News: Japan’s Kizuna Project expresses appreciation of US support from 2011 Tsunami relief assistance
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Taylor
ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – A 9.0 magnitude earthquake was felt across northern Japan, on March 11, 2011, it additionally triggered a tsunami, flooding the country’s coastline over an eighteen-foot seawall. The waves reached heights of up to 133 feet, and traveled as far as six miles inland leaving more than 15,000 people dead, 2,656 people missing, and hundreds of thousands of buildings damaged or destroyed.
These were some of the startling facts that a small group of delegates from the Kizuna Project Youth Exchange –sponsored by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs - discussed during a presentation to soldiers and Army civilians Aug. 15.
The event, which was the first time this presentation had been given to a U.S. military audience by this group, was hosted by the 327th Military Police Battalion at the 85th Support Command’s headquarters in Arlington Heights, Ill.
Representatives attended from the 814th and 822nd MP Companies; 85th SPT CMD; U.S. Army Public Affairs-Chicago branch; and the Defense Contract Management Agency. It discussed what took place on March 11, 2011. It included stories from survivors, what has been taking place since the disaster, and it also expressed a deep sense of appreciation to the U.S. military and people for their relief effort assistance.
Amongst relief support from various other nations, the presentation elaborated on “Operation Tomodachi” – a U.S. Armed Forces assistance operation to support Japan during the disaster – explaining U.S. support involved with nearly 140 aircraft, 20 U.S Naval ships, and more than 20,000 U.S. service members.
“We received a lot of support from the United States, we are especially thankful for the U.S. [military] support through “Operation Tomodachi,” so we would like to say ‘thank you’ to the U.S. military for what they have done for Japan and for the people in the disaster area,” said Yuki Haramoto, Kizuna Project delegate.
Haramoto expressed that in her six months here in the U.S., her dream was to be able to reach out to the U.S. military to express her country’s appreciation.
There are currently 55 students from various Japanese universities participating in this project across the U.S.
Project delegate participants, located in Chicago, who have been engaged in speaking forums here with Haramoto included: Miho Esashi, Ayaka Ogawa, Yukako Saga, and Misa Oyama, and Yuka Okanda.
Oyama shared a few of her personal stories with the audience about the earthquake that hit her country.
“I was looking for an apartment, online, in my house,” said Oyama. “It has long been said, with a 99 percent certainty, that we would have a huge ‘quake,’ so we knew something was coming. We felt many small earthquakes the week prior to this day. We [have] learned how to prepare for earthquakes since kindergarten. The quake was longer than any other quake that I ever felt. I was so scared that the house was just going to come down. We were so lucky considering what happened afterwards.”
Oyama went on to explain how they lost water, gas, and electricity and had to learn to become efficient with what they had.
“We used plastic to cover our plates so we didn’t have to wash the plates, but [we] just threw away the plastic after we ate,” said Oyama.
Cpt. Ronald Painter, 327th MP Bn. operations officer, was amongst many in the audience that were amazed by the presentation and what the people of Japan have done and accomplished since the devastation.
“I was inspired by the actions of the Japanese people following the disaster,” said Painter. “They banded together and went to work rebuilding their country and their lives. Their actions as a people set the example for all to follow in the event of a natural disaster.”
Yolanda Owens, 85th Support Command equal opportunity specialist, was moved by the group’s opening cultural display and their positive approach as they move ahead in recovery efforts.
“Through their heartfelt personal experiences, these ladies shared their cultural norms which enlightened us and painted both the physical devastation, and emotional impact the tsunami and earthquake caused, said Owens. “With true appreciation, they said ‘Arigato,’ which means ‘Thank You’. Thank you to the military services and worldwide efforts that greatly contributed to their ongoing recovery.”
Each of the project delegates were either a graduate or undergraduate student that volunteered for this project to help spread the awareness of their country’s state and to speak out for their people.
Haramoto explained that she worked as a volunteer in the Iwate prefecture, one of the worst impacted areas affected by the disaster. After she was accepted into the Kizuna Project, she returned to Iwate to see how the people were doing, and to tell them about this project.
“I asked them if there was something that I could do for them while I was in the United States. An elderly couple that I knew said, ‘Just tell them ‘Thank You’ because we can’t. We can’t go to America and tell them of our appreciation. That’s all we want you to do,” said Haramoto.
Following the presentation, Painter presented each delegate a certificate of appreciation, and then took part in a few group photos.
Haramoto explained that some believe that the Kizuna Project is not helpful, because their country’s federal budget funds the project, and some do not see direct results from that, but Haramoto explains that although she understands the thinking, this is helping as a long-term investment for their future.
“The tsunami and earthquake changed my entire life. Being a part of this project has changed my life too. We are returning to Japan next month, and this project ends, but this is just the beginning. Like I said in the presentation, recovery has just started. It’s only the beginning,” said Haramoto. “I will be going to places as much as possible to tell the Japanese people of what I have learned, and gained in the United States, and also [to tell them] that the world is one. This is my next mission, so the project gave me a big mission for the rest of my life.”
This work, Japan’s Kizuna Project expresses appreciation of US support from 2011 Tsunami relief assistance, by SFC Anthony Taylor, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.