The following is a press release from the Redwood Coast Tsunami Work Group:
Kamumi goes to the Olympics
The first broadcast of the documentary “Kamumi” will be broadcast on NBC Sports tonight at 10:07 p.m. PT on NBC stations across the country.
NBC always chooses at least one story to highlight the special relationship between the host country and the United States. For the Tokyo Olympics, they chose the “Kamumi” story, a small boat tore from Japan in the March 2011 tsunami that ran ashore in northern California’s Del Norte County two years later.
The small training boat was traced back to Takata High School in Rikuzentakata, Japan. Students at Del Norte High School in Crescent City, California decide to clean up the boat and take it back to school in Japan. This small act of kindness began an unlikely chain of events, first leading to a student exchange between the two schools, a sister school agreement, and in 2018, a formal sister city relationship between Crescent City and Rikuzentakata.
The connection also resulted in a children’s book now available in eight languages, an online school curriculum and animated versions of the story in English, Japanese and Spanish.
The 23-minute NBC documentary “Kamumi” shows the remarkable parallels between Rikuzentakata and Crescent City. Both are small towns far from commercial centers and faced economic challenges in the decades before the tsunami. Both depend on the fisheries and timber industries. Both are famous for their rugged coastlines and stunning landscapes. Both share similar earthquake and tsunami hazards.
The small city of Rikuzentakata, located in Iwate Prefecture about 250 miles northeast of Tokyo, was home to about 24,000 people before the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and its aftermath. It was one of the cities hardest hit by the tsunami. The entire downtown area including City Hall was destroyed and students in schools were moved to available spaces outside the city. 2011 wasn’t the first time Rikuzentakata was hit by a tsunami. The Great Sanriku Tsunami of 1883 and the tsunami triggered by the 1960 Chilean earthquake also devastated the city’s coastal areas.
Crescent City, California also has a long history of tsunamis. The worst historical tsunami was in 1964 when the Great Alaska earthquake engulfed 29 buildings in the city. Eleven people died in Del Norte County. Tsunamis in 1957, 1960 and 2006 also caused some damage to the port. The 2011 Japan Tsunami reached Crescent City nine and a half hours after the earthquake, destroying boats and docks. Fortunately, tsunami warning systems alerted officials and that most of the commercial fishing fleet was able to safely exit the port before the storm surge occurred.
Kamumi’s return to Rikuzentakata 31 months after the earthquake brought joy to a community suffering loss and the hard work of recovering. The small boat has become a symbol of resilience, not only in Rikuzentakata but during exhibition tours of the Tokyo National Museum, Nagoya and in the Kyoto region. The first student exchange took place in February 2014 when six students from Del Norte High School visited Japan. Eleven months later, 14 students from Takata High School make a reverse visit to Crescent City.
A formal agreement for the sister city was signed by officials in both cities in April 2018 in Crescent City, and, two months later, at a signing ceremony in Rikuzentakata. Officials from the two cities not only participated in cultural and trade exchanges, but also participated in emergency preparedness. The Rikuzentakata experiment opened the eyes of del Norte officials about the effects of the tsunami generated from nearby areas and the importance of community education for preparedness efforts.
The NBC Sports documentary shows how Kamome became a symbol of resilience in both Japan and California. The small boat that survived the tsunami and traveled nearly 5,000 miles to California has returned home. Two societies, separated by the Pacific Ocean, language and culture, discovered that they are more alike than different.
“Kamome” is set to premiere at 10:07 PM PDT on July 21. Additional performances will be determined throughout the Olympics coverage period. The documentary can also be watched for free on NBC’s PeacockTV streaming service. Information on how to access PeacockTV is available at https://rctwg.humboldt.edu/kamome-goes-olympic-games along with other links related to the boat story, tsunami ruins, the exchange and the sister city relationship.
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