TOMODACHI Summer SoftBank Leadership Program

The TOMODACHI Summer SoftBank Leadership Program provides Japanese high school students from Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima—areas affected by the March 11, 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake—the opportunity to attend a fully-paid three-week intensive course on global leadership development and community service at the University of California, Berkley.

This program is supported by the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo and the U.S.-Japan Council, a non-profit organization, and has been sending students abroad every summer since 2012, with 700 students having participated to date.

Students on the program take part in a problem-solving workshop called “Y-PLAN (Youth - Plan, Learn, Act Now!)” to explore ways to improve their local communities. Upon returning to Japan, some participants have gone on to engage in projects to help their local community, such as the planning and reconstruction of local tourism using knowledge gained from Y-PLAN. Through the program, TOMODACHI and SoftBank Group Corp. (“SBG”) provide opportunities and full support for participants to engage in activities that contribute to the reconstruction of disaster-affected areas.

SoftBank Group Corp. Chairman & CEO Masayoshi Son

My life changed dramatically when I went to the U.S. at the age of 16 and experienced a whole new culture and lifestyle. Many of the participants on this program—which is held at my alma mater—have been engaging in local efforts one after another and achieving great results, using the skills and experiences they have gained from the program and from living in the U.S. You can change the future by taking on challenges and I hope that for many more high school students out there, this program could become the first step towards realizing their dreams.

Program overview

Cost Full scholarship (participation fees and travel expenses)
Number of candidates 100 each year
Location University of California, Berkeley
Duration 3 weeks during summer (mid-July–early-August)
Program details
  1. Leadership skills and local community support study program
    • Open discussion including question and answer sessions
    • Discussion with other participants and presentation of individual and group ideas
    • Talks with local young entrepreneurs and Japanese active in their communities
  2. American cultural experience program
    • Homestay
    • Exchanges with American high school and college students
    • Activities for experiencing American culture

Post Program Initiatives

Planning Tours to Revive Tourism

Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture

Planning Tours to Revive Tourism

With a desire to restore flagging tourism in their local area, Haruna Shiraiwa and six local high school students planned the TOMOTRA bus tour with the help of H.I.S., a major Japanese travel agency. Tour participants are given the opportunity to experience local industries firsthand, including making bamboo chikuwa (fish sausages) and taking hula dance lessons, as well as meeting people who are making an impact in the community. The tour has been held 10 times so far, and a total of approximately 320 people have participated.

Not “Temporary Housing” but “Home”

Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture

Not “Temporary Housing” but “Home”

“Where we live is not temporary housing; please call it our home.” Out of this desire, the walls of a temporary housing complex in Kamaishi were decorated in colorful magnetic sheets with hand-drawn artwork. The project was conducted with the cooperation of Sanriku Hitotsunagi Nature School, which is active in Kamaishi. People from all over the country participated in the project alongside temporary housing residents and local high school students, and a total of 6,000 magnetic sheets were installed to decorate the walls of the houses.

Conveying the Safety and Great Taste of Agricultural Products

Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture

Conveying the Safety and Great Taste of Agricultural Products

Out of a desire to “help farmers and let people know the truth,” Kenya Okada, together with local friends, started a hands-on agricultural tour called TOMODACHI Farm, focusing on the plight of Fukushima vegetables, whose reputation has been damaged by the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. Participants learn from local farmers about agricultural production while also participating in experiential events like vegetable harvesting and workshops. The program started in August 2014 and so far around 150 people have participated.

Conveying the Appeal of the Soso Region

Soso region, Fukushima Prefecture

Conveying the Appeal of the Soso Region

Kazusa Monma, Hiroaki Akutsu, Naho Shigihara, and Hana Fukaya started an Internet shopping service called Somauma Teikibin to publicize the activities of people working for the region's reconstruction and to create links between the region and people outside it. For an annual fee of 20,000 yen, local products recommended by high school students are delivered four times a year along with a message from the producers, local information, and a letter of appreciation from the students. This program began in October 2014 and currently has approximately 100 customers.

An app to promote Miyagi

Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture

An app to promote Miyagi

High school students from Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture designed a sightseeing app to encourage people to visit the towns of Miyagi and discover their charms. Called GoTo, the app enables users to collect unique mascots designed by the students for each of the prefecture's 35 municipalities.

Ishinomaki City-based charity ITNAV Ishinomaki programmed the app, which was released for smartphones in July 2016.

Uniting Prefectural High School Students

Throughout Iwate Prefecture

Uniting Prefectural High School Students

In order to eliminate an information gap perceived to exist between the inland and coastal regions of Iwate Prefecture since the earthquake, high school students inside and outside the prefecture have created a newspaper for public high schools in the prefecture and distributed it through a project called TOMOrrow Project. The goal is to eliminate the awareness gap among young people. The thoughts and feelings of high school students in various parts of the prefecture are featured in the newspaper, along with activities initiated to further improve the community. The project is succeeding in deepening interaction between high school students.