TelTell Tohoku Tour (2) Minami Sanriku, Ohara and Ishinomaki

(Read part 1 of this trip here.)

After Kesennnuma, we headed to Minami Sanriku cho. The population of the town before the disaster was 17,378. Now they report 614 deaths and 226 people are still missing. The video below is shot in front of the remains of the town’s Department of Disaster Prevention. About 30 people climbed up on to the roof of the building, but only 10 people survived. The story of a young woman who kept announcing to the town folk to evacuate to the higher ground is utterly tragic. I lost it reporting it here.

We drove by Kitakami river toward Ishinomaki city. Population as of March 2011 was 160,394. Number of deaths 3,490.

I could not believe how stunningly beautiful it was around the river. Green mountains and blue water…Cali and I talked about how such breathtakingly beautiful nature can be so devastating.

Kitakami riverKitakami river 2

Then we arrived at Okawa Elementary school. They lost 70% of students due to Tsunami.

Okawa schoolThere were a lot of people praying here. Heartbreaking. There was also a newly built memorial.

Okawa school2

After that we drove to Ohara to see my friend Caroline. She is from UK but volunteers at Ohara. When we got there she was painting a shed. We met online and I love her pragmatic attitude towards rebuilding. If you wait for people to come help, you would be waiting for a long time. So, she fundraises on her own and does what needs to be done. Ohara is a small town of population around 120, but with Tsunami they lost about 50 people. Please consider supporting this small community by donating directly on her site.


Next we headed to Ishinomaki city for Yahoo! Japan Fukko Base. Fukko means Reconstruction in English. Here we did a Ustream show and interviewed Mr. Sunaga from Yahoo! Japan.

Yahoo ustreamAt Yahoo Fukko Base, they are offering the space for different creative project to support reconstruction of Ishinomaki area. I did a quick video here as well:

That was it for the Tohoku tour. I know what we saw was the tip of the iceberg, and there are so many people still living in temporary housings. It is such a huge disaster, many people almost feel helpless, not knowing where to begin. At the same time I got to see many people volunteering their time to make at least a little progress a day. This was one of the few positive things I saw.

We headed back to Tokyo. And the next day, we met with several Japanese alpha bloggers – Japanese term for widely read bloggers – to discuss TelTell app and also how we can contribute to Tohoku reconstruction. It was great to meet all the bloggers! John said we needed to do something big if we wanted people’s attention back to 311 reconstruction. I agree; since 311, there was Hurricane Sandy and other natural disasters;  economy is bad and people in other parts of the world are too busy worrying about their own problems. I also suggested TelTell can be the app for people around the world to directly communicate with people in Tsunami affected areas. It was a meaningful discussion and I feel we planted seeds for next projects here.

Japan/US Blogger Summit

Thank you TelTell and Tasukeai Japan for this incredible opportunity to visit Tohoku.

Special thanks to Yuuki from Tasukeai Japan. We took a photo with same order as last year. I hope to be back in Japan soon!


TelTell Tohoku Tour – Visiting Tsunami aftermath – Kesennuma


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.

TelTell Demo

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.

car under the shipIf you look closely, you can see this is a car crushed under the ship.

shrineThere 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!!

Sachie san

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?!

Hoya boya

We left the temporary market with a little lighter mood that people are positive here. Our next stop is Minami Sanriku.

…To be continued.

One year…

One year from the biggest earthquake and Tsunami in Japanese history.
Where were you last March 11, 2011?

I was here, in Victoria. That day, I went to see my son play in school musical. He did so well. I came out from the theatre, so proud, when I looked at my phone. I found several tweets from my friends talking about big earthquake in Japan. Some tweeted to me asking if my family was OK.

What earthquake? Where?

I got home and turned the TV on. What I saw there was devastating footage of Japan’s Tohoku area being destroyed by Tsunami.

It is hard for me to describe the feeling and sensation I felt while I was watching all the coverage. Have you ever experienced the fear of your home country being destroyed? The terror of mother nature. Big buildings and cars, swallowed by giant waves within seconds.

The helplessness. Hopelessness. Guilt. That overwhelming sadness.

It was stressful enough for me, who was merely watching it on TV, in a country 7500km away. Imagine what it’s like to be there. Your family, your house, your friends, your pets….all gone.

Last night, I watched a special TV program on 311 on TV Japan. On the show, they were reporting updates of each municipalities. Nothing, almost nothing is back to normal. The debris are still there in most of the municipalities because there are no means to clean them,  and so much empty lot there, as nobody wants live in fear of another Tsunami, and/or because the foundation there is not strong enough to build anything on. Many people are moving up on the hills, but there are not enough housings, and of course there are so many delicate and complicated issues such as needs of elderly, schooling, small businesses, etc.

Since 311, several friends and I put together Hope Love Japan fundraiser here in Victoria and we raised $14,000 CDN. I’ve also joined Tasukeai Japan to help with translation.

And now, it’s been a year.

Just like any other disasters, I know this has literally become “Last year’s news” to some of you.

Yuuki, my friend from Tasukeai Japan (Tasukeai means Supporting Each Other), who’s been to Tohoku to help out, said to me;

“For the people in Tohoku, what they fear most is to be forgotten.”

How do we keep it from withering away?

Tasukeai Japan and their amazing volunteers created the video above to send the messages from Japan to the world.

330,000 people are still displaced. 3,000 people are still missing. This is far from over.

Please share the video. We want any people as possible to see it.

Thank you for sharing. Thank you for supporting. Thank you for remembering.

Special Thank You to Daisuke Yamamoto who created the video! 

2011 Year in review

I see many friends uploading their “Year in Review” posts and I’m finally sitting down to write it myself.

Looking back, 2011 was a busy year for me. I am not sure if it’s neccesarily a bad thing though. I’m just re-reading my posts from this year and reflecting.

Here are some of the big moments of 2011.

– Dove Singing in the Rain campaign.

In February, I flew in to Toronto with 13 other fabulous women to film a web commercial. The shoot was a lot of fun, but what I got out of this project was handful of really amazing friends. We live all over Canada, but we constantly connect and share through social media. The experience and the friendship is definiately something money cannot buy, and I am so grateful for them.

-Japan Earthquake and Tsunami

As I read my past posts, I could see March was a rough month. I wrote about running into my friend, and re-reading this post got me all tear up. They are still in Japan and she is getting treatments.

Then the 311 earthquake happened. I didn’t write anything about it on this blog, mainly because I didn’t know what to write. What can I write when your home country is hit by the biggest disaster since World War ll? I still remember the hopeless, devastated feeling I felt while watching all the TV footage. I was asked to talk on a national TV show and I barely got to speak as I was crying. It’s been 9 months and still 300,000 people are without homes.

Then amazing Victoria community all came together to put on Hope Love Japan fundraising event. The event was a huge success and we have raised over $14,000 CDN and have been donated to Canadian Red Cross.

-Trip to Japan in May

Because of the earthquake and Tsunami, my plan to visit Japan with my kids have been changed, and I ended up going by myself. I was there about two weeks, and thought this might be my first and last time to visit Japan without kids. (Turns out I am doing it again in February 2012)

I visited my family in Sasebo, Nagasaki, and then I also stayed in Tokyo for a week. Believe it or not, this was the first time I spent so much time in Tokyo, and I had an absolute blast. I met many online friends there – many from Tasukeai Japan team where I volunteer. I even got to meet Chief Cabinet Secretary, that was cool.

I met up with many online friends and we got to discuss social media. There is a huge gap between how social media is perceived and used in Japan and North America, and it was fascinating to learn that. This made me realize one day I would like to the work to connect them together.

-It’s all about social media

Last half of 2011 were filled with many social media events. I was a part of Social Media Camp again this year. Great to see Jayagain and meet Amber for the first time. See how much fun we had?

Also, Russel and I had a one year anniversary of Getting Engaged show. We are thankful for all your support and hoping to kick it up a notch in 2012.

In October, I was back in Toronto for Blissdom Canada. It was so wonderful to see all the online friends.

Then I also did BlogWorld LA in November. This is the year I finally started to see that I am part of this industry. I stopped to feel insecure about exactly what I’m contributing to the industry, just that I am part of it.  I met so many amazing people like Chris and Jacq, and they continue to inspire me on daily basis. For that I am very grateful.

-I fell in love

As you know I have been single since I separated from my ex-husband. I have dated here and there but I was almost just as happy to be by myself.

This all changed when I was in LA.

Did you hear about this guy’s ghostwriter story? I do remember catching it on Twitter(pretty sure it was Scott Stratten‘s RT). At that moment I had no idea who he was, but I read the story, thought it was funny, and went about my day.

In early October, my friend Dan hosted his usual High Noon Hump Day Lunch Tweetup. (He does this on Wednesdays.) I do remember I was on the fence about attending. Maybe I was feeling lazy. But I went anyway. Little did I know he was the guest for the tweetup and Dan had interviewed him over Skype. I tweeted about it and later he thanked me for it -and that’s how we met. I already had the plan to go to LA, so we met up- in fact, he picked me up at the airport when I landed in LA, and we have been together ever since.

The funny thing I learned about myself over this experience is, when you meet someone you have been waiting for your whole life as your dream man, you freak out. I came up with all kinds of excuses for not being with him. It’s the fear…fear of failure, fear of getting hurt again, fear of judgement, etc etc, that prevents me from being courageous and just go with the flow. Luckily, I came to senses and now I have never been this happy.


Finally, this is not a popularily contest, but I wanted to thank few people who has influenced me this year.

Jason Kolt

I met Jason over Twitter and we met up for coffee earlier in the year. I remember we closed down the coffee shop. He is sensitive, creative, funny and although we are both so busy and don’t get to see each other too much, I feel he gets me. I hope to spend more fabulous time with him in 2012.

Chris Guillebeau

I’ve read Chris‘ “The Art of Non-Conformity” few months ago, but this is the year I realized he’s the man I really want to learn from. I want to do what he does- work location independently and travel. I am hoping to attend World Domination Summit(WDS) in 2012 and learn and grow.

Mike Vardy

Mike is the productivity expert and writer based right here in Victoria, and I got to have some interesting chat with him later this year. I value his opinion and perspective greatly, as I know he and I share a very similar view of the industry. He is the one who recommended I attend WDS. I feel as though he is my senior coalleague.

Steve Hof

Steve owns Sauce Restaurant and Lounge in Victoria. He and I became friends around June and we always have the best conversations. He is passionate about his restaurant, social media and giving back to the community. I also want to thank him for pointing me into Crossfit. I started training in the fall, and as hard as hell it is, I am still doing it. It is a completely new workout program for me, but I think I actually enjoy it. So, thanks Steve.


Overall, 2011 was a busy, exciting, and also a tough year. But I don’t believe too much in looking back. I believe in looking forward. So, here’s my farewell to 2011 and I am excited to welcome the new year.