Tohoku Theater Project

This program has ended and is no longer active.

About The Program

On March 11, 2011, Japan experienced the most devastating earthquake and tsunami in over 100 years. Communities in the Tohoku Region have made enormous progress in recovery and rebuilding. However, many communities from Tohoku, and other impacted regions in Japan, were under tremendous stress as a result of loss of family and sense of community, loss of community infrastructure, and of livelihood. As the burden of recovery wore on, the psychological cost became more apparent.



As the time since the disaster increased, the needs of the impacted communities in Japan were shifting, and mental health concerns presented a serious priority that required attention. Attending to emotional health and well-being was complicated by the fact that communities were displaced, services were disrupted, and many individuals found it difficult to seek help because of stigma and concerns about placing more burden on an already-taxed system.

Project Overview

Visual and performance arts have a long tradition of being used to engage communities, capture important social issues, and promote wellbeing. In consideration of the profound impact that the 2011 disaster had across all aspects of human experience, this project aimed to use theater to create safe environments for open dialogue about the difficult issues facing communities from Tohoku. We developed and delivered the program in partnership with local organizations and theater groups to tailor the intervention to the particular needs of the participating community groups. In all cases the program was designed to support communities, promote resilience and coping, and address psychological needs of members from the community. The theater program is based on a unique and participatory methodology developed by Outside the Wire, a social impact company that uses theater and a variety of other media to address pressing public health and social issues. The Tohoku Theater Project represented the first time that this methodology was utilized in Japan.

Project Aims

This program aimed to: 1) build community capacity and resilience; 2) engender empathy and enhance understanding of mental health needs; and 3) help individuals pursue appropriate community services as needed. After each performance, audience members were connected to appropriate information and resources, empowering them to take action steps based on their new understanding of the core issues explored by each play. An impact assessment of the program was conducted.


A total of 143 participants engaged in guided discussions after the performances. Positive feedback was received from participants about the cultural-relevancy of the performances, and participants also reported gaining a greater understanding of their own emotional experiences, increased empathy for others, greater desire to support others, and greater understanding of the variation in experiences post-disaster. As participants engaged in discussing grief, misunderstanding, displacement, and post-disaster family and social relationships, some individuals also noted a shift in their perspectives on “talking out” one’s concerns as a way of healing in community. Furthermore, while acknowledging that there are limitations in coordinated mental health care in Japan and some reluctance to seek mental health care, participants were assisted in making connections to local, regional, and national mental health resources.

In 2021, the team’s research documenting the impact of The Tohoku Theater Project was published in Psychiatric Services. The full article can be found here. The Tohoku Theater Project can serve to inform future strategies and interventions that engage the arts to build community dialogue and promote psychological healing in response to global health crises.

Collaborating Team

  • Tsuyoshi Akiyama, NTT Medical Center Tokyo
  • Evelyn Bromet, Stony Book University
  • Bryan Doerries, Outside the Wire
  • Naoko Horikoshi, Fukushima Medical College
  • Phyllis Kaufman, Outside the Wire
  • Norito Kawakami, Tokyo University
  • Mami Kayama, St Luke University
  • Kathleen Pike, Columbia University
  • Tahilia Rebello, Columbia University
  • Hirooki Yabe, Fukushima Medical College
  • Lawrence Yang, Columbia University (formerly, current: New York University)
  • Seiji Yasumura, Fukushima Medical College

Contact Information

For more information on the Tohoku Theater Program, please contact Dr. Tahilia Rebello at [email protected].

This program has ended and is no longer active.