Since the devastation caused by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, Australia has shown tremendous support to the Tohoku region (in the north-eastern part of Japan). Then-Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, was the first foreign leader to visit the region and Australia provided much support through food aid packages, donations and relief teams on the ground when it was needed most. Since 2011, the Australia-Japan Foundation has provided nearly $1 million in grant funds to Tohoku, particularly to community-driven activities.
Australia and Japan have forged even stronger, more resilient friendships through ongoing projects including one that provides Japanese students from Minami Sanriku a chance to broaden their perspectives and develop meaningful connections with Australia through a homestay and study program. You can read about the students’ motivations for visiting Australia in their essays here.
Australia has also provided support through projects such as a mobile library and a playground for children from Iwate who were forced to relocate after the disaster through the Australia-Japan Foundation. The Australia-Japan Foundation has been assisting the communities of the Tohoku region to recover from the devastation of the earthquake/tsunami of 11 March 2011. This remains one of the Foundation’s priority areas. Read more about the Reconstruction Initiative.
This cooperation was multifaceted, and included the Australian Government, Australian business, regional authorities, and community groups.
Australia is Japan's friend and partner, and will always remain so. Below are a number of projects the Australian Embassy Tokyo have been involved in.
Projects by Year
On 11 March 2021, Australian Embassy and Australian business community representatives attended the tenth memorial service for the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in Minami Sanriku, Miyagi. Ms HK Yu PSM, Deputy Head of Mission, attended with Mr Brett Cooper, Minister (Commercial), Mr Trevor Holloway AOM, Osaka Consul-General, Ms Ikuko Kohara, Mr Masayasu Yoshimoto and Ms Melanie Brock, ANZCCJ Chair Emeritus. Ms Yu was posted to Japan at the time of the earthquake. Mr Cooper and Mr Holloway worked on the ground with the Australian rescue team in the initial aftermath of the disaster. Mr Yoshimoto is a driver at the Embassy who drove consular teams to the affected area soon after the disaster, receiving an Order of Australia for his work in 2012. The representatives also visited ‘Koala House’, the lifelong learning centre which was established in 2013 by ANZ bank.
Mar 2021 Support Our Kids ‘Tohoku Resilience’
With support from the Australia-Japan Foundation, a Japanese NGO named Support Our Kids held an event titled “Tohoku Resilience” to commemorate ten years since the Great East Japan Earthquake. Support Our Kids has provided an Australian homestay program for Tohoku children following the disaster and their experiences were featured in the exhibition. Mr Greg Ralph, Minister-Counsellor and Mr Tom Wilson, Counsellor (Public Affairs) attended the event and laid tribute origami flowers.
Feb 2021 – Ambassador Adams meets with Minami Sanriku Mayor
In February 2021, Ambassador Jan Adams and Ms HK Yu, Deputy Head of Mission were honoured to welcome Mayor Jin Sato of Minami Sanriku, Miyagi to the Embassy. Mayor Sato spoke of his fond memories of Australia over the past ten years, and Ambassador Adams conveyed her appreciation to the town for their generous support and donations to Australian charities following the 2019-20 Australian bushfires.
December 2020 –Koala Camp project connecting Iwate and Australia online
On 19 December, an innovative initiative named the KOALA CAMP project, an online exchange event brought together Australia, Iwate and other parts of Japan through music, sport, food and various other activities. It also looked back on Australia’s on-going support to Tohoku following the 2011 disasters, which has included Australian musicians visiting schools in Iwate on an annual basis.
Jan 2020 – Bushfire donation from Minami Sanriku to Australia
Minami Sanriku, Miyagi donated 1 million Japanese yen to Australia’s NSW Rural Fire Service in response to Australia’s bushfire disaster. It was a kind gesture to support Australia in the time of need and to return the support the town received following the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. Ambassador Court sent a letter to Mayor Jin Sato thanking him and the town for the generous support.
Sep 2019 - Australian musicians continue to play for Iwate
As part of the “Australian Jazz Journey 2019” project, Australian duo Marty Holoubek & Joe Talia conducted workshops at schools in Iwate prefecture from 12-13 September. Since 2011, Australian Jazz musicians have been visiting disaster-affected schools in Iwate as part of Australian Government support to communities affected by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami.
Ambassador Richard Court AC was honoured to welcome Mayor Jin Sato of Minami Sanriku, Miyagi to the Embassy to present a Certificate of appreciation for support from Government, Business and Community since the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. The relationship with Minamisanriku began immediately following the disaster when the Urban Search and Rescue team deployed to Japan worked in the town to search for survivors. Two Embassy staff members whom at the time, worked with the rescue team were able to join on this occasion. Over eight years has passed since the disaster, and Minami Sanriku is now looking to thank the people that have supported them to rebuild and revive their town.
Aug 2019 - Support Our Kids Homestay Program
Six students from Tohoku region travelled to Melbourne with Australia-Japan Foundation grantee Support Our Kids. Ambassador Richard Court greeted the group prior to their departure at the Embassy. They studied at school throughout their homestay and enjoyed Melboune, visiting an AFL game and the Melboune Park!
Aug 2018 - Support Our Kids Homestay Program
Six inspiring students from Tohoku region travelled to Brisbane, Australia with Australia-Japan Foundation-grantee Support Our Kids. During their activity-packed two-week homestay program, the students toured the Queensland Art Gallery / Gallery of Modern Art and enjoyed a lunch hosted by Chris Saines, AJF Board Member and Gallery Director.
Australia’s Polyglot Theatre returned to Minami Sanriku in March 2018. This was their fourth visit to the disaster-affected area since 2011. Working with Japan’s NPO Acchi Cocchi, Polyglot’s performer shared their unique mix of experiential, interactive and installation theatre with local children during a public performance and visits to five primary schools. Australia has been supporting reconstruction in the disaster-affected Tohoku region since 2011 and remains committed to working with Japan to help Tohoku recover. Supported by the Australia-Japan Foundation.
'Staging a recovery' - article by Rosemary Neill, The Australian
Photo: Ai Ueda
The Paul Grabowsky Quartet made his third visit to the regions affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in Iwate Prefecture. This year they visited a school which was affected severly by a Typhoon in 2016 in addition to two schools in Kuji area.
Aug 2017 - Support Our Kids Homestay Program
Six students from Tohoku region travelled to Brisbane, Australia with Australia-Japan Foundation-grantee Support Our Kids. The group experienced homestay and styding at a local school. They also presented to their host school of their experience of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami.
Mar 2017 - Tohoku Support Weekend
Embassy staff joined the annual Tohoku Weekend with ANZCCJ and Club Australia with over 50 participants. The group toured Minami Sanriku and were met by Mayor Jin Sato at Koala House. The group participated in the Tohoku Food Marathon on the following day in half marathon races and kids races.
Three musicians from the Monash Art Ensemble led by Paul Grabowsky AO travelled to Iwate prefecture to perform at two schools that were affected by the 2011 Disaster. The Quartet, supported by the Australia-Japan Foundation visited two schools and had the opportunity to meet with a local jazz band and here their experiences. This is the sixth visit by Australian Jazz musicians to disaster-affected schools, and they have performed for more than 2,000 students over the course of this time.
Aug 2016 - Support Our Kids Homestay Program
Students from Tohoku including four students from Minami Sanriku, Miyagi participated in the AJF-funded Support Our Kids (SOK) Homestay program in Brisbane. A send-off afternoon tea event was held at the Australian Embassy, before their departure. The kids learned from Ito-en staff the proper way to serve Japanese tea, so they could prepare for their host families during their visit. The students enjoyed a full 2 week stay in Brisbane, and were all in tears when they had to part from their host families. They all reported that this experience was a life-changing one and were determined to work hard for their dreams and the reconstruction of their towns.