The Power to Hold on to Your Gratitude
You can’t go far in Kesennuma without meeting someone who hasn’t been touched by Ichiyo Kanno. She plays a role of positive change in society and stands as a model of how we should approach change in our own lives. After being a pillar of hope during the initial chaos of the disaster, she would have another, more personal tragedy befall her. To this day, Ichiyo lives as strong as ever, giving the greatest contribution to the world one single person ever could: love.
We started our talk with her own history. Ichiyo was originally from a larger, inland city. After moving to Karakuwa with her husband, she was initially surprised by how different the people here were, with odd manners and customs that made her feel like an outsider. People would visit one another and have ritualistic ways of interacting, usually involving gifts; something that she wasn’t quite used to. The Karakuwa area was its own bubble in a way, at odds with Ichiyo’s more open, straightforward personality.
The tsunami in 2011 had an impact on Kesennuma in so many ways that it’s difficult to put into words, but one thing we can take from Ichiyo’s story is how we approach catastrophic change in our own lives. After the tsunami struck, the lower floor of Ichiyo’s house was completely washed away, with only the empty frame remaining. She immediately opened it up for volunteers to sleep in, putting plastic sheets around the beams where the walls once stood. People from all over Japan huddled inside, cooking on portable stoves, and making merry over food and drinks. Her house was essentially an unofficial base of the recovery. This welcoming, barrier-free mentality was always in Ichiyo’s nature, and the traditionally cautious and closed-off people of Karakuwa came to see value in accepting outside influence and help with a smile, and returning the favor as best they could. The tsunami shook not only the physical foundation, but the cultural foundation of the area as well.
Ichiyo became a light of hope in an otherwise desolate situation. What can we give at a time like this? All the infrastructure and money in the world will mean little if we lose the spirit to keep living, and gratitude for what we still have. Ichiyo’s existence exudes strength, and people like her lay the foundation for true recovery. We concluded that it was love which carried her and her city through the disaster. This foundation of love, and experience of hosting volunteers during the recovery would eventually take shape with her guest house “Tsunakan”. It’s her way of saying thank you, a physical monument to her gratitude.
Ichiyo’s story doesn’t stop there. In fact, it was only beginning. She always had a limitless capacity for love and gratitude, and we discussed how the disaster brought it out. It was her mission to be a figure of love in her community. Life is often cruel however, and her spirit would be put to the ultimate test. A few years after the tsunami, her husband, daughter, and son-in-law would tragically pass away in an accident at sea. Such an abrupt, crushing tragedy, after having rebounded from the tsunami, would send any normal person into a spiral of anguish. Ichiyo too, came very close to losing herself to depression. Somehow, she found the strength to go on.
How could someone possibly recover from that? While she will always be in mourning, she never lets her strength waver. Ichiyo continues to be an inspiration to all she meets.
Upon hearing her story, it takes a certain kind of person to be able to do this, I felt. Ichiyo found the ability to channel her sorrow into positive energy, rather than let it overcome her in a negative way, as we see all too often in the world. The ability to do so wasn’t given to her by anything, but generated on her own. How did she do this, though? For her, it was partly recognition of her role in her community, but not a simple case of “if I don’t do it, then who will?”. After speaking with her on the topic, I felt her ability to fill this role came from a genuine desire to live and be happy; a love of life.
Ichiyo’s story has something for everyone to take away. Whether confronted with change on a massive scale like a tsunami, or the death of loved ones, or smaller ones like failing a test, or not passing a job interview, there’s a capacity we have as humans to overcome it, and maintain our love for life and happiness. Although Ichiyo is one of the friendliest, most optimistic people you’ll ever meet, she reminded me that anyone can be that person too when faced with tragedy. It’s up to all of us to be an inspiration to others, and do everything we can to foster the growth of good in this world. Good grows in Kesennuma, and that’s the spirit of recovery. Thank you, Ichiyo!