Larissa Morikawa Taps into the Power of Resiliency Studies in Japan

Larissa Morikawa’s path to Hokkaido and its post-earthquake recovery began with a Dialogue of Civilizations.


“Resilience is about how well a community can bounce back from tragedy and disaster. Can they bounce back better than before?” she said. “I was always interested in the community aspect of it, [within] socioeconomic factors.”


Morikawa, Bouvé ’20, was set on medical school when she started at Northeastern. Then, as a second-year, she went on Professor Daniel Aldrich’s DOC to Japan, Disasters and Recovery. Initially, her interest was in Japan itself and a global experience for her global health minor. It has since morphed into a new passion and a Masters in Security and Resilience Studies.


“After going on [the] DOC, I realized how much I enjoyed working with more vulnerable communities, who are marginalized and bear the brunt of disaster. I see a lot of this in Paraguay, where I’m from,” she said.


Prof. Aldrich saw how the DOC affected Morikawa, and encouraged her to pursue the PlusOne program in Security and Resilience Studies. The process of petitioning to do a PlusOne in CSSH as a Bouvé student was complicated, but Morikawa persevered.


The combination of health sciences and social sciences provided Morikawa with an interdisciplinary approach towards communities and shown her how health care, health policy, disaster recovery, and resilience are all interconnected. In addition to her time on Prof. Aldrich’s DOC, she also worked with Professor Sara Wylie and the Environmental Health Research Institute on air quality projects.


“[They] make kits that measure air quality and help farmers fight large corporations who are polluting and ruining the air – giving power back to the people who need it,” Morikawa said.


When it came time for a capstone project, however, Morikawa knew she wanted to focus on Japan. Prof. Aldrich brought her on to work on a new research project, Evacuation Behaviors for the 2018 Eastern Iburi-Hokkaido Earthquake. In order to fund her trip to Japan to collect qualitative data, Morikawa took advantage of the Honors Program’s new initiative, the Honors Propel Grant.


Morikawa, who is an Honors Living Learning Assistant and active in student Honors programming, was a natural fit for the Propel Grant, given the scope of her capstone and its research implication. “I went through the IRB process and applied for the Propel Grant and received additional funding from Honors with the help of Justin Silvestri,” she said. She is one of the first few recipients of the new program, which is designed for Honors students to engage in meaningful, creative, and impactful learning experiences of their own design, mentored and evaluated by Northeastern faculty.


In December 2019, over winter break, she traveled to Hokkaido to conduct her interviews. The experience was life-changing in many ways.


“[It was] very intimidating because I was doing all these interviews in Japanese and sometimes I’d just be going into these office [as a researcher] and cold-interviewing people. The first one I did, I was so scared – you can hear it in the recording. At the beginning I’m quiet and shaky, but by the end, I’m just talking. By the end of the trip I felt more confident in myself,” she said.


The local community was often eager to share their experiences with Morikawa.


“Sometimes I’d go to parks or while I was sitting down eating, I would ask people if they wanted to answer some questions, and they were really willing. Everyone was like “oh yeah I’ll talk to you,” she said.


Speaking to survivors in Atsuma and Tomakomai, Morikawa was reminded how important recording these stories is. In a town of only a few thousand, she said, 39 people died, which is significant. Someone told her, “’we can be really reserved about certain things, so be careful.’ I realized I needed to think about things in a different way, in approaching people in this town,” she said.  “It had only been a year, and that might seem like a long time, but grief and death are hard. I had to be careful about not forgetting what I was doing and why.”

This experience truly reinforced the human voice’s power for Morikawa.


“[Qualitative data/interviews] humanizes the data and the research. Sometimes when I take quantitative data, I feel like I’m taking data without taking people into account,” she said. “This way, I’m sharing their stories and bringing them into the broader world.”


For her capstone, Morikawa will continue working on the Hokkaido project, and may continue with it into her PlusOne program. “I’m kickstarting the project [with Prof. Aldrich] and there’s still a lot of work to do… but I’m excited to continue onward,” she said.


After she completes the Masters in Security and Resilience, Morikawa isn’t sure what’s next. She is still considering medical school, but also might take the Ph.D. route. Whatever her future holds after Northeastern, she will tackle it with the same spirit and energy through which she petitioned for her PlusOne, joined the Hokkaido project, and received the Honors Propel Grant. With help from Honors, she authored her unique Northeastern journey.