Okinawa Hosts Tohoku Student Exchange Program

“Wow! It’s beautiful beyond belief!” “No way! How can this actually be real?” Beholding the beauty of Tokashiki Island in Okinawa, the children from northeastern Japan shouted out with excitement.

 

From August 7 to 11, a group of 16 elementary and junior high school students from the disaster zone in the Tohoku region spent five days on Okinawa Island and Tokashiki Island at the invitation of Okinawa Christian University. The Kyodan general secretary, a pastor, and a former relief center staff member accompanied them as leaders and were joined in Okinawa by 9 student volunteers, a pastor, and a seminary student to make the total number of 28 participants.

 

The breathtaking views, both during the evening and during the day, make it one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The participants were able to swim with sea turtles and tropical fish in the nearby water; to participate in Eisa, the local traditional dance; and to eat delicious Okinawa Soba. The whole experience was like a dream.

 

Among the 16 students, some had lost their homes in the tsunami, others were forced to relocate because their homes were near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, while others were from areas less severely affected who had been able to remain. However, despite all of the worries the leaders had in preparing for the event, the youth who gathered were able to find a true time of healing and to leave feeling very satisfied after the five days. With its culture, the warmth and hospitality of its people, and its abundance of natural beauty, Okinawa is a place people in Tohoku have always found attractive. This gathering, however, was aimed beyond merely being a sightseeing trip to Okinawa, as there were three very specific goals in mind.

 

First, because of the health risks the students face in their everyday environment, bringing them to the prefecture of Japan furthest away from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant was a desire shared by the parents of the students as well. Likewise, for these children who had not been able to enjoy the ocean since the tsunami and nuclear contamination, being able to enjoy such a program at the beach was quite a wonderful present for them.

 

Secondly, in Okinawa, there is an expression “nuchidou-takara,” meaning “life alone is precious.” This expression comes from the tragedies associated with World War II. Tokashiki and the other small islands of the Kerama group within the Okinawan chain, were the first to experience being forced to kill each other so as not to fall into the hands of the U.S. military, which occurred as the Okinawan invasion began. On the first day of our visit, we were shown the place where over 300 islanders were killed. It was a valuable experience and a testimony to the value of life.

 

Thirdly, the people of Okinawa know firsthand what it is like to be denied access to one’s own home for an extended period of time, as there are people on the island who have been waiting for well over half a century for the U.S. military and the Japanese government to return their property. Of course, the circumstances are not identical to those who are cut off from their homes because of radiation, but the two groups share common ground and share similar stories of pain. I would very much like to express my gratitude to the people of Okinawa District for their invitation. They are people who truly have known the deep sorrow of the loss of one’s own land.

 

Each day we had a worship service, and for some of the children, it was their first experience with the Bible and singing hymns. However, beholding the handiwork of God’s creation in Okinawa’s natural splendor and seeing and hearing the history of Okinawa was like a living worship service through which the true meaning of the cross was etched in our hearts in a very profound way. During the flight back from Okinawa, as we flew over the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, I prayed that these students might be empowered to become Christ’s disciples, bringing hope and comfort to a community that wrestles with an uncertain future.

(Tr. AKO)

—Arai Isaku, pastor of Natori Church, Tohoku District

From Shimpo (The Kyodan Times), No.4782

 

「沖縄・東北交流プログラム」

 

「うわー、うそみたいにきれい!」

「やべぇ、これみんな本物かよ!」

沖縄・渡嘉敷島の美しい自然を目の前にして、東北の子どもたちは興奮気味に声を上げました。

8月7日~11日 の5日間、沖縄キリスト教学院大学の招待を受けて被災地の小中学生16名 が沖縄本島と渡嘉敷島で過ごしました。引率として日本基督教団の幹事、牧師、被災者支援センターの元スタッフの3名が同行し、現地で学生 有志、牧師、神学生9名が加わり総勢28名 での旅でした。

世 界有数の美しさを誇るビーチは日中も夕暮れも私たちを魅了し、さらに海中で目の前を悠々と泳ぐ熱帯魚やウミガメの姿、地元青年団とのエイ サー交流、美味しいソーキソバ、書ききれないすべてが夢のような日々でした。

参 加した生徒16人 は、津波で完全に自宅と故郷を失った子どもたち、福島第一原子力発電所すぐそばの自宅から関東の各地に避難している家庭の子どもたち、ま たあえて地元に留まっている家庭の子どもたちなど様々です。しかし特別な配慮を覚悟していた大人たちの心配もよそに、子どもたちは沖縄の 学生たちに温かく見守られる中、互いに打ち解けてゆったりと5日間を満喫できました。

沖縄はその自然環境、文化・風土、人の温かさなど、普段から東北の人間にとってあこがれの土地です。ただし 今回の企画が目指した地は単なる「観光地・沖縄」ではなく、より深い、三重の意味を持っています。

一 つには「放射能汚染地域・未だ不安定な福島第一原発から最も遠い県」であること。これは送り出す家族の切実な願いでもあります。今回の企 画のメインは海辺で過ごすことでしたが、津波と原発事故以降、海で楽しむことなど思いもよらなかった生徒にとってこのビーチでの思い出は 最高のプレゼントとなりました。

第 二に沖縄は「命(ぬち)どぅ宝(=命こそ宝」の心が生きている地であること。雄大な大自然に包まれて過ごした私たちですが、実は渡嘉敷を 含む慶良間諸島は第二次大戦末期に最初の集団自決が行われた地域です。島に渡って初日、私たちは三百余名が犠牲となった集団自決の現場で 島のガイドの方から命の証言を伺う、貴重な機会を与えられました。

第三に沖縄は故郷を奪われる痛みを長期にわたって背負い続けている地域です。状況はやや異なるものの、津 波、そして放射能汚染によって故郷を失っている東北の出来事は、いかに遠くの沖縄でも他人事ではないのです。

このように命の重さ、土地喪失の痛みを最も深く受け止める教区の方々からお招きを受けたことに多大なる意義 を感じつつ、紙面をお借りして感謝申し上げます。

期間中、私たちは毎日全員で礼拝を守りました。聖書・讃美歌に初めて触れる生徒たちもいます。しかし沖縄の 大自然と歴史という文脈の中で、十字架の意味について、私たちに与えられた命の使い方について、生きた礼拝を捧げることができたのは恵み でした。

沖縄からの帰途、福島第一原発の上空を飛行機で通過しつつ、先の見えないこの社会の中で子どもたちが希望と 慰めの使者となってくれることを切に祈りました。

 

名取教会牧師・荒井偉作

(教団新報 4778号より)