another “small” story, japan

I love retelling “small” stories of people going about the task of daily living, like you and me. Found another one about a Japanese family trying to do what they would do under normal circumstances, in today’s Wall Street Journal. Seems to me that’s human resilience at its best. But, truthfully, what else can survivors do…but live. To stop is to die. And why would they choose to do that, when they’ve been spared. Instead they’ve taken the gift of life and moved on, vowing to remember those who have fallen.

Greater Tokyo Area is the world's most populou...

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A Tokyo Reunion
by Michael Judge

American Airlines flight 153 from Chicago to Tokyo was nearly full and pleasantly mundane–young mothers bounced infants in the aisles, businessmen worked in the glow of their laptops, elderly couples stretched their legs near the restrooms. In the wake of the Great Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, with the number of dead or missing surpassing more than 20,000, the ordinariness of the 13-hour flight was a comfort.

Given the fear of aftershocks and the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant some 150 miles northeast of Tokyo, my wife Masae and I had joked that we’d be the only ones on the Saturday flight. Shortly before take-off, the Associated Press ran a banner on their mobile site saying that traces of “radioactive iodine” had been detected in Tokyo’s drinking water. Spinach and milk were also “tainted.” Foreigners were already leaving in droves–a mass exodus from the world’s densest metropolis was feared.

Indeed, when we told friends and acquaintances we were planning to return to Tokyo, my wife’s hometown and the city where we met 17 years ago this spring, some treated us like characters from Albert Camus‘s “The Plague.” Didn’t we understand the risks involved? Why subject ourselves to possible contamination if it could be avoided? Many governments were sending planes to evacuate overseas nationals. Washington warned against all “nonessential” travel to Tokyo.

Nonessential–a strange word. Was it nonessential to attend a family wedding we’d been looking forward to for months? When the wedding was eventually cancelled, was it nonessential to be near loved ones at a time when so many had lost theirs? My wife and I had chosen to live in America–we hadn’t chosen to abandon our family in Japan.

Nippon Professional Baseball

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Friends in and around Tokyo assured us that life here was continuing as close to normal as possible. To save electricity, trains ran less frequently and some businesses closed earlier. There were long but orderly lines at gas stations. After much debate, opening day of Nippon Professional Baseball, the equivalent of Major League Baseball, was delayed–by four days.

Still, on the train into the city on Sunday, we were relieved to see kids playing baseball and soccer in the parks. Laundry hung from clotheslines outside apartment buildings. Restaurants and cafes were busy outside the Nippori train station. Tokyo was full of life and open for business–even as cities as far away as Los Angeles sold out of potassium-iodine pills over fears of trans-Pacific traces of radiation.

Puburiba, the public bath run by my wife’s parents, was bustling late Sunday afternoon: Elderly men and women and families of all sizes and ages sought out the communal comfort only a sento can provide. But before we could settle in, we jumped into my father-in-law’s car and drove across town to dine with our nephew Tomo and his fiancee Yurie. They’d decided to postpone their March 26 wedding plans until September, but they remained in high spirits. Over ice-cold beer and the best Korean barbeque I’ve ever had, Tomo, Yurie and a handful of relatives and friends gave thanks for our being together, no matter the occasion.

Ryounkaku before and after Great Kanto earthquake

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On Wednesday we plan to visit the grave of my wife’s maternal grandmother, Makino, in the town of Noto on the Japanese Sea. She died last year at the age of 100. She was 13 when the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 struck, leveling Tokyo and surrounding cities and killing between 100,000 and 140,000 people. My wife’s paternal grandmother, Kaneyo, and her two youngest children died after fleeing the firebombing of Tokyo. The bombing commenced on Nov. 17, 1944, and didn’t stop until Aug. 15, 1945, the day of Japan’s surrender. More than 100,000 Japanese men, women and children, nearly all civilians, died in those nine months.

But the three didn’t die in Tokyo: They died in the mountains of Yamagata Prefecture, 220 miles north of the capital. Weakened by the journey, illness and starvation, they couldn’t digest the rice they were finally given in Yamagata, and they died of “burst stomachs,” according to my father-in-law, Yasumasa. Miraculously, he was the only survivor.

Nakamise-dōri

Image by midwinterphoto via Flickr

Yesterday, while we were shopping at a crowded Ikebukuro department store, news came that gray smoke was rising from two of the damaged reactors at Fukushima Daiichi, forcing workers to pull back momentarily. Shopping continued apace. News that an 8-year-old woman from Miyagi Prefecture and her 16-year-old grandson had survived for nine days in the wreckage of their home–which had been moved one kilometer by the force of the tsunami–filled the television, and was on everyone’s lips.

Mr. Judge writes about culture and the arts for the Journal.

“small” stories…big impact…hugmamma.

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“give a damn,” architectural design

 

Architecture for Humanity - Design like you gi...

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Was puttering around when I overheard a conversation on MSNBC with a member of Architecture for Humanity.” Intrigued by the organization’s participation in helping rebuild devastated communities, I googled it. Perusing its website, I was impressed by its mission to improve the lot of those whose lives have been upended by natural disasters, including Katrina, Haiti, and now Japan. As a not-for-profit group, “Architecture for Humanity” is striving to refocus the stereotypical image of architects as being employed by only the rich and famous, to a more philanthropic one of helping those in dire need. This is a cause worthy of the donations being requested.

By showing an active interest in Architecture for Humanity, you are part of a growing grassroots humanitarian design movement helping to change the perception of the role of the designer. In most circles, architecture and design is seen as a service for the privileged. Our profession is guilty of embracing this ideal. Design should be a profession of inclusion whose talents help those who need them most. It is time for you to change the perception and design like you give a damn.

 

Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf of Mexico near i...

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I think they’re putting a call out to those in their profession, as well as to those of us who give a damn about the world in which we live, and the less fortunate who are trying to carve out a place in which to live. Forget mortgages and foreclosures, these people probably have no ground upon which to stand, let alone a temporary roof and walls within which to find shelter.

makes you think…about the bare essentials…and those who don’t have them…hugmamma.

 

 

“aloha,” the meaning

I don’t claim to speak for all Hawaiians, only myself and perhaps a handful of others I know who may share my sentiments. The uproar over a mosque being built near Ground Zero seems to be growing the ever-widening gap among people, in our country and abroad, but particularly here in America. Republicans and Democrats have always been on sparring terms, but added to the mix now are the “Tea-Party” supporters with Sarah Palin seemingly at the helm. An uneasy coexistence among us began when the streamers and champagne glasses were tossed out, after President Obama’s inaugural. Did civility and tolerance get thrown in the trash as well?

Wanting and needing to live a healthy life going forward, for my sake and that of my husband’s and daughter’s, it’s been essential that I adopt a more compassionate, positive outlook toward myself, and others. Diseases, like Alzheimer’s breed on negativity. I’m certain, as survivors of cancer would agree, that dwelling upon the bad aspects of the disease doesn’t help in the fight against and may, in fact, promote its spread. So why would we want to encourage more vitriol amongst ourselves, families, friends, neighbors,co-workers,communities and fellow-worshippers of the same Being whom we all believe as benevolent? Might we not share that same benevolence with our fellow-men and women?

Opponents of both views  in the brouhaha over mosques being built on U.S. soil seem unwilling to share the land, let alone compassion ( “a feeling of sympathy for another’s misfortune” according to Webster) towards one another. Yesterday’s Journal cited several ongoing conflicts around the country. In Temecula, California “Local officials will consider in November plans by the Islamic Center of Temecula Valley for a 25,000-square-foot mosque.” Pastor William Rench of Calvary Baptist Church, potentially neighboring the proposed mosque, is concerned about extremist sentiments expressed by one American Islamic leader.  The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, plans to build a new mosque and school. Darrel Whaley “A local pastor at Kingdom Ministries Worship Center…has spoken at county meetings against plans for the mosque and recreational facilities.” Meanwhile plans have been approved to build a mosque in Sheboygan County, Wisconsin. President of the Islamic Society of Sheboygan, Imam Mohammad Hamad says “The issue here is not the issue of a religious building, it is an issue of the Constitution.” A supporter Reverend Gregory S. Whelton, pastor at St. John’s United Church of Christ in Sheboygan felt President Obama’s controversial remarks “articulated the same issues of religious tolerance that were at stake here.”

Since Lincoln’s stand against racial prejudice, which cost too much in the loss of human lives, our country has struggled to rid itself of the taint of human degradation, slavery. But it seems to be our lot on earth never to achieve equality for we always keep our hearts and minds closed to others, who are unlike ourselves. Perhaps we fear they will take what we have, leaving us nothing. 

I struggle too, I’m not above the fray. But for the sake of our children and their children, it’s my sincerest hope that we continue fighting for equality of ideas, beliefs, cultures. Politics, it seems, carries the day suffocating our values, our humanity.

Tourists and others comment on the “Aloha spirit” among Hawaiians. It is spoken of as a beneficent state of mind. For the most part, it is. Native Hawaiians under the rule of King Kamehameha wanted for nothing. He owned the land, and the people were granted its use for their daily needs. I think because of this, Hawaiians are not hoarders by nature. Unfortunately this inherent openness toward sharing the wealth and beauty of the islands has enabled others to historically take whatever they wanted, leaving the natives very little to share of their inheritance.

Despite their own dilemma most Hawaiians continue to welcome visitors to their Paradise, the thought being we all need one another to survive. So they continue to share the thunderous waterfalls, the white sand beaches, the warm waters of the blue Pacific, the green canopies of local foliage, the migrating humpbacks and other wildlife that still abounds, the hula dancers telling stories with their hands, their eyes, and melodic voices rising on soft breezes evoking reminiscences of Hawaii’s past, wonderment at Hawaii’s present, and promises of Hawaii’s future.

Hawaiians are not exempt from the trials and tribulations of others, they  would just prefer that everyone get along. There’s an old saying my mom use to pass along when some wrong was righted “No mo pilikea.” We knew then there would be “no more trouble,” “no more worries.”

that’s what I wish for us all…hugmamma.