In 2011, the city of Ishinomaki made international headlines because it was devastated by tsunami waves and the Great East Japan Earthquake. The calamity destroyed more than 50,000 buildings and left behind more than six million tons of debris.
Three years later, when Brad Hammond (M.A. ’15) first went to Ishinomaki, it reminded him of Detroit.
“Ishinomaki and Detroit are completely different places,” he says, “but the problems of what to do about shrinking populations and industries were the same.”
When he was hired as the engaged learning and Japan partnerships coordinator for the Center for Japanese Studies (CJS) in 2015, Hammond approached LSA’s Center for Global and Intercultural Study (CGIS), LSA’s Community-Engaged Academic Learning (CEAL) program, and Nick Tobier, a professor in the Stamps School of Art & Design and the Edward R. Ginsberg Senior Counsel to the Provost on Civic Engagement. Together with Associate Professor of History Leslie Pincus they created a course that would connect organizations in Ishinomaki and organizations in Detroit and collaborate on solutions to their common problems.
“It was offered through CGIS as a global intercultural experience for undergraduates,” Hammond says, “which requires a preparation course, an abroad experience, and some kind of application of the knowledge students gained abroad back here at home. We thought, what if we designate Ishinomaki as the study abroad site and Detroit as the application site back home?”
Ishinomaki is a provincial town in northern Japan flanked by the ocean on one side and rural countryside on the other. Before the tsunami hit, unemployment had driven people away in the 1980s, leaving a lot of vacant real estate. Afterwards, the damage was so complete no one talked about rebuilding. Instead, they talked about creating something new. (continued)