Tohoku is loved. That’s the impression I got as I browsed the display of letters and origami cranes today in the lobby of Sendai City Hall. Ever since the March 11 disaster, tokens of sympathy have been pouring in from around the world. (As I type this, I’m feeling a small aftershock. Of course, no one around me is so much as flinching; aftershocks are part of life for them now.) It was business as usual at City Hall. Everyone was busy typing away at the office, sparing just enough time to say “hi.” I was glad to see they were now each equipped with a laptop. A decade ago, we had one Internet-connected computer to share among the 10 of us. How did we ever survive?
Some of the employees were preparing for a trip at the end of the month to their sister city, Riverside, where they’re hoping to set up a booth somewhere in town and have people write their wishes on tanzaku paper – a traditional activity during Sendai’s Tanabata Festival. They had no idea whether or not they could buy tanzaku paper or bamboo branches in Japan. I told them about Little Tokyo’s own Tanabata Festival and assured them that could get whatever they wanted in Los Angeles.
Afterwards, I headed over to my other former workplace, Sendai International Relations Association. There I saw more hand-scribed messages from around the world:
Just after the earthquake, employees here worked in flashlight-lit rooms to set up a helpline for foreign residents. There’s a huge population of international students in the city, but not enough information was circulating to assuage worries about food and safety. Employees recruited student volunteers to translate the latest information into their respective languages. Below, I’m posing with some of my old co-workers. Notice how I’m the only one flashing double peace signs. Oh, the irony!:
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Views expressed in this blog series are not necessarily those of Rafu Shimpo.