SHIOGAMA, Miyagi Prefecture--Once training for Olympic glory, Miyuki Hatanaka now starts her days in the early morning picking seaweed by hand on Katsurashima island, off Shiogama Port.
The former Olympic skier, a native of Shiogama, Miyagi Prefecture, is a driving force behind the island’s rebuilding efforts from the Great East Japan Earthquake.
As a free-style moguls skier representing Japan, Hatanaka, 36, competed in the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City and the 2006 Turin Olympics. She was beaten in the preliminary round in both Games.
Just as she started contemplating making a run at competing in the half-pipe ski event at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, the tsunami, triggered by the magnitude-9.0 earthquake on March 11 last year, struck her hometown.
Hatanaka was operating a ski school in Nagano Prefecture at the time. Fortunately, her parents’ home was not damaged, but she wanted to do something for the victims.
She chose the tiny island, with a population of 240, to help rebuild. Katsurashima's size seemed “within my capability,” she explained.
Hatanaka collected a total of 2 million yen ($25,200) from her students and their parents and moved to the island last June, “in order to see how the money is used,” she said.
She now helps seaweed farmers with their reconstruction efforts. Her life has dramatically changed from that of a self-centered skier focused on improving her moguls performance to tirelessly helping disaster victims get back on their feet.
Some residents on the island had their houses destroyed, but people here naturally help each other. This neighborly feeling makes her feel comfortable, she said.
As she talked to residents in the local dialect, people came up to say it seemed she had been living there for a long time.
Hatanaka admitted she has thought of returning to ski competition.
But, she said it feels more enjoyable and challenging to pour her sweat out on the island, where many people are still living in temporary housing.
Recently she started Internet sales of seaweed as many of the seaweed farmers here are older and have difficulty getting their product to market.
On July 1, the Seaweed Festival will be held on the island. The islanders plan to serve a local specialty, “norimaki” seaweed rolls, to visitors.
“I hope many people will see the island, which has had its clean and beautiful shape restored,” Hatanaka said.
- « Prev
- Next »