Today, in Minamisoma City, fields of bright yellow nanohana flowers seem to stretch as far as the eye can see.
Laughter and joy fill the air where children, adults, and elders come to walk through the mazes of these bright flowers. But this was not always a place of joy.
After the Great East Japan Earthquake, Tsunami, and following Nuclear Incident on March 11th, 2011, this area became a place of mourning. When people came here in 2011, all they could do was cry.
Turning a Place of Sorrow, into a Place of Joy.
Takayuki Ueno, a local farmer, was heartbroken when he lost his parents and two young children to the tsunami in 2011. He wanted to plant flowers, so in November 2011 (8 months after the disaster) Mr. Ueno returned to his land and planted nanohana flowers. The following spring, the flowers bloomed bright yellow and brought a bit of color and joy to land. There were no announcements about the flowers, even so, young people came here in school busses to see the flowers. Upon seeing the smiles of the children and people who came to see the flowers, he could smile again.
The Immense Value of a Smile
As the years went on he planted more and more flowers, in 2013 he started making the flower mazes and giving out prizes to children for completing the maze. He said that even though it’s a lot of work to plant the flowers and run events with the flower maze while also working full time as a farmer, it’s worth it to see the children smile and run through the maze. He also organizes illuminations and fireworks events for children with the help of volunteers who come from neighboring towns and prefectures to help run the events.
Due to the current global health emergency events have been scaled down, but the spring prior to that over 10,000 young children (not counting adults) came to enjoy the flowers and the maze! Mr. Ueno plans to continue planting the flowers for years to come.
Meeting Mr. Ueno was so inspiring.
Despite the heartbreaking loss that he experienced he focuses on bringing joy and brightness into the lives of others. Talking to Mr. Ueno and walking through the bright yellow flowers of the mazes and surrounding fields felt like a type of magic that made it impossible to do anything but smile.