It’s hard to believe that a month has already passed since I arrived in Matsuyama, marking the first third of my internship. The day I flew in, I felt a mix of excitement and overwhelmingness about this new adventure. Yet, as time flies by, I find myself already nostalgic for a place I haven’t yet left.

Matsuyama is a beautiful and peaceful city, often quiet and surrounded by lush, vibrant mountains. It is the capital city of Ehime Prefecture on Japan’s Shikoku Island; as Ehime is famous for oranges, Matsuyama’s mascot is “Mikan,” an adorable mandarin orange-dog. The weather has been quite the journey; the first three weeks were definitely hot, but by the end of June, the days had become scorching, humid, and rainy. I quickly learned to adapt to stepping outside and having my glasses fog up instantly. Any street you wander will be shared with many bicyclists; truthfully the most amount of bikes I’ve ever seen – more people will choose that mode of transportation over walking or driving. The locals I’ve encountered have been nothing but nice and welcoming. As English speakers are harder to come by here than in major cities, I’ve had the chance to practice my Japanese everyday whether it be through greetings, small interactions with strangers or work at the University.

Base of Matsuyama Castle
Orange juice on tap!

I am fortunate enough to be staying in a charming one-story Japanese-style house, just a short walk from Ehime University. My house features traditional tatami mats and sliding doors, creating a perfect blend of comfort and cultural immersion. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to call my home this summer.

Me in front of a huge tsunami wall in Tohoku

This month has been full of new experiences and learning opportunities that I could have only dreamed of back in Canada. I’ve had the privilege of traveling to multiple cities to study the tragedies and aftermath caused by major earthquakes and tsunamis within the region. So far, I have accompanied my supervisor on three trips in order to research Japanese disaster education and the lasting impacts such events have on these communities. Additionally, I’ve had the chance to savour a variety of Japanese cuisines for the first time and forge meaningful friendships with fellow university students.

My first trip, we traveled to a city named Imabari, about an hour’s drive from Matsuyama. I attended a lecture and workshop organized by my supervisor, Shiba-san, at a local middle school. This was my first experience in a Japanese middle school and my first time watching Shiba-san present. It was fascinating to observe the differences from the Canadian school system and to see how disaster awareness and preparation workshops are conducted with young students. After about a 45 minute lecture on current earthquakes and tsunamis, the students brainstormed different scenarios and timelines for their own preparation in such circumstances.

Fugu sashimi mixed with a citrus sauce

During this brief overnight trip, I tried 河豚 (Fugu), or pufferfish, for the first time, and it was delicious! This was a special meal because Fugu is quite rare due to how poisonous it is, requiring a chef to be certified in order to prepare it legally.

The second trip took me to Kobe, a major city in the Kansai region, which was a five-hour bus ride from Matsuyama. Here, I researched the Great Hanshin Earthquake by visiting preserved memorial sites, The Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake Memorial Museum, and attending subsequent workshops. This was my first in-person encounter with the remnants of one of Japan’s most significant contemporary earthquakes.

The Great Hanshin Earthquake, which struck on January 17, 1995, is one of Japan’s strongest and deadliest earthquakes. It claimed 6,434 lives, injured 43,792 people, and either fully or partially destroyed 249,180 homes. I learned about this devastating event for the first time during my visit. So far, my internship has focused on disaster preparation and the accessibility of evacuation procedures, this trip allowed me to fully grasp the significance of my work and research in Japan.

Port of Kobe Earthquake Memorial Park
Photographs and survivor testimonies

During my time here, I also explored the bustling city, enjoying its famous Chinatown and harbour. I bought some お土産 (Omiyage), or souvenirs, including chocolate-covered freeze-dried strawberries and Kobe pudding. Kobe is such a beautiful city, and I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to experience its charm and educate myself on its history.

Kobe Chinatown
Delicious steamed buns!

Lastly, I traveled to the region of Tohoku on a three-day trip with Shiba-san and two of his colleagues. We enjoyed sightseeing in Sendai and Matsushima, riding a ferry, visiting a local temple and crossing a famous 252-meter-long bridge; we even had time to visit a manga museum. However, the focus of this trip directed us to numerous disaster sites and museums commemorating the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Matsushima Ferry

On March 11, 2011, a massive earthquake with a magnitude of 9.0 struck off the Tohoku region in east Japan. Lasting approximately six minutes, it triggered a tsunami over 10 meters high; the death toll reached around 22,000, with thousands more still missing. I remember being in fourth grade when this happened, and while I was aware of the event at the time, I never fully understood the level of devastation it caused. The brief mentions and news snippets didn’t convey the true horror and impact of the disaster. It wasn’t until I visited the affected areas in person that the scale of the tragedy truly hit me. Standing amidst the remnants of buildings and hearing the stories of those who lived through it provided a profound and sobering perspective that no classroom lesson ever could. This experience gave me a deeper understanding of the resilience and strength of the survivors, and it further influenced my commitment to disaster education and preparedness.

Former Okawa Elementary School

The site that impacted me the most was Okawa Elementary School, which was completely destroyed by the tsunami. Tragically, 74 of the 78 students and 10 of the 11 teachers on campus lost their lives. Being on the school grounds was extremely somber, and I can’t begin to imagine how terrifying this must have been in real time.

While we were visiting the now memorial site, we coincidentally arrived during a guided tour led by one of the parents who lost a child. This experience was eye-opening and ignited a deep passion in me for this line of work. The tragedy at Okawa Elementary School, resulting from the school’s poor management and evacuation, underscores the importance of my internship and I am committed to continue giving it my best.

Damaged from the heavy tsunami

During this trip, I also indulged in the most delicious meals I’ve had in Japan so far, with an array of the freshest seafood I’ve ever tasted in Sendai and Kesennuma. I had the opportunity to try うに (Uni) and きんき (Kinki) for the first time, and they were both amazing.

The best sashimi I’ve ever had (Kesennuma)
Uni!! (Kesennuma)
Kinki! (Sendai)

In between these impactful travels, I am busy with work at Ehime University. This summer, I am interning under Shiba Daisuke, an associate professor in the Graduate School of Regional Resilience. His work significantly enhances Matsuyama’s awareness and preparedness for natural disasters at both municipal and local levels. Shiba-san is not only knowledgeable but also incredibly kind. I feel immensely grateful for the opportunity to learn from him and observe his work firsthand. My work this month has included disaster ambassador meetings to discuss foreigners’ perspectives on disaster education in Matsuyama. Through these university programs, I have forged many friendships with fellow students, professors, and local residents. The conversations and interactions I’ve had with them have allowed me to feel included in the culture and build lasting relationships.

Looking back, this first month in Matsuyama has been a transformative journey, filled with growth, learning, and unforgettable experiences. I am eager to see what the next two months will bring and to continue sharing my adventures.