Tohoku Earthquake – 5 years later

I had trouble writing this post.  It’s been nearly seven years since I left Miyagi-ken.  I haven’t gone back like I had planned, and now I don’t see my students coming to Southlake because they’ve grown up (also the age range changed).  As evident with the decreased frequency of updates, I’ve become distant with the country that is my second home.

Nevertheless, I can’t forget about how five years ago, I spent all night worrying about my friends when the casual status updates about an earthquake became something much scarier.  It’s hard to not think about the Tohoku earthquake when NPR was all over the 5 year anniversary and all of us Miyagi-ken JETs pay tribute on social media.  I think it’s good to be reminded though, as the people in the region are still struggling.  Thus, I’ve decided to make this post about some examples of aid and recovery.  There’s a lot of individuals out there who continue to dedicate some of their time to Tohoku through raising money or lifting spirits.  Let this be inspiration to all of us.

The one project that led to this post was the 113 Project.  It is a series of short films directed by Wesley Julian, one of my fellow Miyagi JETs who also created Tohoku Tomo.  The 113 Project provides glimpses of rebuilding from youth, local business members, and expats to show the power of collaboration.  To view the films, visit the 113 Project website.
 photo Sake-Urakasumi-TourBrewery-IMG_9130_zpsjbsip6gd.jpg From 113 Project

Visual kei band X Japan has always been active with charity work, having raised money for both the Tohoku earthquake and other disasters.  This year drummer/pianist Yoshiki put up a special drum set for auction.  He donated the proceeds to the Japanese Red Cross.
 photo Ydrum1_zpsgo1iphrf.jpg From Resonance Media

The question of where to send money often crops up with disaster relief.  While I don’t doubt the Red Cross’ valiant efforts, they have received some criticism, at least stateside.   One charity I can recommend 100% is the Taylor Anderson Memorial Fund.  Not only does each project provide updates through emails from Global Giving, but the charity is run by the father of Taylor Anderson (who was another Miyagi JET).

Lastly, I wanted to highlight RADWIMPS’ annual tribute as an example of how art heals.  Listening to music that pays tribute to the survivors never fails to bring back emotions I thought I had forgotten.  Seeing images does the same.  With the returning sadness is a message of hope that the artists put into their work.  Tohoku is recovering, and the human spirit will triumph.  Since 2012, RADWIMPS has released a new tribute song on March 11.  Here is a list along with the video of the most recent:
2012 – “Hakujitsu
2013 – “Buriki
2014 – “Kaiko
2015 – “Aitowa
2016 – “Shuntou”

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Live Your Dream: The Taylor Anderson Story

Even though I contributed to Kickstarter, I didn’t watch Live Your Dream: The Taylor Anderson Story until recently.  I wanted to make sure that I could sit down without any distractions, and I also needed to be in the right mental place.  For those of you who started following this blog after March 2011, I was a 2008 Miyagi JET along with Taylor Anderson who lost her life in the tsunami.  Even though it’s been two and half years and many of my fellow JETs who lived through the disaster have gone back home or moved to another place in Japan, the pain still lingers.


Photo from
JQ Magazine

However, watching Live Your Dream brought some closure.  I didn’t know Taylor that well, but we had a connection as Miyagi JETs and the documentary gave me a chance to learn more about her life, both before JET and while she was in Ishinomaki.  I also got to see different sides of my friends, whom I will always admire for their courage and perseverance, and my heart goes out to them for their loss.  It was heart-wrenching to have to see them and Taylor’s family revisit the sad news.

Sometimes I can be critical of JET and other exchange programs because it’s easy for people to be there for the wrong reasons or, in my case, when they’re not quite ready for the responsibilities.  However, Taylor’s story is one of how two countries can become connected through one individual.  Not only that, she is a role model for anybody who wants to pursue a dream.


a card featuring artwork by Taylor

The film also talks about Monty Dickson, another JET who also died in the tsunami.  He too showed an enthusiasm for teaching, learning, and life that we all should have.  Live Your Dream is inspiring in that way.  It celebrates life, and even though many tears were shed in watching it, I come away with restored faith in humanity and a new optimism.  Thank you to Reggie Life for making this documentary.

To see a trailer and order the film, check out www.taylorandersonstory.com .

Listening to: “Bi-Li-Li Emotion” by Superfly

Tohoku Tomo

March 11 came and went fairly quietly.  However, no matter how good of day it is or how much fun I had the weekend before, a somber mood takes over as I remember what has been lost to the earthquake and tsunami.  Japan has made remarkable progress in rebuilding, but this isn’t something the country will get over quickly.  Just from talking to survivors during the Grassroots Summit last fall, I got a sense of how much pain is lingering.  I admire their strength, and I will continue to show my support.

With that, I present the Tohoku Tomo Kickstarter.

One of my fellow Miyagi JETs, Wesley Julian, is creating a documentary that highlight the volunteer efforts that has helped the Tohoku region get back on its feet.  The organization he focuses on are all founded by JETs: Save Miyagi, Smile Kids Japan, Volunteer Akita, and JETAA Chicago.  The film will focus on all the different individual efforts and highlight the love of Japan that has driven these people to lend a helping hand.

Please check out the Kickstarter, as well as the official Tohoku Tomo website.

Tohoku Tomo photo 1461d417-c478-4c88-bf5c-6a8f96681cd0_zpsfc85f202.jpg
Listening to: “Ninja ri Bang Bang” by Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

One year later

A year ago, I was sitting at my computer like I am now.  I remember thinking that I ought to go to bed but finding an excuse to stay on facebook a little longer.  The status updates about an earthquake didn’t really phase me, as they were a norm in Miyagi.  It didn’t occur to me that this had been the “big one” we were warned about until I hopped over to Yahoo! and saw the headlines.   Thus began the most stressful week of my life, and I was safe and sound in America.

I still can’t imagine what my friends in Miyagi had to endure.  If I was being haunted by nightmares and images from the news, how could they get any sleep with no power or running water and constant aftershocks?  I truly admire their strength. My heart still aches for Taylor and her loved ones—Monty too, even though I didn’t know him. There’s a sense of camaraderie that comes with being a JET and a feeling that Japan is another home.

Japan remains in the back of my mind even when I am preoccupied with more urgent matters. Just when it seems as though I am about to forget, I get a nightmare or a nostalgic feeling that brings my thoughts back to Miyagi. I very much wish I can go over and see all the JETs who have remained there and all the Japanese friends I had made. Some day, in the near future hopefully, I will go back.

In the meantime, I keep helping out the best that I can, like through Canon’s Cranes for Japan project.
<Cranes for Japan2 Cranes for Japan3
You can see other cranes she has received in her facebook album.

Even though I can’t return to my second home, I will be seeing some of my former students and old friends later this month and in August via two different exchange programs.  Radiation concerns have put a damper on our end of the exchange program, but my hometown is still sending students.  I think it’s important to continue sending people back and forth.  It’s another way to show our support through both boosting the economy and their morale.  We must not forget about Japan or think that they don’t need help anymore.  がんばろう日本!

Listening to: “Eien ni Yume wo Kasanete” by Duel Jewel

A message from Tohoku to the world

Those of you who follow me on my social media accounts have seen my posts, but I want to share this with as many people as possible. It is a beautiful tribute to a friend who lost her life, and it shows the impact Assistant English Teachers have on their students. It also highlights the beauty of cross-cultural bonds and gives hope for world peace.

The video was made by Executive Director Tsutomu Karino of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of New York, Inc.

Tohoku has made leaps and bounds in recovering from the earthquake and tsunami, but the people still need help. Please consider purchasing a charity calendar as a holiday gift. There’s also a cookbook (Peko Peko) and a literary anthology (Fable for Japan) that will donate proceeds to relief funds. You can also spread a little holiday cheer to the kids in Tohoku by sending them Christmas cards; instructions can be found at JETAA USA.

Listening to: “Kizuna” by Kazuya Kamenashi