Hope springs from inspiring stories in Japan

Published 12:04 pm Friday, March 18, 2011

The first message of my cousin’s condition came just four hours after the earthquake struck.

Had this happened a decade ago it might have taken much longer. With the miracle of Internet and Facebook, news of Erin’s condition popped on the computer screen at about 7:30 a.m.

Her mother, my aunt, had received word that despite the utter destruction, Erin was fine. The condition of her apartment and the school in which she was teaching was another story.

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My first cousin has been living in northeast Japan since July 2008, teaching English as a second language in three high schools in Kamisu, Japan.

Before this week’s terrible events, I had no concept of where Kamisu is. Since then I have pored over maps to get a better understanding.

Before Monday I might have explained her location by saying that she lives approximately two hours northeast of Tokyo on the Pacific Ocean side of the country. Since the earthquake I now say she lives three hours south of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

The earthquake and resulting tsunami took out both the water and power in Kamisu. Over the weekend many friends and family posted messages and prayers for Erin and the entire country. It would be three more days before she could get an Internet connection and post her own message on her Facebook wall.

Ever the optimistic, cheery cousin I knew from North Carolina, Erin expressed her gratitude for the concern and downplayed any notion of what she had been through or the dangers that she faced.

Yes, her apartment was in utter disarray. Yes, the floors had a few gouges in them and were not exactly level any longer.

“At least it is still there! So Lucky!” she wrote.

Having seen pictures of the destruction in northeast Japan, I probably would have been just as thankful as Erin to spend four hours picking up glass in an apartment that at least was still structurally sound and provided shelter from the Japanese winter conditions.

At the same time I think I would have been making quick plans to return home, especially since there was a nuclear power plant just three hours away exploding and emitting radiation into the atmosphere.

Another of my aunts expressed the same feeling on my cousin’s Facebook when she wrote, “A threat of a nuclear meltdown is a very good reason to come home. If you have the courage to stay there until all of this is over, you will have the courage to go back. You have great memories of Japan and you will have more. This is one that you should not stay in harm’s way for. Just saying from your Aunt Marty.”

Despite her plea, my cousin has decided to complete her contract, which ends in August. On Saturday, she will travel to the opposite end of the country for two weeks away from the disaster. But she plans to continue living and working in Kamisu for the next five months.

In the past few days, I have read a great deal about the Japanese culture. Despite the challenges, the Japanese people still have great hope it seems. Reports indicate that even though some people have fled Tokyo and the surrounding region, a great majority have stayed to meet the challenges.

Since her Monday message, Erin has been posting pictures of friends and frivolity that she took before the earthquake.

While such pictures may seem incongruous in light of those broadcast continuously on the web, I read them as her attempt to focus on life that continues despite disaster.

I guess it is not much different from the Japanese — inspiring indeed.

Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.