University News

Students commemorate Japanese earthquake

Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 13, 2012

To mark the one-year anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan March 11, the Japanese Cultural Association invited students to place a crane on the Main Green Sunday to show solidarity with victims of the tragedy. The installation kicked off the Japan Earthquake Commemoration Series, a month of events that will commemorate the disaster, which had a profound impact on students with family in Japan and several undergraduates who were studying abroad in Japan at the time.

“I had friends (in Tokyo) that I haven’t heard from since, and it still affects me until this day,” said Tyler Mantaring ’12, a member of the JCA whose study abroad program in Kyoto, Japan was cut short because of the natural disaster last spring. The aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami is “still affecting friends and family. I know people here who were severely affected by it,” he said.

Mantaring was one of three students studying abroad in Kyoto about 450 miles away from the quake’s epicenter. Though Kyoto residents did not feel the direct effects of the earthquake, the program board decided to cancel classes and ultimately evacuated the students from Japan. The students were required to move out of their host families’ homes and return to the United States immediately following the decision.

“It made sense that they made all the students go back,” said Helen Diagama ’12, though “at the time, I was really disappointed.” The Brown students in the Columbia University-facilitated program went directly home upon returning to the U.S., where they finished the remainder of their classes online, communicating with professors via Skype and submitting final assignments by email. 

Though the damage was devastating in the designated danger zones, Mantaring and Diagama said they never felt unsafe while in Japan. 

“Life in Kyoto remained exactly the same,” Mantaring said. 

At the time of the earthquake, 18 undergrads also reported Japan as their current residence, according to a 2011 press release. Much of the debris from the earthquake has been removed and the country is “moving in a positive direction,” said JCA Co-President Ashley Adams ’12, whose hometown is Tokyo, according to the JCA website. Notwithstanding the progress that has already been made, Adams said her grandmother, who volunteers in affected areas, tells her there are still “a lot of people who have despair, and hope is not an easy thing to come by.” 

With the help of the Brown University Committee on Japan Earthquake Relief created in the aftermath of the quake, the JCA raised $12,000, which it donated to the Japanese Red Cross and Architecture for Humanity, according to the organization’s website. 

Adams said the group did not hold many events last year due to the disaster’s sudden impact. Since then, she said the community of the JCA has “really bonded and come together” to achieve a common goal. 

The series aims to raise awareness and remembrance of the ongoing situation in Japan, Adams said. 

To continue to promote hope and support for efforts to rebuild Japan’s affected areas, the JCA is holding a main fundraising event that involves selling tee shirts  designed and created by Brown students. The project is part of a collaboration with 11 other universities from the U.S., Canada and Japan, and the money raised will be donated to Power of Japan and JEN, two non-governmental organizations that give aid to children orphaned during the natural disaster, according to the JCA’s website. The shirt design was chosen through a worldwide online poll of American and Japanese students.

Other events in the series include a talk by several Japanese high school students who were orphaned during the tsunami and a lecture series, “Rethink, Rebuild, Remember,” which features three experts who will discuss existing misconceptions about the earthquake. The speakers will tour five other colleges and universities in addition to Brown. 

There are “a lot of intercollegiate things happening, and I think that’s what makes it really special,” Adams said. “We’re here for this one cause.”

“Seeing Japan pull together at a time of crisis just makes me love Japan more,” said Mantaring, who returned to Japan last summer. Mantaring received a grant to conduct independent research in Kyoto, which was outside the danger zone for nuclear radiation, a concern after the tsunami damaged two nuclear power reactors. In addition to doing research, Mantaring participated in a week-long summer camp and spent time visiting friends and family across the country. 

“Kyoto and that area became like a second home to me,” he said. 

In hindsight, he said it was probably best that he and the other students came back early from studying abroad. But “my definite plan is to return to Japan,” he added.

“If there’s one thing I learned from my time there,” Mantaring said, “it is that the spirit of Japan is something that just can’t be broken.”

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