Reaching Out to Fukushima


Keli Borba and Christine Chow at Nanka Fukushima Kenjinkai’s New Year’s party on Feb. 20.



Two local residents who participated in the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program are now trying to find out how their friends are doing in Fukushima, one of the northeastern prefectures hit hardest by the earthquake and tsunami.

Keli Borba and Christine Chow recently attended a gathering of the Nanka Fukushima Kenjinkai.

Borba lived in Fukushima City, about 90 minutes away from the coast, for three years. She has been trying to reach her Japanese friends and co-workers by email and her fellow JET English teachers through Facebook.

“It was very shocking,” she told the Rafu Shimpo, describing her friends’ reaction to the disaster. “They have never experienced something like that. Some friends posted pictures or videos of their messy apartments. Because there were many aftershocks, they couldn’t really get much sleep during that first night.

“They also are using Facebook as a means of communication to family and friends. Especially since I left Fukushima in August of last year, the people who are still there and the ones that just left feel very connected to them and their situation. There is a strong support group and there is even a Facebook group for supporters and to exchange info.”

When Borba first saw TV coverage of the crisis, “I really couldn’t believe it. Seeing the first images on the local news of the tsunami in Iwate was very frightening. Many cars were just floating around and crashing into the buildings. I really didn’t feel good that day. I couldn’t really think clearly that day and kept thinking about Japan.

“I didn’t know it really affected Fukushima at that point. Not until the next morning. When I learned of this, I imagined what it would have been like if I had extended my contract for the 2010-2011 year. What would have happened to me?

“Since I know the area and know many people there, my heart was deep with emotions. I started sending emails to see how my friends and co-workers were. I really wanted to know and encourage them any way I could through the Internet.”

Chow said, “It’s been a very depressing weekend for me because this one really hits home … Japan is one of my homes. I lived in Futaba-machi for three years and traveled to Sendai frequently on the weekends. It’s really difficult to watch the news, but I’ve been following CNN, Taiwanese cable news and even NHK live on the Web. I’ve been checking a lot of other JETs’ and Japanese friends’ Facebook …

“Futaba … is the town right next to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. My replacement told me via Facebook that everyone at Futaba High School was safe but everyone had to evacuate due to radiation fear. According to the news, some hospital patients and staff were found on the grounds of Futaba High School and they were contaminated with radiation.

“I’m still waiting to hear back from more friends. One of my closest Japanese friends, named Makiko Yoshida, from Namie-machi, is currently missing. Her name is listed under the Google People Finder, but no news of her yet. Judging from Facebook, her boyfriend and best friend still haven’t heard from her. I’m very worried.”

A text from a former colleague at Futaba High School read, “Terrible. The school is a mess. Evacuated to Kawamata … Feel sorry for Jon (the family dog). He was left behind.”

“I have a friend whose grandmother died in the tsunami,” Chow continued. “Another friend told me that her boyfriend’s house got swept away in the tsunami and his father is missing. Her sister’s fiancé is currently at the nuclear power plant trying to cool the thing down. Fortunately, she and her family is safe and they are currently staying with a friend in Koriyama City in Fukushima.”

One of Chow’s former students is attending Cal Poly Pomona and has learned that her family is safe. Although their house was still standing, the area has been closed off due to radiation from the power plant, and there are shortages of food, water, electricity and gas.

“Despite the heartbreaking situation, I’ve been very proud about the way Japanese people conduct themselves … The Japanese people continued to follow traffic rules despite the non-working traffic lights and extreme traffic jams, people still wait quietly in line for water and necessities, and there are no signs of looting,” Chow said. “Some stores in Tokyo even choose to stay closed so they can help conserve energy for the people in need. This sets a very good example of how people should act during times of crisis. I hope the whole world can see.

“I’ve been feeling really guilty about not being able to do anything for the people that once treated me with kindness. I wish I could just teleport myself there and help. I also regret that I wasn’t able to visit my town since I left there in 2007. The next time I go back, everything will be different and my wonderful memories will be tainted by the sufferings from this disaster.”



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