After a week in sub-tropical Okinawa, we headed back to Tokyo. It was as if winter has come back. Cherry blossoms were half way in bloom but the cold and rain have almost washed the flowers away. We were freezing in Tokyo; and we were supposed to visit an even colder climate.
Last half of our trip in Japan will be spent with R Systems, a startup from Kobe, and Tasukeai Japan, an nonprofit to support those who affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake from March 11, 2011. Just like Okinawa, I was with Cali and John. Journalist Taro Matsumura joined us too.
R Systems developed a translation app named TelTell Concierge. It uses Apple’s Facetime to connect user with an operator, who is fluent in the language you need help with.
One of the services I offer in my line of work is Japanese – English translation. I KNOW machine translation like Google Translate has its limit and I am a firm believer of human/contextual translation. So I am very picky when it comes to translation, and I was curious to check out this app.
After the product demo, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. Since the testers were John and Cali – from Dallas – we only used English/Japanese translation, but Chinese, Korean and Sign Language are also available. (Spanish and Portuguese are coming soon.) All the operators we saw spoke in nearly perfect Japanese and English. I was particularly impressed with the operators’ use of Keigo (polite form of Japanese.) They really are at our service. Like the name implies, TelTell Concierge has a lot of potential to serve not only as a translator, but also as a tour guide, information provider, and more.
Along with TelTell app, with help from Tasukeai Japan, we headed to Tohoku(Notrheast) area of Japan, also known as Hisaichi(Disaster affected area). We headed to Ichinoseki by Shinkansen (Bullet Train) and drove down south through Miyagi prefecture.
You can learn more about the app and how it worked on John and Cali’s Geekbeat. TV (they will be uploading bunch of videos), but let me write more about Tohoku.
It’s been two years since the disaster, yet as of March 15, 2013, still the number of evacuees (people who moved to a different area, or people who is living in temporary housing) is over 313,000. Total casualties amounts to 15,882.
I met Yuuki Noda of Tasukeai Japan few months after 311 on Twitter. I saw his tweet looking for an English speaking volunteer. Tasukeai means “Helping Each Other” in Japanese. Coincidentally, Yuuki and I are both from same town (Sasebo, Nagasaki). We’ve kept in touch ever since. When I was in Japan last year for ANA brand ambassador tour, he came to see me for breakfast. I got to introduce him to Cali and John, and although we didn’t have time to make a spontaneous trip up to Tohoku at that time, this year, it finally came true.
I woke up to snow in Ichinoseki. Just the couple nights before, I was sweating in Okianawa heat. What a difference.
Here’s a quick clip from the morning.
Our first stop was Kesennuma. You might have seen this giant fishing vessel, Dai 18 Kyotoku Maru that got swept up one kilometer ashore.
It’s one thing to see it on TV, another to see it yourself. The bus took us where the ship is, and all of us were just silent. I was speechless in front of the tremendous power of mother nature that pushed this ship ashore.
There were still a lot of flowers and paper cranes at this memorial by the ship. There is a movement to keep this ship as a memorial/museum of the tsunami, however for some people, this ship is a sad reminder of the disaster.
Kesennuma is a well known fishing port. The port was pretty much destroyed, but there are people recovering from damage. We visited Fukko Yatai Village Kesennuma Yokocho – temporary market.
Here, John and Cali interviewed Sachie-san, owner of restaurant Tairyomaru, using the TelTell app. She told us that she had just stepped outside an elevator at her work when the earthquake hit, and after the tsunami, she couldn’t find her family for 3 days. Despite all the hardship, she is now running a small restaurant in the temporary market – “Because people got to eat!” She was such a lovely person. One thing she said that made a big impression for me is that she was “Just grateful to be alive.” She encourages everyone to come visit her at her restaurant!!
After the interview I bought some stickers for my son. This is the character of Kesennuma, Hoya Boya. (You know Japanese people LOVE cute characters and nearly every city and products have a character made for them.) Hoya is a sea creature and Boya is a Japanese word for “little boy”. He wears a scallop on his belt and his sword is a saury. Isn’t he adorable?!
We left the temporary market with a little lighter mood that people are positive here. Our next stop is Minami Sanriku.
…To be continued.