On July 4th, I had the opportunity of seeing the research of Professors Sugiura and Tomita in action. I was allowed to sit in on a class run by Ms. Mari Yasuda, a research associate and lecturer at Tohoku University. Ms. Yasuda runs the YUI Project, which aims to bring disaster awareness to schools and local community centers. I was able to observe one her classes to fourth graders at Tsurugaoka Elementary School.

Ms. Yasuda begins the presentation portion of the class by discussing the recent flooding in Kyushu and the earthquake in Yamagata. While she introduces the topic of natural disasters, she emphasizes that “we only have one life; you have to do what you can to protect your life.”
She then shows the children a diagram of Japan, showing all of the earthquakes that have occurred in Japan. She explains in brief the movement of tectonic plates, likening the earth to a soccer ball. She warns the children, telling them that as Japan is an island, earthquakes could potential occur anywhere. While earthquakes in the Tohoku region in the 1800s and 1930s were not particularly devastating, the 2011 tsunami covered a much farther area. She shows the children a simulation of water in a tsunami as compared to regular water. The children are fascinated and shocked by this display.

Next, Ms. Yasuda moves to explaining the ways the children make their surroundings safer. She asks them if they could escape from their houses in an emergency. The response is mixed. She, however, puts a positive spin on the children’s situation. The first step to fixing a problem is realizing something is wrong, she says. She then proceeds to hand out furoshiki to the children. Ms. Yasuda is both the designer of the furoshiki she gives to the children as well as the one I received from IRIDeS.

Much like the jisedai juku, one word that Ms. Yasuda repeated was “preparation”. She has the students look over the furoshiki, and then implores them to talk about it with their families.

Afterwards, the class proceeds to move to its more interactive portion. Much like Professor Sugiura pointed out in our discussion, when it comes to emergency situations, being taught to look for a single solution is not useful; Ms. Yasuda’s activity was designed specifically in order to get kids to think without looking for the “right” answer. The kids were separated into small groups, in which they were presented with a variety of different situations. For example, one question asks “what should be done by separate family members in order to rejoin after an earthquake?” She then asked them to imagine what they would do in those situations. They were given a variety of stamps and were to choose the stamp that matched their opinion best. The kids discussed their answers in groups.

The activity seemed to work well; the children seemed to really enjoy the stamp selection. The stamps had a variety of different designs. Their discussions were lively and focused. Instead of reflecting “right” and “wrong” answers, the color-coded stamps represented different answers based on personality type. Once they had finished visiting all 6 stations, the groups all then completed group reflections. They were asked: what can they do by themselves to prepare for an emergency, what can they do with friends and family to prepare for an emergency, and what they would like the government to do to prepare for emergencies. Teachers would come around and ask the students questions or have them explain their thoughts more, without giving trying to prompt them to give a specific answer. While the kids had seemed to be having fun, laughing and talking loudly with each other, I was surprised at how clear it was they had put thought into their answers. Some of the things I heard discussed in small groups included how watching the weather leading up to a disaster is important, the need to prepare food and water in a refuge, and ways people should cooperate to escape. The children the presented both their stamps and the answers to the reflection questions to the rest of the class, and Ms. Yasuda would expand on their answers. She often asked them if they had worked to do some of the things they discussed.

One thing I found very interesting is how, despite being children, Ms. Yasuda made sure to tell the students that they should be prepared themselves?that they cannot just rely on parents and other adults to do things for them. As the students were very young when the disaster happened, most of them don’t remember anything of it. Classes like Ms. Yasuda’s helps prepare them for the inevitable next natural disaster, something I think is incredibly important.