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Japanese Disaster Hits Close to Home

Salem State, Ota Club and miltary provide local connections.

The world only appears large. In truth, it is very small.

When I first heard news reports of the earthquake and tsunami that struck the northeast coast of Japan, I was initially awed by the magnitude of the disaster.  It did not take long for my thoughts to turn to my more personal connections.

From 1979 to 1981, I was stationed in Japan just outside of Tokyo in an area known as the Kanto Plain. Mt. Fuji was a daily snow-covered presence in my day as were the good folks of Fussa, the town that abuts Yokota Air Base.

One afternoon in 1981, while sitting in the barracks drinking beer with a friend, we felt some small tremors that caused the building to move. These were followed by three stronger tremors one after the other. A picture that I had on the wall fell to the floor. Marshall, my beer drinking partner, and I just sat and stared at each other. I don't believe the whole thing lasted more than 20 seconds.

After the tremor, the locals all spoke of the Great Kanto Quake of 1923. Up to 140,000 people died in the event, making it the deadliest quake to ever strike Japan. As legend had it, the prisoners in nearby Hachioji Prison sat quietly in the compound after the prison walls fell instead of escaping.

More recent Japanese acquaintances also came to mind. While working at the , I met and hired a Japanese student from  as an intern. Tsukako Inoue worked long hard hours alongside me through a four- month total renovation of the fitness center. I still can create a mental image of her, all 105 pounds, helping us wrestle huge heavy machines into their proper place.

My aunt, Nancy Nadeau, had met many of the young Japanese college students through her work with the Ota Club, which is a part of a sister city relationship between Salem and Ota, Japan. She has hosted a few events in her home and became very close to Yukimi Inomata. Yukimi spent a Christmas season under my aunt's roof.

My attempts to contact Tsukako via email and Facebook initially failed. Her hometown of Towada is located in the northeast corner of the main island of Honshu. My fears were eased a bit when I realized the epicenter was about 400 miles away, and Towada was far enough inland to be safe from the tsunami. 

When Tsukako responded to my messages four days later, I was very relieved. She had been at work when the quake struck, and had been giving tours to new hires at the company construction business where she is employed.  The Japanese Shindo Scale measured the quake in Towada at 5.0, which is around a 7.0 on the more common known Richter Scale.

After the quake, she went home to check on her mother, who has bad memories of earthquakes in 1964 and 1968. They were without power for two days and are now dealing with rolling blackouts. Food and gasoline are in still in short supply, rationing is in effect and public transportation has yet to be restored. Neighboring cities Misawa and Hachinohe suffered greatly from the tsunami.

Yukimi responded to our message just the other day, She and her family are doing fine and are more concerned with helping those in more dire circumstances than their own.

My good friend Ronnie Deschenes has a young cousin is in the Air Force in Japan. Ryan McKinley is currently stationed at my old stomping grounds, Yokota Air Base. His parents are Salem natives, and I will try to speak with him and his parents about his experiences very soon. 

The disaster in Japan is evidence of something we sometime forget – 0ur world only gets smaller as time passes.

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