The Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 took the lives of over 19,000 people, devastated numerous towns, and continues to pose serious challenges for recovering communities. At Ashita-Tomorrow, we support high school students in affected communities by providing fully-funded personalized programs that can inspire students in creative ways. Our non-profit organization offers English workshops, weekly communication with American students, and experiences in foreign countries. We believe that greater exposure to the international community can allow these Japanese students to evolve into the dynamic and effective leaders they dream of becoming.
As time passes, it is easy to forget the extent of the 2011 Earthquake’s devastation or assume that reconstruction will heal the communities. Yet Ashita-Tomorrow believes that we must not only continue to support those affected but also build better futures and stronger communities out of this catastrophe. We aim to do this by encouraging the advancement of the children in these communities, who will be the leaders of “tomorrow.” Ashita-Tomorrow is an officially registered non-profit organization in Japan as of July 2013, and 100% of the proceeds are given to Japanese students’ education-related expenses.
The children who have endured the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 have both an immense responsibility and opportunity to lead the recovery efforts in their communities. As Japan rebuilds from the disaster, it needs leaders in environmental research, human resources development, and various other fields, and we aim to support students as they pursue these educational aspirations. We also believe that offering international exposure is especially valuable, as students can learn from and be inspired by different ideas, people, and cultures.
Seven years since the Eastern Japan Earthquake, housing and infrastructure, such as roads and tide breakers, have been re-established quite well, and the residents want to return or stay in their hometowns. However, in actuality, the population in the affected areas continues to decrease. I have also witnessed and am saddened that people in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant area still cannot go back home and families and friends remain split. Some still live in the inconvenient temporary housing or evacuation facilities and cannot live the normal lives that they once had.
We have been helping the high school students of the affected areas since the earthquake and tsunami by providing opportunities to communicate with American students with the goal of encouraging them to maintain hope for the future. Our initiative started in July 2011, when we traveled to Kesennuma High School with Alyssa Zupon, who was a sophomore at Yale University. Even though four months had passed, the damage that tsunami caused was vivid beyond imagination.
Alyssa felt strongly about doing something for the victims and wanted to tell them that people in the USA care about them. She started the Skype Sessions with three Kesennuma students and helped them practice English conversation and told them not to give up their dreams. The number of participants has increased in both Japan and USA, and the program was expanded to include the “visiting USA” spring program and Express Yourself workshop. I believe that Ashita has helped many high school students go through a difficult time and has provided opportunities for them to broaden their horizons, which has given them different perspectives and hope for tomorrow.
The earthquake changed many students’ lives. They lost important things, but we hope that the students rise to challenges and succeed through difficult times by having broader perspectives. We will continue our activities, believing that they will become leaders for the recovery of the affected communities and for Japan at large.
Shizuko Kitagawa, Director, Ashita-Tomorrow
When I was a high school student, I thought that society and my environment would not change easily. Looking back, I did not have a huge dream or exciting ambition, and I was satisfied to go along a set path without serious thought. Everything went quite smoothly for me, and after graduating from ICU (International Christian University), I went to Toronto, Canada, then to the USA, where I obtained a MBA (Master of Business Administration) and CPA (Certified Public Accountant). There, after a couple of jobs including Salt Lake City government as a Capital Project Manager (the city’s projects planning), I worked for Panasonic USA as an accounting manager. After my son was born, I was faced with my first dilemma. I had a stable job that implemented all of my hard-earned degrees and credentials, yet I was often working until midnight and did not have the freedom to be the mother I wanted to be. I ultimately decided to quit my job, become independent, and start all over again with my own business. This was twenty years ago, and I still have my business today. Of course, there is more financial uncertainty associated with running my own business, but I have persevered, and I am so glad that I became independent. I enjoy what I do. I have dreams now.
After living in the USA for many years now, I know that the American Dream is real. I know many people who live it: many have achieved great financial success out of their own efforts or are living passionate lives by pursuing what they really like or believe in. I wish I believed in myself earlier, but rather than hold regrets, I am glad I became independent and started what I enjoy.
Through my career and experience, I have learned that the environment can change drastically, sometimes against us, but our education, acquired knowledge and skill will help us counter adversity. The ability to make the right decision will change the course of your life. You cannot control your environment, but you can control your own actions and how you handle a given situation.
Young people should dream big and make an effort to achieve it: you may alter the destination along the way, but in the process, you will achieve things that were unthinkable if you remained directionless.
Since 2011, I have been involved in assisting high school students who were affected by the 2011 North Eastern Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. I was touched by the students' resilience and strong desire to recover their strength, pursue their education, and contribute back to their hometowns. I have been humbled knowing that these students are thinking more seriously about their futures and societies than I was at their age. I was most encouraged that I can assist them to acquire the tools to achieve their goals. Under our NPO, Ashita, I am excited about continuing to encourage these students to dream big, and bigger. I would like to share my experience with them and help them meet people in North America or any other country. I believe that by experiencing the culture, history, and environment of different countries, they can obtain a new global view that will help them achieve their dreams.
I am excited for these high school students to become leaders in their communities and even for Japan, and I am honored to be working with my friends and daughter along with many other people who are devoted to our common goal.
Mami Fujisaki, DIrector, Ashita-Tomorrow
Ashita-Tomorrow has Skype Sessions, Spring Program and Summer Workshop “Express Yourself” and more activities for returnees in Japan. Through these programs, I have learned a lot from both Japanese and American students - they have endless potential and high spirits for their future.
We just finished the 7th “Express Yourself!” workshop. On the first day, I saw 23 Japanese high school students arriving in NY with mixed feeling of expectation and anxiety. Through a week-long workshop, with help of American students, they grew to express their thoughts and to ask more questions. Once they managed to ask questions (Japanese students are not used to asking questions in class), they were not afraid of making mistakes. Each day their eyes got brightened and found that it was really fun to express themselves in front of other people. After the workshop, they spent the weekend with host families and tried to ask more questions and to express themselves in English. They came back with a big smile and confidence. Both American students and I were impressed with their progress and change. I believe that their experience will be with them throughout their life.
Express yourself, and create your own life!
Alyssa Zupon, First Chairperson of Ashita-Tomorrow North American Affairs
I am currently a resident physician at Harvard’s Emergency Medicine program in Boston, Massachusetts. I graduated in May 2013 from Yale University, where I studied Biology and was captain of the Women's Ice Hockey team, and I graduated from Yale School of Medicine in May 2018. I love to travel, cook, and eat food from different cuisines, and I especially love Japanese food and culture.
When I first visited Kesennuma High School in July 2011, I was shocked by the devastation by March 11th earthquake and tsunami. Even though four months had passed, it looked as though the disaster had just swept through the town and most of the area was still in rubble. I was overwhelmed initially and felt that something needed to be done for the people who suffered so much. At our meeting that Ms. Masako Ishimura set up with Kesennuma High School’s principal and director of teachers, I proposed the idea of talking to students via Skype (internet video conferencing) as an immediate way to connect with the victims of the disaster. I wanted the students to know that I, and others, care about them and that they are not alone during their difficult recovery process. Further, English is a very important subject in the Japanese education, English conversation would be beneficial academically as well. The Skype tutoring sessions began in October 2011 and have since expanded to include several dozens of American volunteers (from Yale University and Horace Mann High School) and Japanese students.
This experience has taught me how one small idea or person can lead to incredible results by collecting many people’s goodwill. Also, I started with the intention of helping the victims of the disaster, but I also learned from their courage, perseverance, and appreciation for everything and they have reminded me what is important for life.
I am very excited that the Skype sessions and home-stay program with Ashita have continued for many years. These programs represent the goals of this organization, which include sharing ideas and cultures, and gaining strength and inspiration from others. With these aims, I see great potential for further expansion in new directions, too. Because Ashita encourages creativity, proactive attitudes, and dynamic thinking, I am looking forward to see this organization expand its reach and build future leaders in Japan and the world.
Adam Shaw, Former Director of International Operations, Ashita-Tomorrow
It was in eighth grade at my Bronx, NY middle school that I signed up for my first Japanese language class. I had heard from upperclassmen that the teacher was incredible, and I had long been intrigued by Japan and its culture. But there was another reason that taking the course seemed timely: several months earlier, the Great East Japan Earthquake caused devastation to the lives of millions of people. The coverage in the United States media was extensive, and I remember thinking that I wanted to know more. Little did I know that the decision to study Japanese, which I made when I was just thirteen years old, would have such a pivotal impact on my own life.
My school’s Japanese language program was instrumental in helping me attain verbal and written fluency in the language. However, I began to realize that I lacked an environment within which I could apply my unique skillset. That is, until I discovered an incredible community called Ashita-Tomorrow.
In the spring of 2013, my teacher, a director at Ashita-Tomorrow, invited me to host one of six students who were visiting New York City for a weeklong trip from Tohoku, Japan. My family and I immediately accepted this offer, honored to share our New York City apartment with our guest. The visiting students went on to enjoy a jam-packed week of cultural exploration and fun, including trips to a Broadway show, a Yankees game, and the top of the Empire State Building. I formed an amazing friendship with my “host brother” during the exchange, one that reflected our different, yet compatible, cultures and personalities. From this, I gained an insight into Japanese current events and culture that I could not have gleaned from simply reading a newspaper or taking an academic class.
Following this incredible experience, I was immediately interested in continuing my involvement with the organization. In tenth grade, I volunteered to participate in weekly conversations via Skype with high school students in Eastern Japan. The Skype program offers Japanese students the chance to practice their English with American college and high school students. The weekly sessions give both Japanese and American students an opportunity not only to practice language skills but also to learn more about one another’s cultures.
In addition to these experiences, I have since traveled to Japan along with my teacher and several others involved in the Ashita program, as well as hosted several more students from Eastern Japan in my home. I’ve been able to see firsthand that providing Japanese students with a snapshot of New York City life gives them not just enjoyment but also a deeper understanding of American culture. For the latest group of exchange students, I had the pleasure of helping to organize a drumming class, a trip to a popular hamburger restaurant, and a visit to the American Museum of Natural History. Their excited reactions to and unforgettable experiences from the trip were only further proof of the tremendous impact of Ashita-Tomorrow’s efforts.
I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to continue working alongside the outstanding, awe-inspiring leaders of Ashita-Tomorrow, and am honored to serve as its Director of International Operations.
Two years ago, my Japanese teacher, Mrs. Fujisaki, asked my family to host a student from Kesennuma, Japan through the Ashita-Tomorrow Program. We happily agreed to host, but little did we know that our experience hosting Haruka Taniuchi would change our lives.
From the start of our trip to the end Haruka and I bonded through casual conversation, discussing the differences in our daily lives, sports, school and more. One of the most special aspects of our conversations was the fact that we spoke in both Japanese and English, helping improve each other’s second language skills. I also took Haruka to my high school, Horace Mann, where he was able to make plenty of new American friends and gain a better understanding of school life and academics in America. We also traveled to the most famous sites in New York City, such as the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Times Square and the famous New York City Hamburger Restaurant “Shake Shack.” After Kento Sato, a student in the program from Iwaki High School, told me that his dream was to attend an NBA basketball game, Kento, Haruka, Kento’s host brother and I found four tickets and went to the New York Knicks game on their last day in America. It was an unforgettable experience for Kento and Haruka, who were excited and interested throughout the game. By the end of the trip, it was clear that the Japanese students had changed positively by developing a better understanding of America and the world as a whole.
The following year, when my family was asked to host another student from the same high school, we of course said yes. Our week hosting Eiji Ito was just as memorable and life changing. Eiji and I bonded over long conversations, baseball catch in my backyard, video games, table tennis and billiards. We also helped improve each other’s second language skills, just like Haruka and I had done. Eiji also enjoyed going to see both Horace Mann High School and Yale University. I made sure to organize trips to the same famous New York City landmarks with Eiji and Kaito, another student from Kesennuma High School. We also attended a New York Rangers hockey game together, Eiji’s first time watching ice hockey. At the end of the week, that same change in understanding and appreciation was evident in Eiji, Kaito and the other Japanese students.
One of the best parts about the program has been hearing the speeches of the Japanese students. Each student prepares a speech to present at Horace Mann and Yale about his or her experience during the 2011 Earthquake and Tsunami. I am very thankful for these speeches because they provide my family, my fellow students and me with a new perspective on the world. They also help develop speaking skills for the Japanese students, and they illustrate the students’ resilience to overcome an extremely difficult time.
In addition to hosting students and coordinating activities, I have also been involved with weekly Skype sessions. Through these Skype sessions I have been able to help teach English to Japanese students from Iwaki High School, while also improving my Japanese skills through translation. Skyping with these students has also helped me gain a better understanding of their lives in Japan, while it also helps the Japanese students gain a better understanding of America. I am also creating a students forum initiative, where Japanese students and American students can discuss common interests, such as Anime or sports, and important issues, such as bullying, on Facebook. This allows the students to extend their conversations to the Skype sessions, and it creates constant communication amongst students.
I have studied Japanese for four years at Horace Mann, and I have also been lucky to travel to Japan four times. Japanese culture and language is one of my biggest interests, and Ashita-Tomorrow has really helped develop this interest while simultaneously providing Japanese high school students with the reciprocal interest in American culture and the English language. I am looking forward to working to helping improve the Ashita-Tomorrow program for the future.
Ever since I was introduced to manga and anime in Middle School, I have been fascinated by the Japanese culture and language. So, I have been teaching myself Japanese language and script. It has
been my life-long dream to visit Japan and be able to converse in Japanese.
When I was a sophomore at the Pingry School, I first heard that Alyssa Zupon, a Pingry alumna, co-founded the Ashita-Tomorrow organization. I was excited to learn about this organization as it combined my interests in Japanese culture and helping other students. I contacted Alyssa and started volunteering for the Skype sessions. I enjoyed talking to the Japanese students of my age and was fascinated to learn about their lifestyle, which was so different from mine. I wanted more students at Pingry to share the same wonderful experiences I had, so I started a club at school and was able to attract many more volunteers.
I wanted to do more for these students in Japan so I donated the gift money I received from my Indian classical dance (“Kuchipudi”) graduation at the end of my sophomore year. I was delighted to learn this money was able to help fund a Japanese student’s visit to America.
After staying at Manhattan College with 19 Japanese girls, single handedly taking care of them as being the only American female student from July 26 through July 31, and afterward, hosting 3 girls at her home until Aug. 2, 2015, she wrote e-mail to us at Ashita-Tomorrow board members as follow. What a lovely letter and made us very happy！
It's wonderful to hear that they arrived safely. They are all so kind that many of them emailed me right after they arrived at Japan to tell me they reached! I truly enjoyed hosting the students and I too learned a lot from this experience. I was also able to form such wonderful friendships despite the so-called "language barrier".
For this, I have to thank you and everyone else involved in making this program a complete success. I have never done something like this before but it was so much fun! Thank you for providing the Japanese students and me an opportunity to do something so special and unforgettable like this.
After seeing how much work you have been putting in, as well as listening to the stories of the students, I am determined to do more for this organization. Thank you for this eye-opening experience! I hope to be able to do something like it again.
Now that the program is over, hopefully you can rest! Have a great summer!
Marc Lozano, Former Chairperson of Ashita-Tomorrow North American Affairs
My name is Marc Lozano and I am a senior at Yale University majoring in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology. I first started volunteering with Ashita-Tomorrow during my sophomore year. Learning new languages like Japanese in college taught me how inspiring it is to see improvements in yourself with every new grammar point, character or vocabulary word learned. I volunteer with Ashita to help others experience this inspiration while learning English. I wish to help the students share their experiences of the tsunami disaster, and to help them communicate their messages to the world.