Monday, March 14, 2011


I've watched a lot of news since the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that hit Japan on Friday. Sendai was the closest large city. It's insane to be reading and watching all this news coverage on Sendai, a city that most people outside of Japan have never heard of.

Incidentally, Sendai is my birthplace. My parents moved from Korea to Sendai about a year before I was born because my dad was doing a PhD at Tohoku University there. We lived there until I was about 5 and a half after which we moved to Madison, Wisconsin.

What is sort of interesting about this fact is that Japan and Korea has had a long, often contentious history, given that Korea was occupied by Japan for 35 years from 1910 to 1945. There is a lot of bad history there, with everything from the Korean queen was assassinated by the Japanese to Korean women being kidnapped to be "comfort women" to Japanese soldiers and a lot more stuff in between.

While I don't think that younger Koreans of my generation feel this contention, there are those of my parents and definitely of my grandparents generation that still hold the pain and anger from Japanese occupation. While the relationship has gotten better over time, back when when my family moved to Japan it was still sort of a surprising thing. Thus, I am glad to see on Korean news outlets the level of aid and support that the Korean government and NGOs are sending over to Japan.

I was talking to my mom over the weekend and she said that while we were living in Sendai, there was a 6.2 earthquake. She clearly remembers how terrified she was from "just" a 6.2 and can't imagine what a 8.9 would be like. She remembers running to my preschool/day care center from work to make sure I was ok. I don't remember this earthquake specifically but I do remember doing earthquake practice drills in my preschool.

My mom and I also talked about watching the coverage of the survivors on TV and we both remarked about the extreme politeness and sense of order of the Japanese people. News outlets have talked about how looting would never really happen in Japan, even in an incredible crisis of this sort.

You see these long orderly lines for food and water. Heck, if it was South Korea or China, people would be shoving and yelling and doing whatever they could do survive. But not the Japanese. It just isn't their way. They have an incredible sense of dignity... politeness... order. Its really quite remarkable.

Anyways, I had always thought that I would go back to visit Sendai one day. And I still hold that hope. But it's really sad to know that I will never be able see Sendai as it was when my family lived there.

While I am definitely "more Korean", Japanese is the first language I ever spoke and Japanese culture (especially the food) was always strongly ingrained in my family. And while I only lived in Sendai until I was 5 years old, its hard not to feel an attachment to Sendai.

Some images from the many news stories that touched me. Notes from those looking for family members at a information center in Sendai. This reminds me so much of what I saw in NYC post 9/11.

This one absolutely broke my heart because the caption said: "Parents looked at the body of their daughter, whom they found in the vehicle of a driving school in Yamamoto, Miyagi Prefecture".

All I can say is thoughts and prayers. I know that Japan is a relatively developed and prosperous country. But I hope that people and countries recognize the scale of this disaster and still help.

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