In a corner of the room, hung just high enough on the wall that it misses the slanting shafts of sunlight filtering into the room, is a clock. Its shape is uneven; the wood has no embellishment. No numbers mar its smooth surface. And yet—

Yosuke Kajiya glances up at it, glances down at similar pieces of wood scattered around his workshop, and knows that time is passing, that it will always tick on.

One year has passed since his guitar factory opened.

Six years have passed since this town was destroyed.


“On Friday, at 2:46 p.m. Tokyo time, the quake struck. First came the roar and rumble of the temblor, shaking skyscrapers, toppling furniture and buckling highways. Then waves as high as 30 feet rushed onto shore, whisking away cars and carrying blazing buildings towards factories, fields and highways.”


–New York Times, March 2011

“Even before the tsunami, there were so many problems in this city, like the declining population and aging society. … Even though more than 70 percent of my town was destroyed by the tsunami, we have been able to restart and begin tackling these demographic problems. In this way, Onagawa can become a role model for all of Japan.”

– Yoshiaki Suda, mayor of Onagawa

“Sessionable, a guitar manufacturer that has set up business in the Ishinomaki area of northeastern Miyagi Prefecture, today held a ceremony to commemorate the completion of its guitar factory in the town of Onagawa in the prefecture. The factory, named ‘GLIDE garage,’ … officially starts production today.”

–Mitsubishi Corporation press release, March 2016



All this—the timeline of devastation and revitalization that I had wandered into—I would find out later, by stepping into Yosuke Kajiya’s guitar shop. The clock on his wall was the unadorned body of a guitar. And every instrument in his shop was a tangible manifestation of how he, along with every other entrepreneur, businessman, policymaker, and resident in the area, had rebuilt Onagawa.


Although Onagawa’s buildings are slowly re-emerging, its population continues to decline. Young people are few and far between. And yet, for those that remain, whether they envision becoming pop stars or teachers or entrepreneurs themselves, one day they may wander into the center of town, and hear music, and see through glass windows the clear shape of Kajiya’s dreams: the half-finished frame of a guitar.

This piece was a result of an innovative, intellectual, and far-reaching journalistic experiment: 10 foreign student journalists, invited by the Prime Minister’s office and hosted by HLAB, sought to explore and illuminate Japan over a span of 19 days. Encouraged to pursue whatever topic they found interesting while participating in various activities of HLAB or while exploring various cities in Japan on their own, the journalists’ work eventually spanned topics ranging from Japanese views of success and failure to the robust Japanese artisan culture. See some of the other pieces.


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