With news that an earthquake and tsunami shattered many parts of Japan last week, the thoughts of many in the Mary Baldwin College community turned to the Japanese people and the schools with which it has longstanding ties.
The 9.0-magnitude quake was the fourth-strongest recorded in the world since 1900 and the largest ever recorded in Japan. It generated a 33-foot tsunami that leveled coastal cities and towns. More than 10,000 are feared dead.
President Pamela Fox’s words on March 11 captured the concern and empathy among alumnae/i and the faculty, staff, and students who followed the early coverage of the devastation during the final stretch of Spring Break.
“Mary Baldwin College cherishes its longstanding relationship with the people of Japan,” Fox said. “We are deeply saddened at the losses you have sustained, and are with you today in spirit.”
Professor of Asian Studies Daniel Métraux received word from several of his former students in Japan that they were all safe. Having worked and studied in Japan for years, Metraux shared comforting words about the resilience of the Japanese people and his confidence that they will heal and rebuild.
“I remember taking a group of my students to Kobe early in 1995 shortly after a massive quake destroyed most of the city,” Métraux posted on the MBC Facebook page. “It was a disaster zone with tumble-down buildings everywhere and whole families living in tents in city parks. But, when I returned a year later, the whole city, including several downtown department stores, had been rebuilt. There was absolutely no evidence that there had been a catastrophic natural disaster only a year before.”
A trip Métraux and Dean of the College and Vice President of Academic Affairs Catharine O’Connell were scheduled to take to Korea and Japan this week was postponed. The delegation from MBC was, among other business, hoping to finalize a student exchange agreement with Soka University in Tokyo. MBC already has ties in that city with Tokyo Jogakkan College, a partnership with Kansai Gaidai University in Osaka, and a “sister school” relationship with Doshisha Women’s College of Liberal Arts in Kyoto.
Two MBC students who are studying at Kansai Gaidai for spring semester are about 500 miles away from the disaster zone. Sophomore Jacklyn Stutts said the temblor, however, felt no more severe than two minor quakes she experienced since her arrival in Japan in the fall.
Momo Sugita, of Tokyo, is one of six Japanese students studying at MBC this year. She said her family and friends are physically fine, but stunned at the devastation. Their thoughts are on recovery and avoiding a nuclear catastrophe brought on by badly damaged nuclear reactors.
“My friend was in Sendai where the tsunami hit and he said it was so horrible, but now people are trying to recover their lives. He is working for older people and children as a volunteer now,” Sugita said. “Many small towns near the sea were flattened. They can’t get food, water, and other things needed for daily life. Many people suffer from the cold. Now, my family and friends worry about influences of nuclear energy.”
Masako Hikami, adjunct instructor of Japanese, said her family and many of her friends live in Kyoto, far west of where the devastation occurred. She said the husband of one of her good friends works in Sendai.
“Thank God he was safe, even though his wife had a difficult time to catch him on the phone,” Hikami said. “She finally got him more than half a day after the first [tsunami] contact.”
Hikami said she is wants more information about the true nature of the devastation so far and is frustrated with not being able to offer help from across the globe.
“I have been thinking what we can do for them,” she said. “I wish I could go there and help. However, I believe that going there is not the only way to help and support them.”
Sugita is also thinking of ways to help.
“Honestly, Japan really needs financial support now,” she said. “I would like to ask many people to donate a small amount for Japan.”
- Nowak Crosier