The Japanese coastal city of Kesennuma was among the hardest hit, suffering unprecedented devastation when the earthquake and tsunami unleashed catastrophic damage across the country’s northeast.
For Usufuku Honten, the Kesennuma fishing company that received Marine Stewardship Council certification in August 2020 for its Atlantic bluefin tuna fishery, the tragic events were an opportunity for a new start. Having realised, due to the disaster, the importance of food for survival, and noticing the range of local industries such as fisheries and agriculture that deserved more recognition, Usufuku Honten president Sotaro Usui wondered whether he could change Kesennuma’s fishing industry and that of Japan.
As well as creating a modern, comfortable tuna longliner, Sotaro Usui became part of a programme promoting fish caught in Kesennuma through school lunches. Children are given a valuable opportunity to learn about the fishing industry with engaging classes, fun activities and lessons on gratitude, pride in one’s home town and the importance of primary industries.
‘Through the disaster I quickly experienced how important food is to survive, and even though Japan’s countryside has industries of which people should be proud, children graduate from high school and leave to work in the cities, believing that there’s nothing in the areas where they live,’ he said.
‘I want to teach children that there are local industries that they can be proud of, while the importance of food is something that children should also learn when they are little.’
‘The reason why we work through school catering departments is to help children understand that it’s not just producers, i.e. fishermen, who are part of school lunches. People like processors and truck drivers are also involved and thanks to their hard work, they can eat. In the meantime, by teaching them about fish in their area, we want them to be proud of local industries like fishing and the areas where they grew up.’
Although the programme began in Kesennuma, Sotaro Usui and his team now work across Japan and have visited other areas including Tokyo, Yokohama and Miyazaki prefecture in the south.
Two-hour lessons are conducted, with the first hour involving a guest, such as a fisherman, who talks about his work, how and why he became a fisherman and what he enjoys most about his job. To make the lessons more fun and interactive and increase the children’s interest, the fishermen explain how fishing gear works and pass their own fishing equipment among the children, who are encouraged to pick them up for a closer look.
Species such as oysters or seaweed are also brought in. The second hour is a lesson on Kesennuma’s marine industry via the programme’s website, which contains further links that the children can use to learn more outside school.
Sotaro Usui hopes that teaching future generations in this way will educate them on fishing and seafood, a key component of the Japanese diet, and play a significant role in rebuilding the fishing industry, not just in Kesennuma but also across northeast Japan. In addition to the different species of fish off Kesennuma and how they’re caught, he also wants children to learn about the jobs and food that the ocean provides, as well as the importance of life, the nutrients contained in fish and the unique features of Kesennuma’s waters.
‘Our message to the children is please support your local fishing industry and always be grateful to those who work so hard in such a beautiful and unique environment as the ocean,’ Sotaro Usui said.
Read more about Usufuku Honten