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Rethinking Japanese Education Post Tsunami: Learning through Renga, an international poem of exchange

Part 2 Project 2014
Fiona MacDonald
London Metropolitan University UK
Schools have played many roles in Nobiru’s history. For generations they have been points of knowledge-sharing, friendship-making, citizen-production and workforce-skilling. However, in March 2011 their role took on a different scale of meaning: they provided vital refuge to much of the local community during the tsunami, effectively promoting them to life savers in built form.

The community have not only suffered the sudden and vicious devastation of the tsunami. Since before that day in March 2011, they have also been facing a much slower, but arguably just as significant affliction: the migration of their young people to Sendai and other cities in search of more lucrative and diverse work. This is not unique to Nobiru but a phenomenon many of the coastal villages are suffering.

This proposition aims to offer hope and way forward though a series of education spaces or schools designed specifically for Nobiru, but with the potential to become a model for other communities in this position: a connective education thread is woven into the patchwork landscape of Nobiru.

It was informed by a 6 month spatial Renga exchange (Renga being a traditional form of Japanese collaborative poetry where versas are sent from one poet to the other) between a pair of architects, Shintaro Tsuruoka and Yuko Odaira, and twenty school children in Nobiru, Japan, and myself and ninety school children in London. This live thread both influenced the design development and became as a stand alone piece of research in engagement and international exchange. It brought together more than one hundred adults and children on opposite sides of the world to pool their ideas for what makes a home, and the fundamentals of rebuilding a community after such a devastating natural disaster.

The final design proposal focuses on one of the learning spaces: the forest school and its community connection between the old and new communities. This form of schooling is a new concept for Japan but the first forest school is in fact now being built in Nobiru under the guidance of the Afan Woodland Trust.

Fiona MacDonald


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