Disaster in Japan

Cherry Blossoms Illustration
Cherry Blossom illustration, by Joyce Gabriel

It was a disaster half a world away, an earthquake that hit with a cruel force of 9.0 that shook a whole country, unleashing a massive tsunami on the northern coast of Japan. The number of people killed or missing is pegged at more than 24,000­—larger than Pacific University’s hometown of Forest Grove.

And even though this event occurred at such a great distance, it had an immediate effect on the foreign student population at Pacific, as well as faculty and staff who work with international students.

When word reached them early on the morning of March 11, staff at the University’s Office of International Programs immediately began tracking students. Annie Wilson, administrative assistant, began emailing offices connected with the graduate and professional programs to see if they had students who might be affected, while International Student Advisor Megan Serenco and English Language Institute Program Coordinator Scot Dobberfuhl began contacting Japanese students attending Pacific’s different campuses
and programs.

Only one student at Pacific, out of the 11 from Japan, actually had family impacted by the disaster, noted Monique Grindell, academic coordinator for the English Language Institute. That student “was quite worried at first since communication was difficult,” Grindell said. “She spent time in my office sharing her fears, and
we made sure she had access to anything the University could offer such as phones and counseling.”

As it turns out, this student’s mother was safe and the student went back to Japan over the summer to help her mom put her damaged apartment back together.

Leilani Powers ’13, a Japanese-American student at Pacific, couldn’t reach her mother in Tokyo for hours after the quake, but she, too, finally reached her mom and found her safe. KATU covered her story. More online | http://bit.ly/nLeicQ

One of the positive effects of the disaster was to bring Pacific’s international students from many different countries together to find ways to help the Japanese.

“It was interesting to see all the students come together,” said Serenco. She noted that many international students from a variety of countries worked to raise funds for disaster relief, as did a network of people who had connections with Japan.

Student efforts were instrumental in putting together a delegation of students, faculty and staff to attend an auction and dinner fundraiser organized by the Japan-America Society in Oregon. Proceeds went to MercyCorps’ Oregon Japan Relief Fund.

The College of Arts & Sciences Student Senate and the University administration contributed $1,500 to sponsor an attendance table.

In addition, there were donations by ARAMARK/Boxer Dining, the Office of Student Life and individual gifts from students and faculty. Funds also came from the Japan Club and the International Club at Pacific University.

Norihiro Mizukami ’07

Since graduation from Pacific, I have been working in the Japanese television industry, mainly on documentary programs. After living most of my life in Japan, I thought I knew what an earthquake was. Now I have to admit I was simply wrong. The earthquake on March 11 changed my and other Japanese people’s understanding of them.

"After living most of my life in Japan, I though I knew what an earthquake was. Now I have to admit I was simply wrong."

On that day, I was enjoying an afternoon coffee break by a ceiling-high window on the first floor of my company. When I first felt a small shake, I thought it was because the building stood by the Tokyo Highway. But the shake got bigger and bigger. I still didn’t know what was really happening even by the time I got out of the building.

Outside, a panicked crowd was trying to figure out what was going on. We experience countless earthquakes in our daily lives in Japan. I also experienced the Hanshin earthquake, but that earthquake was totally different.

The waving ground on March 11 reminded me of the rough stormy ocean, and an upward tremor from the ground made me think of violent movie creatures jumping around. The 17-story building from which I just escaped swung its head, and two 15-meter construction cranes on the top of the next building were about to cast away their operators. It was a horrible sight.

What shocked me more, though, were the live recorded pictures of the Tohoku area shown hourly on TV. The fast moving wave swallowed the entire city, and it easily caught cars and people running away. They disappeared under the muddy water. The image was so strongly burned into my memory that it will not fade away.

Right after the earthquake, I had some inconveniences in Tokyo, such as power shortages and suspension of train services. However, that tragic scene of the tsunami always reminds me I’m lucky to be alive. 

Angelica Rockquemore ’10

The earthquake and tsunami disasters were truly humbling experiences. It seems like just yesterday I was sitting at my desk on another lovely spring afternoon with my window open to the vibrant blue sky. Suddenly, the walls of my apartment and lamp above my head began to sway like pendulums. Those brief moments of movement seemed to last forever and I did not realize the impact of them until I turned on the television and saw I was in the midst of an unbelievable moment in history. Although I was fortunate to not have been in an immediate disaster zone, the weeks following the March 11th events were experiences I will never forget and always hold in my heart.

"The earthquake and tsunami events, like the sakura [cherry blossoms], lasted seconds, but their imprint will continue to last for a lifetime."

To have been present and witness the unfolding tragedies was most certainly bittersweet. The incredible loss of life was, and continues to be, something that weighs heavily on my heart, but the beauty through it all is the utmost strength and perseverance that Japanese people exemplified following the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power plant disasters. Although my research was forced to come to a screeching halt as I followed the earthquake, no one could anticipate or predict what would happen next. Through all of the events and global media coverage, what impacted and affected me the most I like to compare to sakura (Japanese cherry blossoms).

In Japan, sakura represent the simultaneous beauty and fragility of life. During peak blooming season, the country makes great efforts to observe these precious blossoms glimmering in the sunlight and then, ever so quickly after, be taken by the wind, drifting and falling to the ground. It is this ephemeral moment of watching the sakura fall from the trees in bloom that lasts mere seconds; but to truly understand and experience it creates a valuable impact that lasts a lifetime. The earthquake and tsunami events, like the sakura, lasted seconds, but their imprint will continue to last for a lifetime. The people of Japan, through their admirable resilience and determination to repair and rebuild, have inspired me to likewise see the beauty in these disastrous moments and experiences; to have witnessed and experienced it all first-hand and to share with others the strength and perseverance of the people of Japan is a unique form of beauty that can leave an imprint that is not ephemeral, but lasts forever.


This story first appeared in the Fall 2011 issue of Pacific magazine. For more stories, visit pacificu.edu/magazine.

Sep. 30, 2011