Jun 3, 2017 · 6 min read

HANDs! Study Tour in Japan, the winter of 2017


Our earth is a fantastic and fascinating living being. Her unpredictable movements under the deep sea, in the high skies, on the ground — unite us in our destruction and our resilience. On her canvas, we write our stories. What attracts me most about the HANDS! Project is its emphasis on understanding how we’re all connected by our histories and now, through our disasters. And its unique focus on learning from each other’s experiences to create value and hope in our own societies and communities. Together, as the 23 of us travelled together through four countries, multiple cuisines and several time zones, I absorbed every experience, every sight, every story of this unique journey with a rotund appetite.

From the wild thickets of coastal Thailand, we made our journey to the last destination of our study tour, the chilly warmth of Japan. From the moment we landed at the Kansai airport, I was struck by the precision, discipline and attention to detail that seemed to come naturally to the Japanese people. It was refreshing and very different from the chaos and colour that defines the culture of my country!

Necessity to learn new lessons

The port city of Kobe was our destination in Japan. Attractive and cosmopolitan, there’s more to Kobe than what meets the eye as first impression. In 1995, the Great Hanshin earthquake ripped through this historic maritime city, devastating everything and changing the course of its history in just 20 seconds. So it was befitting that we began our study trip by visiting the Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institute (DRI), which is a unique museum that preserves memories from the earthquake to learn from the past and move towards building a more resilient future. I was very moved by this experience at DRI where we experienced the catastrophic disaster through the eyes of a survivor’s story, a powerful audio-visual simulation, a library that archives every memory and article that survived the quake. Such rigorous archiving is rare example how we need to constantly keep learning new lessons from the past.

More stories awaited us at the Design and Creative Centre Kobe (KIITO), our aesthetically designed workspace for the next 5 days.

The survivors of a flash flood at the Toga River took us through a journey of the disaster and we received new learnings from the community’s response to strengthen itself from any such disasters in future. Visiting the river after hearing the stories of the survivors was again a moving experience. We walked alongside the Sakura (Cherry Blossom) trees that lined the edges of river — bare and brown, as silent witnesses to time.

I felt that this leg of our study tour was carefully designed to constantly engage us to connect mitigation and prevention, with disaster preparedness. HANDs! adviser, Hirokazu Nagata san’s lectures gave us insights about the importance of learning from survivor stories as a critical component while developing the ‘seeds’. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience as well as the clarity that he brought through his sessions.

Resource persons from Plus Arts, Kiko Network, and Tamba Greenpartner shared local initiatives on disaster prevention and environmental education.A fter dinner on one of the days, the Plus Arts team began their presentation. It was the fag-end of a long day and I wasn’t sure how much enthusiasm I could bring. Their games stumped me with how beautifully they engaged us, got us on our feet to move, enjoy, learn as we played along. Careful design is always invisible, memorable!

Days were packed with action, thinking, co-creating, doing, un-doing and having a great deal of fun through all this and more. Alongside, we were are polishing our action plans and preparing for a mega-event, “Iza! Kaeru Caravan,” a mega-event where children learn about disaster prevention, while having fun playing with their family and friends. Every team had a different game and each one of us brought something unique for the children. I really enjoyed this collaborative process and could see the success of the games in the way we got various opinions on board, debated on them and synergized those ideas which would work best to create a successful learning experience for the children.

I’m a filmmaker by profession, so I’m accustomed to taking control and designing roadmaps for the entire team to follow. But this was different. Some of the fellows have worked with children, some have worked with rural communities, some have experienced disasters themselves — conversations in the workshops, on buses, during breaks, group activities, in our rooms really opened my life to these experiences. They supported me with their experiences, which has been a very valuable space of learning for me.

he Second chapter of our project

The Japan tour brought down the curtain for the first year of our fellowship with the HANDSs! Project. Goodbyes are never easy but I feel incredibly grateful to the universe for this beautiful opportunity. With each study tour, we found newer ways to blend our unique personal expertise and experiences with the tools we got trained in, to create beautiful prototypes and also learn tremendously from each other. Our action plans will take us back into our countries and our communities but they will also bring us together in becoming “hopes and dreams” for others. I’m collaborating with two fellows from very different parts of Asia for my action plan and there couldn’t be a more satisfying way to begin the second chapter of this beautiful Project.

My only regret from the whole trip? Missing the cherry blossoms by one week..!


Written by Rintu Thomas, HANDs! India Fellow 2016/2017

Filmmaker, co-Founder of award-winning creative agency Black Ticket Films, New Delhi (India)

Rintu Thomas


The HANDs!


The HANDs! Project is a human resource development program sponsored by the Japan Foundation Asia Center. The Project was created as a place for mutual learning, sharing knowledge, and cooperating to solve problems for disaster prevention and support for disaster-affected areas.


Written by


The HANDs! Project is a human resource development program sponsored by the Japan Foundation Asia Center. The Project was created as a place for mutual learning, sharing knowledge, and cooperating to solve problems for disaster prevention and support for disaster-affected areas.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store