July 14, 2013

Making People Well: Hip-Hop Heroes on Katsura Island

Masahido "Masa" Oodo, the head of Bond and Justice, mugs for the camera as he grills
U.S. beef for our team and the residents of Katsura Island.

KASTURA ISLAND, JAPAN (Friday, July 12, 2013)—In the Japanese language, the phrase "to eat" is written using Chinese characters that literally mean "making people well"—and we saw the power of that phrase at work during a Friday afternoon visit that will become one of most memorable moments of this mission.

On March 11, 2013, the residents of Katsura Island had about one hour's notice that the tsunami was headed their way.   None of them chose to leave. The younger folks on the island gathered the elderly and got everyone to the highest-most point on the island—an elementary school.  From this vantage point, the villagers watched as the tsunami destroyed much of the island and wreaked havoc on the small boats, oyster beds and seaweed beds on which they relied for their livelihood.

Inside this bay, which is dotted with islands, the tsunami wave was not the 90-foot wave that hit the coast directly, but was no less devastating as water came in from every direction and brought waves 15 to 20 feet high that wiped out much of the housing on the island and damaged the piers and boats.
Residents of Katsura Island enjoy the meal
served during our visit.

Since the disaster, the younger people who used to live on the island have left—leaving only about 100 people, with the youngest being around 50 years of age.   Many of this elderly population are living in temporary housing and just recently have been able to resume their seaweed and oyster operations.

Why did our mission visit this island?  Because the Nebraska Corn Board and Nebraska Beef Council were the first U.S. organizations to be in Japan with support for the islanders and to other Japanese victims of the tsunami. Working with USMEF, these two Nebraska-based organizations helped provide beef and pork and other foodstuffs to the remaining islanders.  USMEF partnered with a number of Japanese organizations to make that happen, including Hannan, the food processing company we visited earlier on Friday.

On Katsura Island
We traveled north from Sendai to Shiogama, from which we took a boat out to Katsura Island where were were greeted at the pier by a ragtag bunch of young men with small pickups who took us to the top of the island.  It turns out that this group of fun-loving guys is making a huge difference to the people of Katsura Island.

When the disaster hit the island, Masahiro "Masa" Oodo, a well-known Japanese hip-hop record label executive, decided something needed to be done.  So he reached out to his music industry pals across Japan to join him in a relief effort for this island—and they came from near and far.  (Even American rapper Snoop Dogg provided financial support.)
Residents of Katsura Island enjoyed the meal and having visitors
from Bond & Justice and Nebraska.

Masa wears a tattoo on each arm.  On his right arm is artwork with the word "bond", denoting that his handshake is his word and bond.  His left arm bears a tattoo with the word "justice"—placed there since that is the arm closest to his heart.  When the quickly-organized group of musicians was formed, they were looking for a name—and "Bond and Justice" was a logical and meaningful choice. 

USMEF partnered with Bond and Justice to bring in meals to the island residents.  Leiko Shimane from USMEF was integrally involved in this effort, helping coordinate support from a number of partners.

The Bond and Justice posse visits the island about twice per month, coming from all across Japan to help continue the clean up, prepare meals and provide the social interaction and connection with the world that the remaining residents crave and need.  And it is clear that this bunch of mostly 30-somethings enjoys being around each other—and the islanders enjoy having them around.

A member of Bond & Justice proudly displays his Nebraska
Cattlemen lapel pin—in a unique way!

Setting up shop on the steps of the elementary school during our visit, this crew grilled U.S. beef, prepared salads and vegetables and poured libations.  It was a festive and fraternal atmosphere—and even though the residents and most of the Bond and Justice team did not speak English, there was plenty of "conversation" and camaraderie among all.

It amazed all of us how quickly we connected with the selfless young musicians and the courageous people who live on the island–and there were teary eyes and lumps in throats as we boarded our boat back to the mainland.   Clearly, we had all had a very powerful and personal experience—and were touched at the dedication and selflessness of a group of young hip-hop musicians.

The Nebraska beef and corn team on Katsura Island with members of Bond and Justice
and several residents of the island.

We only spent about three hours on the island with the Bond and Justice team and the villagers they are serving—but the memory and the connection with this place and the people will last a lifetime.

Making people well—in both their stomachs and their souls.  That's what Bond and Justice is doing, thanks in part to USMEF and the generosity of Nebraska corn and beef producers.

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