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Hamaichi Elementary: A Strong Foundation

March 25 – Higashi-Matsushima, Japan – It’s the last session for Hamaichi Elementary School.

Hamaichi, which opened in the 19th Century, lies about 1 km from the Pacific Ocean and has been closed since disaster struck Japan two years ago.

But the coastal town of Higashi-Matsushima reopened the building for one more day, to remember the landmark and its crucial role in saving all its 150 students and 400 residents.

From the second floor rooftop, faculty member Takayuki Watanabe recounted the March 11 afternoon, when time literally stopped.

“The people from the region had started evacuating, so we told everybody here to go upstairs. Some 40 or 50 minutes later, the tsunami came. That’s how it happened that day. When we were told that a six-meter wave was coming, we didn’t think it could be true ,” said Watanabe.

A day of music, dance and art celebrating the last graduating class of Hamaichi has brought out the entire community, with food, friendship and plans for the future.

The head of the local PTA, Chizuru Atsumi, whose son is among the Class of 2013 and who 20 years ago also graduated from Hamaichi, says it will take longer to recover fully but locals are looking ahead.

“We still don’t know when we will have a new school. They say it’ll be in 10 years, but we would be happy if it were sooner, so that our children can have their own school,” said Atsumi

A coalition of non-profits and companies are supporting the Hamaichi event, which will end with projected mapping of student artwork.

Energy supply in Higashi-Matsushima remains limited since the disaster, and to help power the night’s presentation three Nissan LEAFs are on site.

“The idea was to make a graduation album using projection mapping. We wondered what Nissan could do to bring the light they needed. That’s when we thought the LEAF could help,” said  Yuuji Aoyagi of Nissan’s Vehicle Test Technology Development Division.

Bonfires and music also fill the night, and then the school’s facade becomes animated with the visions of its students.

For students, the show, ending in a blaze of fireworks, is beyond words.

“The cherry blossom flowers were pretty.”

“It was really great.”

Though still cold, spring is coming for Higashi-Matsushima and its community of survivors, who vow their school will also come back one day, as its foundation has stood the test of time.

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