Alma Alum: Japanese People 'Surviving With Dignity'
Martin Stack, a 1989 graduate of Alma College, lives in Japan, where he works at the Daimatsu English Centre, an English conversation school in Higashiomi, Shiga Prefecture. He responded (March 15, 2011) via e-mail to the following questions about the devastating earthquake and tsunami that occurred in Japan last week.
How has the disaster affected you and your family?
"My wife, Maki, daughter, Marina (14) and son, Kai (8) live in Otsu, Shiga. Otsu is Lansing's sister city, and the Shiga-Michigan sister-state relationship is the oldest and most robust sister-state relationship between the United States and Japan.
"We have not been directly affected by the earthquake, tsunami or nuclear power plant issues. We do not have relatives or close friends in the area. I have said to family members that this feels a little like after 9/11 — I was working at Alma College at that time. The world directly around us in Alma was not directly affected — things were normal, but somehow everything was different.
"I do have personal connections to one family who has had to evacuate the area around the Fukushima plant. As of the last contact I had on Sunday, they were evacuated and safe. I also have a former MSU student, Joe, who lives in Kesennuma City in Miyagi Prefecture — a city wiped out by the tsunami. Joe is an assistant English teacher on the JET Program. I was actively assisting his parents in trying to get information regarding his and his fiancée's condition and safety. We just found out this morning after receiving a direct e-mail from Joe that he, his fiancée and her family are safe."
Describe the damage in Japan.
"The main damage was up the Pacific coast in eastern Japan. It is extensive — from Tokyo (relatively minor damage) to Kesennuma and Minami Sanrikucho in Miyagi to Aomori in the far northeast. Sendai is one of the biggest cities that was hit by the tsunami and suffered significant damage. The news is reporting about 450,000 people are displaced, thousands confirmed dead, and many more thousands missing."
How many miles are you from the epicenter?
"We are a little over 600 miles from Minami Sanrikucho on the coast. As the epicenter was, I think, another 120 miles or so off the coast, I would say we are 700 to 800 miles from the epicenter. We are about the distance from Alma to Nashville, Tenn. from Kesennuma and Minami Sanrikucho."
How far are you from any nuclear power plants?
"We are far away [from the Fukushima nuclear plant]. The nearest nuclear power plant is the Monju Nuclear Power Plant in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, on the Sea of Japan coast. We are about 125 miles from the plant. In 1995, there was a serious accident in a secondary cooling system that shut down the plant, which just started tests that marked its restart last May. It will not fully be active and added to the power grid until 2013."
What are the disaster and medical response resources?
"Japan does have good medical capacity, but this is an extreme challenge for all aspects of the entire country. So far, there has not been a large call for additional medical support beyond what the international community, and especially the U.S. military, is already providing. I am sure supplies are the thing most needed.
"Remember, there is a huge U.S. military presence in Japan. The Ronald Reagan Carrier Group (which I believe includes a hospital ship) that was on its way to Korea was redirected and is already off the coast serving as a launch pad for relief operations. We saw U.S. military helicopters rescuing people off rooftops yesterday. There is a U.S. Air Base in Aomori just to the north that is being used as a staging ground for international relief efforts."
How much is Japan accepting international support as far as donations, search and rescue, disaster relief and medical resources?
"Over 50 countries have sent search and rescue and relief teams. As far as I know, Japan is not refusing any official relief. Again, this is in addition to the significant U.S. military presence whose mission is being redirected toward relief and is committed to assisting. These teams are bringing in medical supplies and resources. Additionally, nuclear power experts from the U.N., the U.S. and, I believe, France are on the ground here to assist with the issues around the nuclear power plants in Fukushima.
"Also, it should be noted that civilian volunteers are not being encouraged to enter the area from other regions in Japan. Emergency workers (fire, police, medical), international rescue teams, the Japanese Self Defense Forces, and the U.S. Military are the only ones going. The area is just too damaged to have non-official personnel there."
Are there particular international relief organizations that are well accepted and functional in Japan that we could contribute to?
"There are full-scale fund raising efforts going on in Japan, and most of the money is going to the Japanese Red Cross. I would say that the International Red Cross is the way to go. They are moving quickly into the area with mobile hospitals and medical personnel."
What are your thoughts and feelings as you observe the results of the earthquake and the responses of the Japanese people?
"Japan has, throughout its long history, suffered the ravages of natural disasters and war — having geographic areas reduced to ash and rubble with huge loss of life. Yet every time, through their inner strength, determination, perseverance, cooperative spirit and personal grace, the Japanese people rebuilt and have emerged more prosperous and more internationally integrated than before. In the recent history of World War II, the Great Chilean Tsunami of 1960, and most recently the Great Hashin-Awaji Earthquake, they have done this with the help of the world — and particularly the United States.
"We are seeing the people in the most affected areas not just surviving, but surviving with dignity — there has been virtually no looting or crime in these areas. People are literally without anything but the clothes on their back, yet they wait patiently in line for a rice ball or a bottle of water.
"Today on TV I saw an elderly woman at an evacuation shelter in one of the hardest hit areas hesitating to take a whole package of six small fish cakes because she was not sure if there was enough to go around. As she took that package after being encouraged by the aid worker, she said she would be happy to split it three ways if needed.
"The emergency workers are focused entirely on rescue and recovery, not security. This is truly amazing and a testament to the strength, selfless pride, and sense of community of the people here."
Posted: Tue, March 15th, 2011 at 12:16AM