Japan disaster personalized

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March 22, 2011

1:56 AM

Although the epicenter of the March 11 earthquake was miles from Williamsburg, the tragedy was brought a little closer to home when students from Sendai, Japan, visited the College of William and Mary Saturday.

The Japanese Language House and the Japanese Cultural Association facilitated the discussion, which emphasized the culture of Sendai, thus providing a cultural context in which to understand the devastating impact of the Japanese earthquake.

“A characteristic of the people is that they have the ability to persevere,” Japanese student Izumi said. “Tohoku is a cold region that gets a lot of snow. Because of the cold winters, it is very important to work together and collaborate. A strong bonding is characteristic of the region.”

The discussion went beyond the destruction to emphasize the uniqueness of the Tohoku region and the character of its people. The area is known for its distinct dialect and strong traditions. Students also discussed the commonalities that tie the cultures of Japan and America, including the cherry blossom festivals of both nations.

A student noted that a large body of the population in Sendai is elderly, which made the effects of the earthquake even more disastrous.

“Earthquakes have happened in the past, so it was expected to happen,” Japanese student Yoshiaka said. “From about ten years ago people were told by parents that a big one will come soon.”

The tsunamis was not a surprise to the Sendai population either.

“Tsunamis were also not new to the region. People in some regions built tsunami walls. This tsunami surpassed the protections, though,” Yoshiaka said.

Izumi noted that two of the most pressing problems in the aftermath of the earthquake are a lack of food and of gasoline.

Pete Dorrell, the father of a current undergraduate at the College who has also worked with the visiting Sendai students and done outreach work in Japan for the past 15 years, hopes to bring students to Japan to help with relief efforts. Dorrell mentioned falling in love with the culture and people, which he says inspired him to invest so much time in Japan.

“The elderly are respected,” Dorrell said. “You don’t have to be fascinating. You don’t have to be interesting. They just love you.”

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