When I was a JET, I worked at Himeji Nishi Senior High School and enjoyed my time there immensely. I would love to return to Japan, if only for a visit.
Since a transcontinental, transpacific trip is a bit too much of a stretch for my wallet right now, I, like many of you, have an application essay ready for the day that JNTO begins their campaign for the 10,000 free flights to Japan (should the Diet rethink approving this plan for next spring, of course).
On March 11, 2011, I was asleep when the massive earthquake struck northeastern Japan (after all, it was about 1 a.m. in Atlanta). When I awoke, there was an e-mail news alert on my phone. I spent a chunk of time that morning trying to call friends in the Himeji area, but everyone was fine as they live about an hour west of Osaka. Plenty of room between them and disaster.
The rest of the day—the rest of the weekend, really—I spent occasionally checking in on the progression of events in Japan through news sources online. I reached out to the JETAASE and the Japan-America Society of Georgia with fundraising ideas. But neither group had decided upon a plan of action.
Impatient, I called my friend, Mellissa Takeuchi, fellow Hyogo-ken JET alum, to brainstorm. We thought of ideas for fundraising, but the one immediate and tangible takeaway from the conversation was that we should establish a Facebook page to catalogue the ongoing narrative of the Tohoku Earthquake, the tsunami disaster and the ensuing recovery effort.
Once we started the page I spent a considerable amount of time researching stories and curating the contents of the page. Through Facebook I sought out JET alumni groups from around and invited as many contacts as I could to this site. At its height the page had a following of almost 300 people. Soon I received a request to establish a Twitter feed in order to share information through this platform as well. In response to this I created a Facebook fan page and incorporated a Twitter feed.
Twitter has actually proven to be a wellspring of news and insight into the Tohoku recovery. I’ve tried my best to share the best of what I’ve found on the Japan Earthquake Disaster Relief Idea Exchange page. It has been exciting to see that others find the content to be of value since @ganbare_tohoku_ makes a regular appearance in The #JETAA Journal, an online publication curated by JETAA International and powered by Twitter.
In July the Consulate General of Japan invited Mellissa and I to present at JapanFest, the largest Japanese festival in the Southeast and one of the largest in the U.S. In its 25th year Japanfest is still growing in popularity and at final count 19,000 visitors came to the Gwinnett Center in Duluth the third weekend of September. JapanFest 2011 took on special significance as 100 percent of revenue from ticket package sales was donated to the Tohoku recovery effort.
The theme of JapanFest 2011 was Wasshoi Nippon (Rise Up Japan!). To reflect this, organizers scheduled presenters to address various aspects of the earthquake in Japan. Mellissa and I presented information on media, international participation in the recovery effort, and the best ways for individuals can help Japan. In addition, visitors could learn about JET alum Kristopher Willis‘ experience as a volunteer in Tohoku. Georgia Institute of Technology professor Dr. Hermann M. Fritz offered visitors a chance to gain a more in-depth understanding of the March 11th earthquake and its effect on the Earth and Japanese infrastructure.
Mellissa and I had rather small audiences both days, but they were very attentive and interested in learning more about how to help with the recovery effort. Following the advice offered during University of Tokyo Professor Motoshige Itoh’s presentations in the Atlanta area regarding the Japanese economy a few weeks prior, we both agreed not to promote fundraising for specific groups. According to governmental sources, this is not the most pressing need. Instead, the most help comes from promoting tourism and the purchase of Japanese goods. So that’s what we did—suggest visitors purchase Japanese saké from the onsite vendors, purchase Japanese vehicles, visit Japan or, if that’s not an option, donate occasional Facebook or Twitter posts to promote tourism and/or Japanese products.
In the weeks since JapanFest there has been plenty of news and insight regarding the ongoing recovery in Japan. Through organic discussions via Facebook and Twitter as well as the stories published in the mainstream media, it has been amazing to see, in real time, how interconnected we all are. Remaining mindful of the complex economic and environmental systems that bind humans together, those of us who are working to help our friends in Japan recover have a vested interest in continuing to help. We must continue to raise awareness of what is left to be done. If this seems overwhelming, it always helps me to think of a great quote from Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”