Surviving Tsunami Waves: Resilience through Narrative

On March 11, 2011, an earthquake and tsunami hit Tohoku, Japan, ending the lives of 19,000 people and devastating the landscape and livelihood of those who survived. Tohoku survivors are healing through community engagement in art and sharing. On March 11-20, their art and voices will be seen and heard in Rochester at an event called “Surviving Tsunami Waves.”

In the spring of 2011 Yuko Taniguchi, professor of writing at the University of Minnesota-Rochester, was overcome by grief at news of the tsunami. Yuko and Japanese friends in the United States organized various fundraising events. 



Yuko began writing about the people of Tohoku, thanks to a grant from the Loft Literary Center’s Minnesota Emerging Writers program. In 2012, she traveled to Japan to visit with the residents of Tohoku and see the initiatives being taken to recover from the disaster. Yuko intended to document the effects of the tsunami on the landscape, but when she met the survivors, she heard heartwarming stories that contained a common thread. For instance, former fishermen’s wives became artists, creating traditional clothes and displaying them. Yuko also met a group of people who began the Sashiko Project. Sashiko is a form of Japanese traditional stitchery used to make everyday items such as tablemats. She heard stories of women who came together and worked collaboratively, creating items that could be sold, providing income for displaced families.  

Yuko gave presentations to the Dolores Jean Leving Center for the Humanities in Medicine, Mayo Clinic Complementary and Integrative Medicine and the Rochester Art Center. She shared her experiences with Linda Cooper and AJ Monpetit, Center for Innovation at Mayo Clinic. Together they gathered a team of people to bring this exhibit and the artists to Rochester. Their mission statement is, “The project is a discovery of resiliency and healing through connection of communities.”  

“It’s an exhibit that teaches us to help deal with stress and promote healing,” says Linda Cooper. Workshops on stress reduction will teach new tools for coping. “Everybody experiences being knocked over by some wave in life. But when the wave knocks us down we’re able to get back up again,” says AJ Monpetit. One person’s ability to do that more easily than another is intriguing. “I think we underestimate the power of our brains’ natural ability to help us heal during a crisis,” says Cooper.  


There are few programs in Rochester that focus on community engagement as a means to meet the needs of individuals recovering from shock, grief or trauma. This can leave people feeling isolated. The exhibit and events are intended to promote conversation about resilience and healing within the context of community. “Art has proven itself to fulfill the civic purpose of connecting people through writing, music and visual arts, so healing can come about,” says Taniguchi. The hope is that this exhibit will foster dialogue between Rochester’s medical and art communities.

Artwork will be displayed and workshops will be held at Mayo Clinic, University of Minnesota-Rochester and the Rochester Art Center. Mayo Clinic healthcare professionals, Tohoku artists and Rochester artists and writers will present the workshops. The exhibit and workshops are open to the public, beginning with an opening ceremony in the Hage Atrium of the Siebens Building on March 11 at 5:30 p.m. A schedule of events is posted on Facebook at Surviving Tsunami Waves. 

Anne M. Scherer is a writer and artist living in Rochester, Minnesota.