Fun with "tacos" in Japan

Japan, May 6, 2011

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Carol Skowron/Mercy Corps  </span>
    An assortment of vendors attended a recent festival put on by a local Chamber of Commerce, selling everything from grilled meat and vegetables to books, towels or toys. The prices were low — a ticket or two would buy almost anything there. Photo: Carol Skowron/Mercy Corps

Disaster recovery operations can be a lot of work, but sometimes a bit of fun pops up where you least expect it. Last week some Peace Winds staff and I made some visits to a Chamber of Commerce and to some evacuation centers to gather more information on what businesses had been destroyed, as well as to talk about ideas to support the recovery of commerce.

As we made our way to our appointments, we came across a poster with a happy looking octopus announcing an event. A translation by my colleagues soon explained that there was to be a festival on the weekend at one of the evacuation centers.

Everywhere we went that day, we seemed to run into the poster of the happy octopus. Further investigation piqued our interest even more. The event was actually organized by the Chamber of Commerce with support from some businesses and volunteers from other parts of Japan. The event would not only be entertaining for those who were affected by the disaster, but it also was done in a way that they could participate in a very real way.

A festival currency was created, called a “taco” (the Japanese word for "octopus"). People displaced by the disaster were given some of the taco currency to spend, and anyone else attending the event could buy some for 100 yen for a 100 taco ticket (about US$1.25). They could then spend their taco currency on anything the festival had to offer. An assortment of vendors attended the event, selling everything from grilled meat and vegetables to books, towels or toys. The prices were low — a taco ticket or two would buy almost anything there.

The place was full of people, milling about, buying delicious festival food and enjoying the spring weather. I bought a few taco tickets and spent them on a delicious bowl of udon noodles and a dessert of puffed rice covered in a sugar caramel glaze.

But that wasn’t all the festival had to offer. In the early afternoon, a crowd gathered close to the stage, everyone trying to get the best position possible. What was all of the excitement about? A very popular band was about to make its appearance I was told.

The crowd waited expectantly, watching for the vehicle that would carry these famous guests up the hill to the festival at the school overlooking the devastation below. At last they came, four young handsome men from the band Exile. Every cell phone and camera was out snapping pictures as they took the stage. A song was sung, photos taken and everyone lined up to shake their hands.

At the same time, in the background, trucks continued to lumber by, hauling construction supplies to the site just behind the stage where temporary housing was being built. In the devastated area below, bulldozers and other heavy equipment methodically cleaned up.

At that moment, it seemed like everyone in Japan was doing what they could to recover from this terrible disaster, whether it was the offer of a handshake or the construction of a new home.