Chikako Usui, associate professor of sociology at UMSL, has received grant money to create a friendship exchange program between St. Louis and Ishinomaki, Japan, an area hard hit by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. (Photo by Myra Lopez)

The devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in 2011 spurred Chikako Usui to create an exchange program between St. Louis and Ishinomaki, Japan, one of the hardest-hit areas.

This summer her vision will be realized when the first participants of the St. Louis-Ishinomaki Friendship Program will spend a week in St. Louis.

After the quake, Usui, a Japanese native and associate professor of sociology at the University of Missouri­–St. Louis, sprang into action working with Japanese-related organizations in St. Louis to help raise money for recovery efforts. A year later in 2012, she visited Ishinomaki, wanting to see the affected areas firsthand.

“I felt I should see it,” Usui said. “It was a very moving experience.”

Her exchange program was recently awarded a $30,000 grant from the National Association of Japan-America Societies and Tomodachi, a public-private partnership between the U.S.-Japan Council and State Department that supports Japan’s quake recovery. An additional $30,000 grant has been committed to fund a 2014 exchange, which will see a group of young people from St. Louis visit Japan.

The one-week program will bring five students from middle school and high school and four adults to St. Louis from Aug. 28 through Sept. 4.

During their stay, the group will live with host families, visit UMSL, enjoy sightseeing and shopping and experience the annual Japanese Festival at the Missouri Botanical Garden.

“It’s hoped they will take home memories of fun, friendship and cross-cultural understanding that will develop into enduring friendships and interests in each other’s cultures,” said Usui, who is serving her third term as president of the Japan America Society of St. Louis.

The Botanical Garden’s Japanese Garden is the largest traditional Japanese garden in North America, and its Japanese Festival is one of the largest and oldest festivals of its kind in the U.S.

Media Coverage:
St. Louis Beacon

Myra Lopez

Myra Lopez