Consul General of Japan at Denver Makoto Ito and his wife Grace make a donation to continuing Tohoku relief efforts. Derek Okubo (right), the Executive Director of Denver’s Agency for Human Rights and Community Partnerships manned the donations table.
I can still remember March 11, 2011, the night of the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami, which devastated a huge swath of northeast Japan, as if it were last week.
It was just before midnight in Denver when I got an alert on my phone. An earthquake had been reported off the eastern coast of Japan. I turned on CNN and watched in horror for the next couple of hours as the footage came in. I saw the tsunami rolling over farmlands and crash into cities, carrying with it buildings and cars and ships. I saw footage of people trapped on rooftops. I saw houses being shoved aside as if they were origami boxes being blown by the wind, before they burst into flames. That was just the beginning; the seven meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant were caused by the quake, and the cleanup around that disaster is still ongoing.
The disaster remains the worst earthquake in Japan’s recorded history, and the fourth worst in the recorded history of the world’s earthquakes. The toll was awful: almost 16,000 people have been confirmed dead, and over 2,500 still missing. Almost 229,000 people have been relocated or are still living in temporary housing. Continue reading →
There are going to be lots of stories, videos and commemorations of last year’s earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan in the coming weeks. The first anniversary of the disaster is March 11. I’ve seen photos compiled by the Consulate General’s office and the recovery efforts have been remarkable, although there are still many thousands of people living like refugees and unable to go home, and the meltdown at Fukushima’s reactors has left most of Japan’s nuclear industry still fallow.
But it’s hard to imagine anything that marks the anniversary being as moving and tear-wrenchingly powerful as this “thank you” video from the people of Tohoku, the region in northeastern Japan that bore the brunt of the destruction washed inland by the temblor and terrible tsunami that followed.
I find this magically powerful. It’s a sweet rendition of one of my all-time favorite songs (and one I was just playing last night on the guitar). And it’s also an expression of hope, community and rebirth from musicians in the Tohoku region of NE Japan, set amidst the cleaned-up but still devastated area hammered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
This was taped several months ago but it took a while for the folks at World Compass to post it online. The host, Damali Ayo, fellow guest Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai and I had a live online discussion about the cultural responses to the Japanese earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters, and the conversation was edited down to eight minutes of sheer brilliance… or something like that.
I was bemused — and a little disappointed — to find that the story wasn’t about Japanese Americans. The reporter went up to some shoppers in Mitsuwa, a Japanese supermarket in New Jersey, and from their names and their quotes, I could tell immediately that the people quoted were Japanese. You know, Japanese Japanese. Immigrants from Japan. Or more precisely, shin-Issei, or “new first-generation” Japanese. Or maybe even just Japanese families of business men (or women) or diplomats assigned for a year or three in the U.S. before rotating back to Japan or to another post elsewhere in the world.
There are fewer Japanese Japanese in America than other Asian populations, because fewer Japanese are immigrating to the U.S. than in the past. As of the 2000 census, about 7,000 new Japanese immigrants came to the U.S every year. In contrast, 50,900 Chinese and 17,900 Koreans per year came to the U.S.
So it’s not surprising that a mainstream news organization would mistake Japanese immigrants for Japanese Americans. (I should note that West Coast newspapers did better, and when they interviewed Japanese Americans they were indeed JAs, and when Japanese nationals were interviewed, they were identified as such.)
But still, it struck me that many Japanese Americans are not necessarily closely connected to Japan. Continue reading →