Participants of ARI successfully completed their study tour around Western Japan, where they break out of their usual classroom setting and come face-to-face with real persons and communities.
After a short midway break in Osaka, Participants took a ferry to Minamata and visited multiple sites to learn about the history of the Minamata Disease and its painful impact on the people in the community. They visited Minamata Disease Museum, the former Chisso company, the Hyakken Drainage site, and the eco-park made on the landfill (reclaimed land) area where the cenotaph for victims of Minamata Disease now stands.
On the next day, they visited the place where the first official Minamata patient was found, and heard the story of man named Karatachi, a patient of Minamata disease who does his best to carry on working and living in the community by growing oysters and oranges. The former city councilor of Minamata shared about how Minamata city changed their path of development and acted as a mediator between perpetrators and victims. The then-Mayor Mr. Yoshii was one of the few government officials who took initiative to acknowledge Minamata patients and apologize to them. This was the first time ARI heard about the recovery process of the division in Minamata city, inspiring both staff and Participants.
Later, Participants visited Kibou Mirai (Hope Future) Minamata – a social welfare home for patients of congenital Minamata Disease. They had the great privilege to hear directly from patients themselves and their stories. Everyone was moved by their determination and warm heart towards the community, and their hope for a future where all people can live in peace without killing one another. They got to meet Karatachi and another organic orange farmer, and heard about a family’s endeavor to connect people to the story and people of Minamata.
During the stay at Minamata, Participants resided with 15 host families, and on the last night they had a beautiful party with all host family members. They feasted on amazing vegan food made from local Minamata ingredients that everyone could enjoy, and ended the night with singing, dancing, and a wonderful closing speech from one of the Participants.
Over a long drive to Hiroshima, Participants were introduced to the three forms of violence as theorized by Johan Galtung, and were encouraged to reflect on the issues that they had seen and heard through this framework.
At the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Museum, Participants heard from a legacy speaker about the impact the bomb had on Hiroshima and its people. Through walks around the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, the hypocenter, the peace bell, the cenotaph and more, each contemplated the meaning of peace. At each place, Participants also offered prayers in their own language. A common sentiment was palpable among the Participants, “We want to try to take this message back to our communities, we need to work for peace.”
With this lingering feeling, everyone said goodbye to Western Japan and packed to return to the ARI campus back in Tochigi. We see that not only did Participants thoroughly enjoy the off-campus learning experience, but also receive inspiration from various people and stories in Japan to make changes in their own community.
To our many partners from all over Western Japan who made this tour possible, our staff members, volunteers, and especially our responsible drivers who drove tirelessly from destination to destination throughout the twelve-day period, we are incredibly grateful.