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Ichiyo Kanno - giving when so much had been taken

"There is a Japanese phrase - Ichigo Ichie. It means a once in a lifetime chance. Whenever I meet someone, I act like it's the only chance I'll have to meet them. So I won't have any regrets. I always greet them with my best smile. I'd rather smile than act sad as I want them to enjoy themselves. Maybe that's why I appear so happy"

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Photo credit:
Chris Broad,
Abroad In Japan
"How Japan overcame a $200 billion disaster. 

9 years ago, the fourth largest earthquake ever recorded struck off the coast of Eastern Japan. The earthquake was so powerful, it shifted the entire Earth sideways on its axis, and caused our globe to rotate faster. It created tsunamis 10 storeys high, travelling above 700km/h, close to a cruising aircraft. And it wrecked the Fukushima nuclear plant. 400km of coastline wiped out, US$250 million in economic costs.
 

The cumulative costs to the country were devastating. But at the individual level, it was more than just costs. Their lives were to change permanently. 
 

Ichiyo Kanno was married to a fisherman (largely because of her love oysters). Like many others along the coast, Ichiyo's home in Shibitachi was wrecked by the tsunami. Her husband's boats were swept away. Their home and livelihood ruined, they thought about packing in it and moving away from a region where a tsunami strikes ever so often.
 

That was until student volunteers helping out disaster relief efforts came by and asked if they could stay at her house. All that was left standing was a roof and 4 walls, but when everything else was debris, it was the best accommodation in the area. Eventually, Ichiyo would play host to over 1,000 volunteers.

This gave her a new direction in life. With her husband, Ichiyo set up Tsunakan hostel. She quickly gained popularity. Her friendliness and positivity were infectious. She developed into a figure that represented hope and soul for the recovering community. Her hostel became one of the attractions of Sanriku coast, drawing visitors. You can find multiple news pieces covering her inn. 

In 2017, tragedy struck again. Her husband, eldest daughter, and son-in-law were killed on a fishing trip. The sea would land yet another devastating blow to her life.
 

After a few months of mourning, Ichiyo got back on her feet and reopened the hostel. Even though it was painful for her to do so, she concluded that it was the best thing she could do. And she does so with her trademark positivity. Even though she had every reason to crumble, to be depressed, to be beaten, she became someone whom guests turned to instead, someone who ironically raised the spirits of people who have had happier lives than she did. 

How is it that she has managed to maintain such positivity despite all the personal tragedy?

"My way of living now is, I don't look back at it all. If I look back at what happened, it'll be when I'm 70 or 80 years old. I don't want to dwell on the past. Nor do I expect too much from the future -because then I won't get too shocked if things are different from what I expected. If I can get by now, if I can live in this moment, I can keep going.
 

There is a Japanese phrase - Ichigo Ichie. It means a once in a lifetime chance. Whenever I meet someone, I act like it's the only chance I'll have to meet them. So I won't have any regrets. I always greet them with my best smile. I'd rather smile than act sad as I want them to enjoy themselves. Maybe that's why I appear so happy"

 

It's pretty amazing, isn't it? By giving the best of her to others, she had also found the best for herself. The way life works is a paradox sometimes. It would seem that sometimes so much have been taken away from us that we have nothing left to give. But strangely enough, it could be that only be giving could you then receive. 

Ichiyo was also asked if she hated the seas, which have inflicted so much misery onto her. Her reply was profound: 
 

"The sea gives us many things. But I keep telling myself it's no good to only take from it. Sometimes, we have to give back. Is it wrong to use the term "give back"? It's difficult to put into words. If there are positives, there will always be negatives. I have to believe that the world is balanced like that. It's hard to go on if I don't tell myself that."

Ichiyo's view here might sound somewhat morbid, but I largely agree with her. If you're interested, I had written another piece - why humans do not fit into the nature cycle. 

 

You can watch the short interview with Ichiyo, as well as other resilient and innovative Japanese folks recovering from the tsunami in this video:

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