Firsthand earthquake accounts by ALTs

I think ALTs are misunderstood sometimes. People get the impression that we’re only going to Japan to have fun, to delay future career plans, or to have a well-paying job. Our love for Japanese culture is evident, but our duties as teachers and ambassadors are often overlooked. Programs like JET and Interac are an excellent option for college grads, but I always tell interested individuals that you’re not just getting paid to travel overseas and that a love of Japan is not enough. You have to have the desire and strength to be a teacher and a leader.

The strength and passion in ALTs has really come to the foreground in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami. These individuals don’t just enjoy living in Japan; they enjoy being role models and making a difference in the world around them. My friends have gone through a lot, and their stories are a source of inspiration for people on both sides of the Pacific. Therefore, this post is dedicated to all the ALTs in Japan. Keep doing what you’re doing.

Stories of Katherine Sheu, Edward Clemons, and Daniel Villenueve – Kat was an Ishinomaki ALT, who became the same year I did. We were in the same orientation group, where Danny served as an advisor. Edward was one of the Kesenuma JETs who was missing. He and Jessica Besecker were tracked down by CNN’s Anderson Cooper. I admire their courage in their willingness to stay in Japan even when many are telling them to leave.

Jessica Besecker’s story – Jessica was one of my JET buddies. In the article, we learn what she experienced while being cut off from everyone. The ending is rather somber and serves as a reminder of how devastating the tsunami was. (I’ve also seen her facebook photos of the aftermath, and they are frightening.)

Kathryn Oi’s story – Kathryn is a first year ALT in Minami Sanriku. The town in which she lived, Utatsu, was completely destroyed by the tsunami. Her tale depicts the tenacity and charity of the Japanese, as well as an ALT’s love of her students.

Mike Luzia’s story – Mike was another Ishinomaki ALT from my year. Many of you have seen the picture of “SOS” written on a school field; that was his school. His story has a nice romantic twist in the end.

Aaron Jarrad’s story – Aaron was also in my Tokyo Orientation group. Aaron’s perspective is just one of the few in the article, which also mentions fellow Ishinomaki ALT Taylor Anderson. The article is part scientific study, part tragedy, and part story of hope and survival. You can also find his photos of the aftermath here.

Caitlin Churchill’s story – Minami Sanriku ALT Caitlin describes what it’s like to have witnessed the tsunami and lose everything.

Marti McElreath’s story – JetWit has posted an article about Shichigahama CIR (Coordinator for International Relations) Marti, who has elected to remain in Miyagi to help evacuees.

Even though Tome didn’t get hit as badly, my sempai Michael Ellis provides a very detailed two-part account of the quake. He was visiting from Tokyo, and the earthquake struck just as he was leaving town. His story highlights the cooperative relationship between ALTs and the Japanese community that they are a part of.

Inside Sendai is a project headed by five former ALTs to raise awareness of what’s going on in Miyagi and of fundraising efforts. There are a bunch of interesting posts so go take a look.

Lastly, my friend/tsunami survivor Canon Purdy has returned to the U.S. and is busy with her project, She is working on ways to make sure donations reach the places that need it most. Right now, she asks the JET community, other ALTs, and anybody else with connections to Japan to help her promote her tsunami fund and to provide links to other charities. She is also collecting photos from people who were in the areas that had been destroyed so that the victims would have something to hang onto of their old lives. Definitely check out her site.

Listening to: “Slipper Sleaze” by The Seatbelts

Leave a comment


  1. Hello! I found your blog’s link through Thank you for sharing the stories of your friends and our fellow JETs. I’ve put a link in my blog to your blog and the sites where these accounts can be read. I think it’s a good way for people to know that there are many dedicated foreign teachers out there. Thanks again for a brilliant blog.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: