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Select “Yes” or “No,” then simulate and pass down disaster experiences Naomi Hama, Director of Kobe Crossroads Society

“Imagine that you are a city official in charge of food distribution. A few hours have passed since an earthquake struck the area. You obtain information that 3,000 people have been evacuated to a shelter. At present, meals for 2,000 people are secured for the shelter. Whether additional meals will be obtained is unclear at present. In this situation, will you distribute the meals to the evacuees right now?”

In the event of a disaster, we will encounter various scenarios like this where we are forced to make difficult choices.

“Crossroads” is a disaster simulation game that is designed to have players to make decisions when faced with difficult choices under a variety of situations such as responding to a disaster. Naomi Hama, who has been striving to spread the Crossroads game throughout Japan, was a Kobe City official at the time of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake.

P1010950Photo: Naomi Hama, a Crossroads facilitator


Experiencing a huge disaster while in her fourth month of pregnancy

Hama was in her fourth month of pregnancy when the huge disaster occurred. Although her home in Nishi Ward, Kobe City suffered little damage, all public transportation was stopped. In addition, since she was in her first pregnancy and her health condition was unstable, she could not go to work for one week immediately after the disaster.

Shortly after she arrived at a public health center of her workplace, she became occupied with responding to the disaster. At one point she was doing the rounds of as many as 10 or more shelters per day by minivan, checking the hygiene conditions of the toilets or the rations at shelters in Nagata Ward, one of the areas that had suffered devastating damage. A large number of evacuees were crammed in each shelter. She acutely felt the difficulty of ensuring the maintenance of good hygiene conditions in terms of meals and toilets while utilities were disrupted.
After such busy days during the post-disaster period, she gave birth and took maternity leave.
“I kept thinking that I could do nothing while my fellow citizens and colleagues were facing such great hardship. As my son came to understand many things, I increasingly reinforced my conviction that I must tell him about the huge earthquake that had occurred in the year of his birth.”

“To communicate about the disaster with my child, on January 17 every year I showed him photos related to the disaster and participated in memorial events for the earthquake victims along with him. Through this process, I increasingly became aware that I was able to talk about and pass down the experiences and thoughts of earthquake survivors, even though I myself did not directly suffer from the disaster.”


Encounter with the Crossroads game

Subsequently Hama continued working for the Kobe municipal government and deepened her interest in “risk communication,” which is an activity aimed at producing better solutions through the sharing of accurate information on the risks surrounding society among governments, experts, companies, citizens and other parties concerned, and mutual communication.

In those days, Hama came across a risk communication game called “Crossroads” through the process of learning risk communication in her fields of expertise, including food and public health.

In 2002, seven years after the disaster, Kobe city officials who had responded to the disaster participated in interview research as part of MEXT’s Special Project for Earthquake Disaster Mitigation in Urban Areas. A huge volume of interview records were accumulated for five years since then. Based on the accumulated interviews, the Crossroads game was developed by Professor Katsuya Yamori of Kyoto University, jointly with Professor Toshiko Kikkawa of Keio University and Assistant Professor Tsuyoshi Ajiro of the Advanced Institute of Industrial Technology.

DSC_0424Photo (provided by Kobe City): An odd number of players tends to create a split over the issue and results in vigorous discussion.

Crossroads is a simple game. About five players sit around a table, each holding a “Yes” card and a “No” card. One player reads the text written on a problem card, and the rest of the players show either the Yes or the No card as their answer at the same time, and then they have to give their own reason as to why they are showing their Yes or No card to the other players. If the card a player shows belongs to the majority, then he or she receives a blue cushion. However, when only one player shows a Yes (or a No) card, then, he or she receives a gold cushion. The purpose of the game is to deepen discussions on why the players come to think as they do, instead of dismissing minority opinions.

DSC_0070Photo (provided by Kobe City): With two types of cushions, the rules of the game are very simple.
“Through the Crossroads game, even people who have not experienced a disaster are able to share the experiences of various extraordinary events or situations under which they have to make difficult decisions presenting dilemmas. At the same time, people who have actually experienced a disaster are able to share their own experiences with the other people. There are no right answers to the respective questions. What is important is to seriously think about the problems and engage in discussions.”

Now the themes of Crossroads are expanding to a wider range of issues including child rearing, the environment, food safety, casework, and themes other than disaster prevention. When the game was played at the meeting of local child-rearing supporters under the theme of child rearing, many participants provided a variety of advice concerning the questions created by Hama. In this way, the game brought a positive effect to the meeting, in particular, the vigorous discussion inspired by the game.

hamasan_宮城1Photo: It is important to discuss the reason why you think the way you do after selecting the YES or NO card.


Crossroads begins to spread around the nation.

In September 2005, Hama launched the Kobe Crossroads Society along with about 20 members, mainly Kobe city officials.
“In those days, already 10 years had passed since the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, and the number of city officials who did not have earthquake experience was increasing. During a seminar session using the Crossroads game, some city officials talk about their own experiences when they were asked for the reason why they chose Yes or No to a difficult option. Observing this, I learned that it is possible to communicate disaster experiences through this game. I confirmed this belief when I played Crossroads with officials of other municipal governments.”

After resigning from the Kobe municipal government in 2006, Hama started work as a Crossroads facilitator. Along with Kobe Crossroads Society members, she held workshops using the Crossroads game at disaster prevention seminars for municipal governments and local communities around Japan.

Under the Crossroads Facilitator Promotion System, the purpose of which is to nurture facilitators of the Crossroads game, facilitators advance to middle and upper grades in accordance with the number of Crossroads games they have facilitated. Facilitator general assembly takes place in various places. The Crossroads network has begun to spread to Hokkaido, Okinawa, and even overseas.

It was in the midst of such an activity that Hama and other members of the Society were faced with the Great East Japan Earthquake, which occurred in March 2011.


After directly witnessing the reality of the Great East Japan Earthquake

According to Hama, who continued to communicate disaster prevention and how to deal with disasters as a Crossroads facilitator, she was totally overwhelmed by the reality right in front of her eyes of the Great East Japan Earthquake.
“I realized that I had never thought that a catastrophe on a greater scale than the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake could occur during my lifetime. We are always in the pre-disaster state, not in the post-disaster state. With this in mind, I renewed my resolve to address our activities even more seriously, lest we may fail to save a life that we might otherwise have saved.”

Kobe Crossroads Society used the game at a seminar for Miyagi Prefecture officials in February 2010. In April 2011, one year before the Great East Japan Earthquake, the Society planned to use the Crossroads game in the seminar for newly employed Kobe city officials for the first time. However, after they had directly witnessed the scenes of devastating damage caused by the March 11 earthquake, they had conflicted feelings as to whether or not they should hold seminars with the same questions used thus far.

OPhoto: Management Seminar for Building Social Consensus held in Miyagi Prefecture

Under such circumstances, Kobe Crossroads Society received an email from a male Miyagi Prefecture official who had participated in a seminar held by the Society. In the email he wrote, “I believe I was able to cope with unexpected problems caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake because I had learned through the Crossroads game that we have to decide something in order to move forward under extraordinary circumstances, like an earthquake.”

Through this experience, Hama and other members of the Society realized once again the power of the Crossroads game and importance of passing down the story of disasters. In the aftermath of the earthquake, they started providing direct support to disaster survivors in Miyagi and Fukushima Prefectures, who had kept relations with the Crossroads Society through seminars they had organized in the past, by sending them relief supplies, and by other means.

Hama herself went to Ishinomaki, one of the afflicted areas that had suffered the most devastating damage, as a volunteer. She has constantly been encountering the thoughts and interests of the people in the Tohoku region: “The people of Kobe would understand our feelings”; “How do Kobe people communicate their earthquake experiences to others?”

石巻2Photo: Volunteer activities conducted in Ohkaido, Ishinomaki City. A bus carrying volunteers to the afflicted area was dispatched from Kobe.


Desire to realize the “organization of Crossroads game events in respective areas”

The year 2015 is the 20th year since the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, and the 10th year since the Kobe Crossroads Society was established. In this milestone year, the Society is working on several initiatives. One such initiative is the publication of Hisaichi Days (Days in Earthquake-Affected Areas). This is a book on disaster prevention published in summer 2014, featuring 31 questions incorporating Crossroads game methods.

hisaichidaysPhoto: Hisaichi Days, with abundant illustrations and case examples, is aimed at junior high school students and older readers.

Another initiative is the Crossroads Game for 1000 Players 2014, which took place on December 23, 2014. In this event, all game venues around the nation were connected using an online system, with the Kobe venue serving as the main venue, the Sendai and Kochi venues as substitute venues, and the Sapporo, Sakata, Niigata, Yokohama, Shizuoka, Kure, and Fukuoka venues as satellite venues. Under this networking system, 1,000 people were able to play Crossroads simultaneously.

DSC_0428Photo (provided by Kobe City): “Crossroads Game for 1000 Players 2014.” According to Hama, 580 players participated in the game at the Kobe venue, and another 720 players at nine venues nationwide, making a total of 1,300 players who participated the event.

Hama is aiming to create a mechanism to realize the organization of Crossroads game events in respective areas. Under the system, the Society does not respond to all requests from around the country to hold Crossroads game events, but after accepting such requests it contacts facilitators in each area to have them organize Crossroads game events in their respective areas. To this end, she has a desire to increase the number of Crossroads game venues from the current nine venues newly created nationwide through the event in 2014.
“The Crossroads Game for 1000 Players 2014 was also participated in by elementary school and junior high school students and their families. At the Kobe venue, students of Kobe Gakuin University and Maiko Senior High School joined the event as table facilitators. I believe that the Crossroads game communicated experiences of and lessons learned from the disaster in Kobe to people of younger generations, and served as an opportunity for them to think more seriously about disaster prevention.”

P1010948Photo: Hama says, “I want everyone to listen to what other people say, think about what they hear, and consider how to protect themselves and their families more seriously.”


(Interviewed and written by Noriko Yoshimoto)
This article was created with the cooperation of greenz.jp.

Naomi Hama

Born in 1965 in Tochigi Prefecture. After graduating from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Hokkaido University, she started working as a Kobe City official (veterinarian and public health inspector) in 1991. At the age of 29, she experienced the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake at her home in Nishi Ward, Kobe City. As a Kobe City official she responded to the disaster, providing hygiene guidance to shelters. In 2005 she participated in the founding of the Kobe Crossroads Society. After resigning from the Kobe municipal government in 2006, she started activities as a Crossroads facilitator. As a writer, she participated in producing the book Hisaichi Days (Days in Earthquake-Affected Areas) (Koubundou Publishers Inc., 2014) edited by Katsuya Yamori.

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