The former Nobiru Elementary School was heavily damaged in the tsunami. The building and schoolyard have now been renovated into a unique facility called KIBOTCHA, where visitors can stay overnight and learn about disaster preparedness through experiences. Kiyoko Mii, the director of KIBOTCHA, came to Tohoku immediately after the disaster as a former member of the Japan Self-Defense Force. She took part in volunteer activities to support the recovery efforts. While working in the disaster area, she thought, "We need to convey this situation and importance of disaster preparedness to future generations.
“People forget things. Whenever I return to Tokyo from Tohoku, I witness this fading of memory even more. I want to help people to maintain awareness of disaster preparedness and disasters in a way that makes sense for them. It was when I was thinking about these things that I came across this school. I wanted to create a facility where people could learn about disaster preparedness while making use of the features of this building and local character of Higashimatsushima.”
The 2–3 hour course begins with a lecture on experiences and histories of disasters, followed by ropework practice, making stretchers from everyday objects, and practicing the "forward crawl" that is necessary during a fire evacuation. A variety of the experiences utilize the skills of staff who are former and current members of the Self-Defense Force.
For those who stay overnight, there are also survival skills activities such as learning to cook with aluminum foil, walking around the neighborhood to create a disaster preparedness map, as well as fishing and farming experiences offered with the support of the locals.
“After learning the importance of evacuation on the first day, there is an unannounced evacuation drill on the morning of the second day. The children are very serious about evacuating. I think their awareness of disaster preparedness is definitely fostered by the actual experience of evacuating.”
Ms. Mii says, "The important thing is to give the children a sense of accomplishment and the courage to take the first step. Through fun activities, such as learning how to build a fire and cooking rice on their own, I want them to develop an innate sense of disaster preparedness.”