SENDAI -- Chris Broad, a 30-year-old British YouTuber who has focused on the charms of the northeastern Tohoku region of Japan, has visited areas hit by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, and captured his interactions with locals and the state of the area's recovery in a video that has amassed over 1 million views. The video is provided with subtitles in over 10 languages, and has gathered many comments from overseas. The Mainichi Shimbun asked Broad about his thoughts upon visiting the disaster-hit areas as a foreign national.
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Broad was interested in Japanese culture from the time he was in university, and began to live in the northern Japan city of Sakata, Yamagata Prefecture, in 2012 -- the year following the earthquake -- as an English teacher. He also had the dream of becoming a filmmaker ever since he was a student, and started to post YouTube videos that showed his way of life in Japan.
The YouTuber said that his trip to the Miyagi Prefecture city of Ishinomaki in 2013 inspired him to create videos on the aftermath of the earthquake. He spoke of seeing destroyed buildings, houses, and cars while driving along the coastline.
"After the disaster you don't really hear about the tsunami today, and all you hear about is Fukushima, and the nuclear disaster that overshadowed everything," Broad said. However, after witnessing the disaster-hit areas with his own eyes, he felt the need to convey the reality that tens of thousands of people had passed away in the tsunami.
In the first video he made in 2018, he talked with entrepreneurs and other people in the disaster-hit areas. When he visited the town of Onagawa, new shops and roads had been created, and the landscape had also been developed. He was moved by the fact that a town that had incurred such devastating damage was making a fresh start from scratch.
Viewers of Broad's videos seem to have been touched by the life led by Ichiyo Kanno, the owner of a guesthouse in the Karakuwa Peninsula of Kesennuma in Miyagi Prefecture. Broad says that Kanno has a cheerful and hopeful attitude despite having lost her family and home. He felt that the local people of the disaster-stricken areas viewed their future optimistically even though a sorrowful and horrific disaster had unfolded.
The 2018 video was viewed over 1 million times, and gathered 50,000 likes and 4,000 comments. Broad thinks that the video gathered attention because there had previously not been many videos that brought up the topic of the tsunami. As many videos are about Fukushima, Broad thinks that people from overseas who wished to find out more about the tsunami discovered his video. The second reason for the video's popularity lies in the people he interviewed, says Broad. He talked with various people, including an owner of a local guitar shop, as well as workers at a cardboard processing company that the Emperor also visited. Reflecting on his encounters with the local people, Broad remarked that "they were all very different characters, different stories, different backgrounds, all connected through this one event." He surmises that it must be interesting for viewers to be able to learn about these various stories through a single video.
The YouTuber uploaded his second tsunami documentary video this year. Upon his return to Onagawa, he was astonished to see that a huge seawall had been built in the town. When visited the town of Minamisanriku, construction vehicles and cranes were lined up along the coastline, which was in the midst of reconstruction. He was shocked that the town was still in the process of recovery despite nine years having passed since the disaster.
Of the places that appear in this video, what left a lasting impression on Broad was a wedding venue in Minamisanriku whose remains have been preserved. Broad spoke of the importance of leaving buildings behind as a reminder of the destruction. He gave the example of Hiroshima, which was reborn as a beautiful city following the U.S. atomic bombing, but is home to the Atomic Bomb Dome that gives visitors a glimpse of the horrors of war. Broad said that it was a powerful experience to "walk through somewhere that had been destroyed (by the tsunami) and kind of experience the destruction," rather than just watching videos taken at the time of the disaster.
According to Broad, ways to overcome adversity form an overarching key theme in the two videos. He thinks that interest in Japanese culture is certainly a factor behind his viewership, but on a fundamental level, people want to learn how to get through bad events and "what kind of mindset you need to survive and thrive after something terrible like a tsunami."
Broad says that the earthquake seems to have given opportunities for the people he met to reflect on their lives, and notice how valuable and fleeting life is. He wishes to delve deeper into the earthquake's psychological influences on people, and spoke of his intention to keep visiting disaster-hit areas to listen to the experiences of locals.
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Chris Broad is a YouTuber born in the U.K. He came to Japan in 2012 to work as an assistant language teacher, and moved to Sendai in 2016. He currently delivers content on food and tourism centered around the northeastern Tohoku region in Japan on his YouTube channel "Abroad in Japan."
His videos on the tsunami disaster following the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake can be watched via the following links:
(Original interview by Hana Fujita, Sendai Bureau)