster prevention science work here.

Motoki Fujii

Currently drawing attention is a disaster prevention education project started by Associate Professor Motoki Fujii after the 3.11 disaster.

Disaster moral education

Fujii advocates a new idea called Disaster Moral Education. He has created this textbook to be used for moral education classes at elementary and junior high schools.

Textbook

Every theme in the textbook is based on what actually happened at affected areas in 2011. For instance, children are asked difficult questions such as whether stealing gasoline is acceptable or not, who should be prioritized when distributing food, and so on.

Jason visits

Jason visits the office of the Fujii Group.

“What made you decide to start giving this class in disaster prevention?”
(Jason)

Motoki Fujii

“When the Great East Japan Earthquake hit, I came to realize just how vulnerable hardware in Japan is, despite the fact that we have such a high level of technology. It made me realize that each one of us should be well-prepared for disasters. In other words, we are faced with the issue of how we should develop the right kind of software or "humanware" so that we can face potential disasters very realistically.”
(Motoki Fujii: Associate Professor, Department of Education)

Articles on Disaster Moral Education

Articles on Disaster Moral Education

The disaster moral education lessons have already been adopted by more than 30 schools nationwide. They are being highly praised for enhancing children's thinking power.

Kesennuma

Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, November 2014.

We found some students from the Fujii Group visiting this town which suffered more than 1,300 casualties in the 3.11 disaster.

Shizuoka University students

Hasumi Nishina and the others are all studying to become teachers at Shizuoka University.

Shizuoka Students

Every year, the Fujii Group sends students to afflicted areas to study people’s psychology at the time of a disaster and their behavior regarding evacuation.

Mamoru Usui

First, they visit Mamoru Usui, the father of two sons, who works at Kesennuma Tourist Association.

Map

When the quake hit, members of his family were at different locations. His elder son was at his elementary school near the river, and the younger was at his preschool near the bay. Usui was very concerned about the safety of his children, but he was unable to go out and help them.

Mamoru Usui

“I was right here at 2:46 pm when the quake hit. I stayed here until five minutes before the tsunami came. Here on the right was the big Local Products Center, where I was working as the facility manager at the time. The building was designated as an evacuation site in in the event of a tsunami coming.I was in charge of guiding all the evacuees, so I couldn’t run for safety myself. I was so worried about my children and I was desperate to go out and help them. Many things were happening at the same time. I was caught in a real dilemma and had mixed feelings.”
(Mamoru Usui: Kesennuma Tourist and Convention Association)

Mamoru Usui

Usui and two colleagues were busily preparing to receive evacuees.

“I’m sure I should have prioritized trying to save my own children. But I thought I would suffer from guilt if 100 people died after I left here in order to save my own children. I was asking myself if I could take responsibility for the loss of 100 lives.
(Mamoru Usui)

Local building

However, the local residents headed for higher ground and no one came to the center. Usui and his colleagues decided the center was endangered and also headed for higher ground on their boss’s instruction. The tsunami hit five minutes later.

Mamoru Usui

“All the windows had shattered, so we had to jump over broken glass as we ran. And the roads were flooded because water was coming out due to the liquefaction phenomenon.”
(Mamoru Usui)

Shrine

They headed to a shrine 500 meters away and ran up the steps.

Tsunami damage

When they looked back, they saw a mass of black water coming towards them swallowing up cars and houses.

“This is a picture we took then of the torii gate. The tsunami went up the road next to us. This picture brings back all the memories from three years ago.”
(Mamoru Usui)

School

Usui’s elder son had run up to the third floor of his school and was safe. His younger son was also safe because his preschool had evacuated quickly.

Tsunami damage

But it was four days before Usui learned that they were safe and sound. Until then, he was tormented by anxiety and regret.

Students

“The reason I was caught up in such a dilemma was that, as a family, we had not communicated well beforehand regarding a disaster. We should have at least made decisions on essential things such as where to meet at the time of disaster. Without such minimum family information, we’ll be at a loss when the next disaster hits.”
(Mamoru Usui)


If the Usuis had held a family discussion about where to meet, he would not have suffered from such anxiety. That was the lesson learned from the disaster.

Hashikami JHS

The next place the students visit is Hashikami Junior High, which is placing special emphasis on education about disaster prevention.

Yasuyuki Toba

Yasuyuki Toba is the teacher in charge of disaster prevention initiatives.

Disaster prevention guide

In the hope of enhancing the knowledge and judgement of children, the city of Kesennuma has adopted disaster prevention activities for various subjects including mathematics and science besides holding evacuation drills.

Yasuyuki Toba

“For example, during PE classes we have them give each other piggyback rides and run around to see what it feels like. We have them feel how much longer than usual it would take to move a certain distance while helping an elderly person, for example. Even though it’s a PE class, we have them calculate the time and speed just like a mathematics class.”
(Yasuyuki Toba: Head of Disaster Prevention)

Playing cards

So far, more than 50 new ideas have been proposed to teach children about disaster prevention. At one school, a set of playing cards with lessons learned from the disaster is being used in disaster prevention classes.

Memories

Behind these efforts, there are bitter, unforgettable memories.

Toba

“We had three victims who were seniors at our school and about to graduate. They must have been faced with a terrible dilemma. All three of them had a strong sense of responsibility and were very kind. I heard that one of them did reach a safe place at first, but he was so worried about his grandmother that he went back home and was never seen again.”
(Yasuyuki Toba)

Hasumi Nishina

“We heard that you teach students that they should always protect themselves. But even if students are taught to do that, do you think they would still face a dilemma when a disaster strikes?”
(Hasumi Nishina: 3rd Year Students, Department of Education, Shizuoka University)

“I think it’s only natural to face a dilemma, becausewe automatically want to try and help others. So we cannot blame people for not being able to make a quick decision. It’s human nature to be in two minds about what to do.”
(Yasuyuki Toba)

Children

Some people lost their lives because they cared about loved ones. How should children be taught so the same tragedies will not be repeated?

Hasumi Nishina

“The base of our judgment at the time of evacuation is our feelings. I feel that unless we consider that very seriously, evacuation drills will be meaningless. It’s possible that the experience children have had through drills won’t be utilized at all when an actual disaster happens.”
(Hasumi Nishina)

Manami Horie

“It’s a very complex issue so we can’t simply tell children to focus on their own survival and run for safety. I think we have to explain the dilemmas they might have to face. This has reaffirmed that we need to think together with children when creating disaster prevention classes.”
(Manami Horie)

One week after

One week after their visit to Kesennuma.

Presenting a class

The students of the Fujii Group are preparing for a class to be given at an elementary school.

Seniors

They are receiving advice from their seniors on how to get children to think about the question to which there is no correct answer -- whether to escape or help others.

Manami Horie

“If I were a teacher, I wouldn’t advise them to go and help others.”
(Manami Horie)

Students

“We shouldn’t say that.”
(Female Student 1)

“I agree we shouldn’t say that.”
(Female student 2)

Student and Jason

“We also want to respect different opinions.”
(Manami Horie)

“We want to respect their willingness to help others, but we must teach them not to neglect their own lives.”
(Female student 2)

Student

“Those who chose to run for safety also had a willingness to help others. But they chose to run because they felt impelled to make that choice. I think we must respect the opinion to run for safety.”
(Male Student)

Student

“This class is very worthwhile because even if they cannot find an answer, the experience of thinking deeply will surely remain in their mind.
It will make them think there are things they can do before a disaster strikes. And it might lead the children to have a family discussion to decide on a location where they can all meet at the time of evacuation.”
(Female student 3)

Ozato ES

Today's lesson will be held here at Ozato Elementary School. Just 180 meters from the beach, it is the closest school to the ocean in Shizuoka.

Students

There are 261 students. The school places emphasis on disaster prevention and conducts evacuation drills without pre-notification.

Students

One of the issues here is how children should evacuate while on the way to and from school. Their school route could easily be flooded by a tsunami, which could rise as high as 3 meters.

Students

The university students study the locations of evacuation sites and the time taken to reach them, and try to simulate specific scenarios at the time of an earthquake.

Miyako Matsui

“The time from the school to here was about 5 minutes on foot, right? And a tsunami could hit here in less than 10 minutes.”
(Miyako Matsui)

Hasumi Nishina

“There’s a river on the way to the school. We heard in Kesennuma that it’s dangerous if a river is nearby.There’s a river and no high buildings, so I think the damage could be considerable around here. I feel that we should be obtaining as much information as possible that could be helpful for protecting the children.”
(Hasumi Nishina)

Practice

The evening before the class...

Jason, who has experienced teaching English at a Japanese school, teaches the students how to win the hearts of the children. The first thing to consider is how to present themselves.

Miyako Matsui

“Does anyone like rice mixed with seaweed? Wow, so many! I’m Miyako Matsui.”
(Miyako Matsui)

Manami Horie

“I used to enjoy skipping all the time.”
(Manami Horie)

Jason's advice

“Please don’t be shy! Once you become a teacher, you have to act like an actress every single day. So just think like you’re taking your underwear off your mind, OK? I’m looking forward to your performance.”
(Jason)

Starting the class

The class is about to start for the 24 6th graders.

“Hello, everyone!”
(Students)

Hasumi Nishina

“We’re now going to perform a short play.”
(Hasumi Nishina)

Play

The characters are Miyako, a 6th grader, and Manami, a 1st grader. They are as close as real sisters.

This school has a custom higher grade students taking care of lower grade students.

Students watching

The story goes like this. On the way home, the 6th grader sees the 1st grader playing in the park.

When the 6th grader has walked on for a while, a huge earthquake with an intensity of 7 occurs. As the alarm sounds, the 6th grader runs for safety.

Play

“Oh, Manami, the first grader was playing in the park! Should I go back and help? What should I do?”
(Miyako Matsui)

“What would you do?”
(Hasumi Nishina)

A discussion

A discussion begins.

“The first grader should know how to evacuate because she’s been through a drill.”
(Boy 1)

“Even if she did, she might have forgotten.”
(Girl 1)

“Wouldn’t you feel bad if the first grader got swept away?”
(Girl 2)

“But what if I died myself?”
(Boy 2)

“There’s time to save her. You could give her a piggyback.”
(Girl 1)

“But that would slow me down.”
(Boy 1)

“You could leave your bag.”
(Girl 2)

“Yes, you can buy another one!”
(Girl 1)

Boy

“I’d go back to the park if it wasn’t too close to the beach. But it’s near the sea.”
(Boy 3)

Miyako Matsui

“Now please make up your mind and go to either group: evacuate or save. Carry your chair to the evacuate or save group.”
(Miyako Matsui)

Five students chose to go back and save; 19 chose to evacuate.

To save
Manami Horie

“OK, let’s hear the opinions of someone in the Save group… Serina?”
(Manami Horie)

Girl

“The 1st grader’s still very young. So even if she had experienced some evacuation drills, she would probably be really scared and just sit there at the park not moving.”
(Girl 3)

Girl

“I would run for safety, because if a disaster occurred, I’d go panicky and I probably wouldn’t be able to think about other people and run immediately.”
(Girl 4)

Boy

“If my schoolmate wasn't saved, her family would be sad, and if I died, my family would be sad. So if someone is anyway going to be very sad, I'd go for saving myself.”
(Boy 4)

Girl

“I understand what you’re saying, but if I went and helped someone and they were saved, I think that would be better.”
(Girl 1)

Boy

“If I didn’t go back, I think I’d regret it for the rest of my life. I would blame myself for behaving like that.”
(Boy 5)

Hasumi Nishina

“You all thought deeply deciding between to save or to evacuate. You had a hard time even though there were only two choices. But when an actual disaster happens, you might have to face more than two choices. Maybe three or four, so you would have an even harder time.”
(Hasumi Nishina)

Miyako Matsui

Now an extra piece of information is added to stir things up.

“Do you have a younger brother or sister? I’m sure some of you do, right? That particular park is where your younger brother always goes to play.”
(Miyako Matsui)

Students

“But if I wasn’t sure if he was there or not, I'd run for safety. I would just have to trust that he would evacuate himself. But what would I do if it actually happened?”
(Girl 4)

Girl

“What did you think?”
(Manami Horie)

“If my brother was there, I woukd like to go back and save him. But, I’m not sure...”
(Girl 5)

Students

“I can see some of you are having a hard time making up your mind. We’d like you to think again which choice you’d make.”
(Manami Horie)


Seven students who chose "Evacuate" earlier move over to "Save." Now the university students add one more piece of information.

Manami Horie

“When a big quake hits, you’ll be shaken, too, right? It’s said that you can’t move for about two minutes. So you can’t do anything for two minutes, which means the tsunami will hit in just three minutes. Do you still want to go back and save your brother?”
(Manami Horie)

Girl

“Depending on the location of the park, I might change my mind... but if it were my brother, I'd still like to go back and try to save him.”
(Girl 6)

Maps

Now the university students hand out the city government hazard map so that the children can check how long it would take a tsunami to reach each area and how high the water level might be.

The areas that could be submerged are colored.

Jason

“The water level’s about one meter… About this height? Or this high?”
(Girl 2)

“But I don’t think you could walk.”
(Jason)

Students

“You might be checking what would happen to your own house, but this is only an assumption. Even if it’s not colored, you should still evacuate. Otherwise, your life could be at risk.”
(Miyako Matsui)

“What should we do?”
(Girl 7)

The university students ask one last question to the children who have become unsure.

Hasumi Nishina

“What do you think you should have done to save both of you? What measure could have been taken to save both lives?”
(Hasumi Nishina)

Girl

“I think both could be saved if a drill is done at the park.”
(Girl 1)

Girl

“I have discussed with my family where to meet in a disaster, so it should be OK.”
(Girl 8)

Students

“What about the others? Has your family decided where to meet in the emergency? Anyone?”
(Manami Horie)


Most of the children have not discussed the matter with their family.

Manami Horie

“If you discuss this matter and decide where to meet beforehand, more lives will probably be saved. If you tell your family, I'm going to evacuate to this place if I’m on the way home’, then your family can evacuate themselves knowing that you will have run to a safe place.”
(Manami Horie)

Hasumi Nishina

“While giving this class today, I kept hoping that all of you will survive when the next quake hits. I really want you to survive, so I want you to think carefully.Please think about all this more when you go back home.”
(Hasumi Nishina)

“OK!” “Yes.”
(Students)

Girl

“I was thinking I’d just run for safety, but today I learned that I might be unsure about making a decision.”
(Girl 5)

Girl

“I’d like to prevent my family worrying by telling them exactly that what I’d do.”
(Girl 6)

Students

Three days after the class, the school students begin to change. They start checking possible evacuation routes on the way to and from school.

Students

And they confirm how high a tsunami might be.

“How high is between 1 and 2 meters? How high?”
(Girl 2)

“This high.”
(Girl 5)

“Wow, it’s really high!”
(Girl 2)

Students

They measure the time it takes to get to an evacuation site nearby. But when they reach the building, they are faced with a big problem.

“It’s locked! We can’t go in if there’s no one here to open it…. It’s useless even though this building’s so high! It won’t open…”
(Girl 2)

Heishi Osada: President of the Residents Association

Heishi Osada: President of the Residents Association

They have no idea how to open the door.

“How do we open it?”
(Girl 2)

“In the event of an emergency, you can call for an adult. Can you raise this bar?”
(Heishi Osada: President of the Residents Association)

“Oh, raise it?”
(Girl 2)

“Ready? Go. Then pull the door towards you.”
(Heishi Osada)

Students

Whether to save or to evacuate? Being prepared in advance can make the choice between the two extremes easier. The children have began to realize the importance of proper preparations.

Students

“If there are no adults around, can we open it and come up?”
(Girl 5)

“If there are a couple of you, you should be able to open it. So yes, when there’s an emergency, please open it yourselves and try to save your own lives.”
(Heishi Osada)

Students

When she gets home, 6th grader Ayane Amano writes in her journal...

“After the Great East Japan Earthquake, my family put together an emergency bag, but we haven't decided any locations to evacuate to.
But now I’ve realized how important preparations are. If you had someone important to look after, I’d choose to save them because I care about them. But when we discussed this in the classroom, I was going back and forth about what to do because I could understand the logic of the other group. There’s no correct answer, but I’ll try to think about this more so that I can make a good decision at the time of a disaster. It was great to be given a chance to think about disaster prevention again today.”
(Ayane’s journal)

Jason summarises

“I was able to see this as the university students were teaching the elementary students about the disaster prevention.And during all those lessons elementary school students were saying how they wanted to protect those younger than them and those they loved.By using a keyword "dilemma" these special classes are raising awareness and playing a opportunity for viable communication at home and at school about emergency preparedness.And as we educate our children, we're also shaping our future.”
(Jason)

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