20 years ago I lived in Japan. I spent two years on a service mission in Tohoku. While there I found the people genuine and accepting of me – especially with my broken Japanese. In some towns I was the only “gaijin” or foreigner. Especially in these towns, the Japanese people were extremely patient with my developing language skills. One even commented how much he appreciated that I was trying to speak Japanese rather than try to force English on him. I have fond memories of my time in Japan.
So, nearly one year ago I sat glued to the TV as I watched an earthquake followed by a tsunami devastate the area I had once called home. While none of the areas I had lived in Northern Japan were affected as severely as those we saw on TV, my heart went out to the people of Japan, the area where I once called home.
Photographer Jake Price described, in a New Yorker photo essay, the devastation this way, “it took down the largest of structures, killed thousands of people, and inundated ancient fields, making them fallow for years to come.” This winter, Price lived with residents of the affected region in northeastern Japan in trailer homes provided by the government. “Living in isolation, they endure and exist,” Price said. But what the people really want is not to simply endure, but to reconnect and belong again.
Despite the tsunami’s assault, the fortitude of the people in Tohoku has proven bigger than the tsunami itself. The people of Northern Japan have responded to tragedy with resolve and compassion unmatched by many. It is a spirit of determination that many can learn from - a determination to rebuild not only their cities, but their culture and way of life.