Uniting the UK and Japan: Union Jack, Dragon, Kokoro

Oct. 4, 2012

BCCJ becomes Fisherman's Friend

On September 29 2012, in the latest installment of the BCCJ’s Back to Business (B2B) Initiative for Tohoku, we mobilised a team of twelve volunteers to collaborate with local designers, Onagawa Art Guild, in rustproofing and painting a cargo container-cum-stockroom for fishermen on the Oshika Peninsula, Miyagi Prefecture.

At the request of local stakeholders, the B2B Initiative purchased four plain brown second-hand containers in July 2012, which are now proving fundamental to the reconstruction and regeneration of the Peninsula's fishing industry.

Last year's March 11 tsunami completely obliterated over 90% of fishermen’s homes and outhouses around Oshika's bay areas. Of the area’s approximately 4000 survivors - the majority of whom are currently living in temporary housing on higher ground - around thirty small fishing communities remain. The B2B containers are now being used as stockrooms for fishing families that are ready to restart their commercial activites - housing industrial fishing equipment such as nets, ropes, tools and work wear. The units are also providing shelter where fishermen can get together, repair damaged nets, and kickstart their daily operations.

Our September 29 volunteers began the day by scouring rust off a container before coating its surface with anti-corrosive paint. We then consulted with fisherman Mr Takahashi and his wife about his stock-room's final design - Tairyouki, large colourful flags that symbolize the wish for a bumper catch and safe fishing. Takahashi, at first a little cautious about the prospect of foreign designs, gave a green light to having one Japanese and one British motif on either side of the container, and selected the kanji character kokoro (heart) to stamp on the Union Jack. When the designs were complete, Takahashi was delighted with the result: "The other fishermen will be jealous, and people will stop to take photos!".

(L) In a traditional ceremony, local fisherman Mr Takahashi gives life to the container's fish by painting its eye. (R) Japan's Shuhei Sakimura, from Onagawa Art Guild and UK artist Divi Cherian from Bite the Rainbow.

BCCJ volunteer Naomi Lisney pointed to Lafcadio Hearn's interpretation of kokoro: "this word signifies also mind, in the emotional sense; spirit; courage; resolve; sentiment; affection; and inner meaning - just as we say in English, "'the heart of things'".

Returning volunteer Keisuke Furuya shared his thoughts: "I visited the area with BCCJ last year and I remember things were a bit different then. Many things you do in everyday life, such as laughing, seemed inappropriate. This time, I witnessed not only physical changes, but also mental and emotional changes . . . I understand that people are still suffering from the disaster, but I saw many locals smiling. That is to me a positive surprise".

Volunteers in "dragon" pose with Mr Takahashi.

Each 20-ft (6.1 m) container can be shared by 2-3 fishermen and their families – most of whom previously did business separately – and have thus become an key instrument for collaboration and community building.

In the future, the brightly coloured units have the potential to become a tourist attraction, affirming the positive recovery of the area’s bays, and encouraging the further rejuvenation of the Peninsula.

The BCCJ will continue volunteering through projects that support the revival of Tohoku's micro economies.

The September 29 BCCJ group consisted of former President, Phil Gibb, and Executive Director, Lori Henderson, as well as representatives from: The British Embassy, Eureka!, FEW Japan, FTI Consulting, and Herbert Smith.

A selection of photos from September 29 can be found here: PHOTOS

The complete Tairyouki rust-proofing and painting process can be seen here, in a Peaceboat video: VIDEO

Additional information

If you or your company might be interested in purchasing and / or painting a container, please contact NPO Peaceboat's Maho Takahashi: maho@peaceboat.gr.jp

BCCJ's B2B Initiative Projects:

  • Lead to self-sustainability
  • Lead to generation of economic returns
  • Are led by / with the buy-in of local-stakeholders
  • Source local suppliers
  • Have the potential for future development / growth