Tag Archives: Flight of Friendship

Reflections on Japan from USJC Staff

The Sato family home in Kessennuma, where volunteers from America helped local organizations with recovery efforts

U.S.-Japan Council Staff Member Saki Takasu and several Council Members and Board Members traveled to Sendai to assist in relief efforts and learn about the next steps to recovery. Her posts include observations on the breathtaking islands of Matsushima, the recent Shinkansen service to Tōhoku, as well as the Genki Notes program (a joint project between the USJC, Emerson College, and the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership).

We would like to share some of Saki’s thoughts on working with the “Flight of Friendship,” From Oregon With Love, which this blog has discussed here:

I joined the Flight of Friendship group after sitting in on meetings in Tokyo… [and] I was ready to become an observer of what is truly happening in the affected regions and to see how the plans and desires from Tokyo and the U.S. could connect with these areas.

And I was surprised.

I was first surprised at the extent of normalcy in the areas. Sendai City was full of people on a Thursday evening – salaried men going out for drinks, young teenagers meeting friends in stores, neon lights on the city streets. Even in Kessennuma City, a coastal city that was hard hit, the train station was intact and buildings looked as if it hand not experienced any tremors. But one cannot be fooled by this façade of normalcy. The economic impact is felt as you step into the semi-empty restaurants, talk to business owners and see the shops that are closed as you walk away from the main street.

Our team was in Kessennuma, and we were assigned to assist the Sato family. We stepped through a path made of old tatami mattresses and entered the back of the house, which now only had 2 walls and a support beam in lieu of a pillar that used to stabilize the house. The area was full of muck, household items and wooden boards. We quickly got down to the grueling task of throwing debris out of the house.

It was important to wear a mask, because the air is full of insects, dust and a noxious smell. Since Kessennuma is a fishing community, there are many canneries and seafood packaging factories nearby. Now, imagine all that unleashed into the city with the tsunami. We didn’t know whether to chuckle or gag when we found fish in the most peculiar places, like rooftops, or hidden in between household items. We also found a 15 lb. tuna (no longer alive) that made its way inside the house. We literally had to fish it out. This is all exacerbated with the stale water that had been trapped for nearly three months. We found many maggots feasting on the mud and fish.

Yoko Sato and her dog Ryu, who survived the tsunami from the second floor of their home

As we worked closely with the Sato’s, we became closer and they shared their horrific experience with us. Yoko has an elderly mother, and on March 11th, she decided to remain at home with her beloved dog, Ryu. They told their neighbors not to look for them, and waited to see what would happen. Right outside their window, they could see a traffic jam of cars trying to get to higher ground. 30 minutes after the tsunami alert, they could hear the water come up, and it reached the second floor. They live right by the river and the seaport, so it was uncertain where the water came from. Yoko’s husband, son and daughter were all away from home, and she wondered if they would be all right. Two days went by, and the Self Defense Force finally forced open their front window and cleared the debris to let them out. All family members survived, and the Sato’s are now living in a rented apartment.

You can learn more about the efforts in Kessennuma, as well as read accounts from the Sato family, on Saki Takasu’s blog.


From Oregon With Love: Community Organization to Visit Japan

The Japan-America Society of Oregon and other organizations are beginning to organize an event to experience the Tōhoku region first hand and lend support to those affected by the March 11 disaster. The trip follows previous “Flights of Friendship” to New York City following September 11th, New Orleans following Katrina, and Thailand and is cosponsored by Azumano Travel and Mercy Corps, with Peace Winds Japan providing support in Sendai.

Sho Dozono, the Japanese American owner of Azumano Travel, has a long history of public service both in his hometown of Portland and through the Flight of Friendship program, which he helped establish in 2001 along with Portland’s then-mayor, Vera Katz.

The expedition is scheduled to leave Portland, Oregon on May 29 and return from Japan on June 4. In addition to spending three days in the Sendai area, the delegation will spend two nights in Tokyo and use the shinkansen (bullet train) to travel between Tokyo and Sendai.

The opportunity to have average Americans travel to Japan and help out is a wonderful idea, and the interpersonal relationships that will be forged are just the kind of bonds that the U.S.-Japan Council strives to build and foster. Any readers in the Portland area should definitely look into this program.

While the details of the trip are still being worked out, the call for volunteers for the journey has already begun. Visit their website at http://flightoffriendship.com/ to learn more as information becomes available, and to register your interest in joining this unique relief effort.

Flight of Friendship's Japan Logo