Chairs gifted to 2011 quake babies encourage families

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Kenichi Isoda, leader of the “Your Chair” project, displays a chair presented to newborns in Sapporo on Jan. 26.

There were 104 babies born in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures on March 11, 2011, the day the region was struck by a massive earthquake and tsunami.

The exact number was determined by a Hokkaido-based goodwill project called “Your Chair.”

Since 2006 – before the devastating quake – the project had been presenting chairs to newborn babies in a bid to help rehabilitate communities by celebrating the birth of new life.

Finding the number of newborn babies on the day of the earthquake was the result of an initiative taken by Kenichi Isoda, 78, the leader of the project and a former vice governor of Hokkaido.

While the number of deaths and those listed as missing were reported day after day following the massive quake and the ensuing tsunami, Isoda thought, “There must have been new lives born amid the turmoil of the quake.”

Later, the members of the project began inquiring with municipal governments in the three prefectures about births on that day. They found that 104 babies had been born.

Over 2½ months, they delivered chairs directly to 98 babies whose names they learned. The chairs were inscribed with the message, “Vigorously into the future.”

In notes sent to the project by families, courageous mothers recounted their experiences when giving birth. One said she thought she might have to prepare to die as she was shaken by the quake. There were also the case of a woman who was hospitalized near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant of Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings, Inc., being forced to immediately evacuate to safety.

“Having given birth on the day of the earthquake, I had mixed feelings about not being able to celebrate my child’s birthday loudly, ” one mother wrote. “But, thanks to the chair we were given, we have come to be able to take delight in the birth of my child once again.”

Isoda said, “The growth of these children is our hope, which will also lead to the future of the Tohoku region and Japan at large.”