On Friday, September 23, Futaba Town in Fukushima Prefecture held the Futaba Cultural Festival at Soma Myoken Shohatsu Shrine.

The Futaba Cultural Festival is a regional cultural festival where town officials team up with university students to plan and implement projects that make use of local resources. By way of this collaboration between Town Hall and the younger generation, the event was held in an effort to revitalize Futaba Town as a place where people can learn about the town through fun events while creating new opportunities for dialogue and exchange. The festival was implemented jointly by the student project members, co-chaired by RU student Yusei Kawakami (College of Social Sciences, 3rd year), the Futaba Area Tourism Research Association (“tourism association”), and the Urban Renaissance Agency (“UR”).

On the day of the event, local taiko drummers performed the Shibeha Sendan Daiko, a traditional cultural heritage of Futaba Town, and the Sanji Performing Arts Preservation Society performed a kagura dance. The festival featured several food and beverage booths jointly organized by Futaba Town officials and around 50 university and high school students from 10 universities and three high schools from the Tokyo metropolitan area and other regions. Unique offerings included the yaki-imo shake, a shake made from sweet potatoes grown using urban food waste as fertilizer, fair trade coffee, and Futaba-style yakisoba.

Kawakami expressed his gratitude by saying, “We were able to successfully hold the event thanks to the help of many people from the planning phase up until the day of the event. The Futaba Town officials understood what we were trying to do with this project and provided us with tremendous support. We were very encouraged when they approached us with a smile and asked us to come back next year.”

Shibeha Sendan Daiko
Shibeha Sendan Daiko

Kawakami first became interested in doing something for Fukushima when he was in elementary school. When relatives living in Fukushima Prefecture evacuated to his home in Yokohama after the Great East Japan Earthquake, he saw up close how deeply grieved the family was after the death of a close relative, and he started questioning whether it was okay for him to grow up without knowing much about Fukushima Prefecture and not doing anything about it.
This vague feeling remained with him for several years, but after entering Ritsumeikan University, he learned about Take on the Challenge Fukushima Juku*, an extracurricular program offered by the university, and he immediately decided to apply. By taking online classes and doing field research in Futaba Town, he learned about the history and current state of the disaster-stricken area.

*An extracurricular program launched by Ritsumeikan in AY2017 in cooperation with the Fukushima Prefectural Government. On this program, students interested in the past and future of Fukushima study alongside faculty and experts who know about Fukushima and are involved in its recovery and engage in promotional activities.

After the program concluded, Kawakami started looking for opportunities that would allow him to get more proactively involved in community development in Fukushima Prefecture, and he decided to join WOW! BASE, a program sponsored by Recruit Co. in which participants propose projects that aim to solve local issues. Cooperating with people from the Futaba Town tourism association, he worked hard to develop a project that would revitalize the community.
Amid this process, he was deeply moved by the locals who spoke strongly about the kind of town they wanted Futaba to become as well as the words of his grandmother, who was born in Fukushima Prefecture. She told him she wanted to see the town where she was born and raised once again the way it used to be. This is when Kawakami decided to approach the revitalization of Futaba Town from a medium to long-term perspective. The project members and teamed up with the director of the tourism association to hold the Futaba Cultural Festival at Shibuya SHIBUYA QWS* in Tokyo.

* Shibuya QWS: A members-only co-creation facility located on the 15th floor of Shibuya Scramble Square, the building directly above Shibuya Station. The facility supports activities that create the seeds of social value based on the concept of “social scramble space: a crossroad of possibilities from Shibuya to the world.”

Meeting with Futaba Town officials
Meeting with Futaba Town officials
Yusei Kawakami (at left)
Yusei Kawakami (at left)

Kawakami explained how his feelings changed dramatically as he proceeded with the planning of the Futaba Cultural Festival and deepened his understanding of the culture and thinking of the people of Futaba Town. “I started working with Futaba Town based on the idea of what I could do in the town. It was a self-centered approach. At some point, however, my perspective changed to wanting to build a community together with the people of Futaba Town in order to realize a place where the locals would want to live for a long time. I would like to continue these activities so that the people of Futaba can feel happier in the future.”

Currently, project members are expanding their promotional activities and seeking more media exposure in order to make more people aware of the history and culture of Futaba Town. As part of this, they will run an exhibit at THAT'S FASHION WEEKEND, a SDGs-themed fashion event to be held in Kitakyushu, Sapporo, and Tokyo, featuring displays that communicate the history and culture of Futaba Town.

Comment from Yusei Kawakami (College of Social Sciences, 3rd year)

I would like to express my deepest gratitude to all those involved in organizing the Futaba Cultural Festival for their generous support. Although there were some operational shortcomings that inconvenienced many people, I feel that one of our accomplishments was that we were able to develop a clear outlook for future activities that are rooted in the community.
One thing that was particularly memorable was when heavy rain made it difficult to clean up after the event, the local residents rushed to the site with garbage trucks to help us. The locals laughed and told us to do our best again next year. I was deeply grateful.
We plan to further refine our medium to long-term vision and strengthen our promotional activities throughout Japan. By creating opportunities to expose as many people as possible to Futaba Town and make them realize what a fun town it is, I hope we can encourage many people to visit Futaba. I kindly request your continued support.”

Yusei Kawakami (3rd from left)


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