In October 2012, members of the JMSA Japan Relief Program traveled to Northeast Japan for a community outreach mission. Our group led eight members of the 9.11 Tribute Center and 9.11 Family Association, two members of the Englewood Rotary, and the Director of Mount Sinai Global Mental Health, Dr. Craig Katz and his 10 year old daughter, Maya.
After 6 months of careful planning, our group created an itinerary with 14 major events in 10 days which required bullet train like speed and precision. This ambitious undertaking was made possible by the efforts of many local and international supporters, including the Japanese Medical Society of America, Rotary International, the Japan Society and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, with particularly invaluable contributions by Robert Yanagisawa, Ikuyo Yanagisawa, Betty Borden, and Consul Miyashita. The trip was funded by the United States-Japan Foundation and transportation was generously provided by American Airlines. The Englewood Rotary Club, an indispensable supporter of the JMSA Japan Relief Program since March 2011, was also key to the success of our October mission.
During the mission, our group visited disaster survivors at local clinics, schools, and temporary shelters. We also attended academic meetings of disaster health providers, met with local Rotary groups and national officials involved in rebuilding efforts, and unveiled a memorial in the City of Koriyama. To find out more about what we accomplished on our outreach mission, please click "Continue Reading" below. To see a video of scenes from the mission, please click here.
International Rotary Club Collaboration
The October outreach mission was made possible by the outstanding efforts of rotary club members from both Japan and the US. Rotarians from Koriyama West and Fukushima (Past President Takahashi and President Ito) worked together with rotarians from Englewood, NJ (Former President Eddie Hadden and Incoming President Ikuyo Yanagisawa) to arrange 9.11 Family visits to local schools, temporary housing shelters, and a meeting with the Koriyama City Mayor.
Rotarians from Sendai, Ishinomaki and Englewood, NJ collaborated to support Ishinomaki Karakoro Station (Mind – Body Health Clinic). Mr. Shunya Tokiwa, District Representative of the Sendai Rotary Club, arranged 9.11 Family visits to Rikuzen Takata, Kesennuma, Ishinomaki, and Sendai.
Lee Ielpi, the President of 9.11 Family Association, spoke at the Sendai Rotary meeting about how 9.11 families have worked together over the last decade to recover from 9.11.
Connecting with 3.11 Survivors
With the support of Rotary International, we visited 3.11 survivors at local schools and temporary housing facilities, extended our support, and heard their stories of recovery.
At the Fukushima School of Special Needs, our members delivered disaster helmets to children, who welcomed us with wonderful greetings.
As Maya brought special gifts from her 5th grade class, our trip became an exchange program between Fukushima and NYC schools. (Left: Maya with a student from Kaoru Elementary School. Right: Maya and Brenda with the students.)
Despite the decontamination process, fears of low dose radiation and aftershocks are still major concerns in Fukushima Schools.
In Rikuzen Takata, Iwate, our group met with 3.11 survivors who shared their personal stories of what they faced last March. Rikuzen Takata used to be known for beautiful beaches with pine forests, but after 3.11, only a single pine tree remained standing and it became a symbol of resilience. After 9.11, a few dogwood trees in NYC survived and they too offered a similar message of hope and resilience. Despite the differences between 9.11 and 3.11, survivors of both events share a similar healing process and gain strength by continuing to share their stories.
In Ishinomaki, Miyagi, a mother who lost her only daughter told us that she worries that her daughter’s existence will soon be forgotten. She hopes that her daughter will continue to live inside her mind if she continues to live out her daughter’s dreams. Members of the 9.11 Family Association have lots of feelings in common to share with her.
In Shinchi Machi, Fukushima, evacuees from the nuclear power plant sites spoke of the complete uncertainty of their situation. They still do not have any plans for recovery and shared their frustration with the 9.11 Family Members.
Soaring Crane Memorial
The 9.11 Family Association brought a gift to the City of Koriyama of an origami crane fabricated out of steel recovered from the World Trade Center. According to Kyodo News, "this is the first monument of significance from the international community to Japan's disaster-stricken northeast region." During the outreach mission, the Soaring Crane was installed on a beautiful 5’7” granite base built by the Rotary Club and City of Koriyama in Kaiseizan Park.
The Soaring Crane memorial was inspired by the story of Sadako Sasaki, who died at age 12 from radiation exposure after the bombing of Hiroshima. Sadako became a symbol of the wish for peace, and one of her tiny origami cranes is on display in the 9.11 Tribute Center. The 9.11 Families wished to return this gesture of friendship and peace, and dedicated the Soaring Crane memorial to Koriyama City on the 58th anniversary of Sadako’s death. Eriko Honda, an artist/illustrator studying in New York, also wrote a story book about Sadako returning to Tohoku with her friends from NYC.
On December 23rd, the Soaring Crane Memorial was unveiled in Kaiseizan Park, Koriyama City, Fukushima. A traditional Japanese ground breaking ceremony was held by Shinto priest Miyamoto of Kaiseizan Daizingu Shrine. Mr. Kinichi Takahashi moderated the unveiling event, Koriyama West President Ito spoke about how this Crane came to Koriyama as a symbol for recovery, and Mayor Hara presented letters of commendation to 9.11 Family Association, Rotary, and JMSA. Past Governor Eisaku Sato, Mr. Tokiwa from Sendai, and many Rotary supporters presided.
The plaque at the Soaring Crane Memorial reads, “The September 11th Families’ Association and 9/11 Tribute Center extend compassion to the people who lived through the tragic earthquake of March 11, 2011. We wish you strength and courage as you move forward to rebuild your lives and communities.”
The people of Tohoku fear that they are starting to be forgotten even among people in Japan. Our project was covered by several local and national media organizations, and helped to bring national attention back to the current situation in Tohoku. We have also received word from the Koriyama Parks Department that local residents are stopping by the memorial and are touched by this gesture of friendship.
Impressions from the 9.11 Families
"I am very proud and I consider it an honor to be associated with this Memorial, and I look forward to visiting Koriyama City in the future and seeing the Crane atop the granite base and reaching toward the sky in Kaiseizan Park. I remember how important it was to me to have a 911 Memorial – a place of remembrance where I could go to honor and to celebrate the lives of those who died on 9/11. It is my hope that the Crane will provide the same comfort to the people of Japan, as well as emphasize the very special bond that we share.
"I think about our partners in Koriyama often and pray they are all doing well. I think about the school children every day, and about the elderly that we met in Soma. My heart is with them, along with my thoughts and prayers. I wear my "Future from Fukushima" pin on all of my tours, and I talk about our Japan experience. We are all connected.
"We are so lucky and fortunate to have had this experience."
"It was truly an inspirational and life changing experience. The trip to Japan was more than words could ever describe, and I am still processing all that we experienced as well as the enormity of what the Japanese people experienced on and after 3/11/11. The trip also made me take pause and reflect upon myself, not only as leader and mentor with a goal of helping others overcome personal loss and tragedy, but as an educator that inspires others to make a difference. I have learned that I have a passion and calling for humanitarian and philanthropic work, and I now know where I truly want to invest my energy going forward. You have helped me gain this clarity by the opportunity you gave me to visit Japan and to outreach with many Japanese people."