Saturday, March 12, 2011


When 9-11 happened, I was visiting my family in Tokyo. My husband and I had just returned from having dinner with a friend, and my father who opened the front door said, "Big news! A commercial airliner just hit World Trade Center." And for the next several days my husband and I watched the accounts of horrifying events on TV, across the ocean from where it happened and it felt odd. I wanted to be in the States to share the grief and the sorrow. To us, it wasn't a matter of something happening to a foreign country--obviously because I am married to an American and this was the country that I have lived in for so long. And though people in Japan were shocked and devastated, the feelings were still removed and we felt lost. Less than a week later, we got on a plane (which was an eerie experience on its own) and came back. I felt better to be back and get the news first hand, and without any foreign opinion.

I feel a similar sense of helplessness and grief as I watch the news of the devastating earthquake that hit in Sendai just few days ago. My family, who is in Tokyo were somewhat inconvenienced but unharmed. And while I feel grateful, I can't celebrate. As the story came streaming in, my shock started to wear off and I got overwhelmed with indescribable sadness and I can't seem to stop weeping from the sight of it. Images that are coming through resemble Tokyo or Hiroshima after the bombing.The Prime Minister has announced that this is the biggest devastation the country has suffered since WWII. The entire town of 8,000 people have gone missing along with their land and homes. I heard a story of a man who was holding hands with his wife and kid heading to a hill and lost them to the waves. 300 bodies washing up and officials can't get to them. My home country is broken and all I can do is weep about it and hug my husband and daughter.

The night that the quake happened, I called my mother and got news that everyone in my family was safe. I posted it on Facebook and by the end of the next day, I had about 50 people comment. It was touching to know that people were thinking of me. Then it occurred to me that I must be the only Japanese person many of these friends know. I think you care differently when you have even a remote connection. I was on the phone with my brother and he said that 50 countries have offered their help and the US Navy and South Korean army have already positioned themselves to aid. The catastrophe that doesn't seem to have an end in sight at the moment makes everything seems hopeless, but I know in my heart that Japan will recover. This country has survived a war. My father saw Tokyo burn to the ground and lived through its recovery--you'd never know it now. Maybe the politicians who have shown no leadership and are constantly divided over things that seemed trivial will step up and lead. Japanese people are good people who can work through and endure hardship. We have quiet strength and stoicism. I have to hope and pray that people who lost everything will find peace.

And once again, I am across the ocean from all of it and wonder if it's a blessing or a curse to be bi-cultural.

image from