Portland shows its support for Japan

Portland residents, including several Portland State students, have showed their support for Japan over the past few weeks since the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami hit the Tohoku region, located northeast of Tokyo, on March 11.

Portland residents, including several Portland State students, have showed their support for Japan over the past few weeks since the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami hit the Tohoku region, located northeast of Tokyo, on March 11.

When Jamie Bower first felt the light tremors, the 20-year-old PSU student was resting from a recent trip to southeast Asia. Rather than ducking underneath a tabletop, she thought—in true fashion of a Tokyo resident—”just another earthquake; I’ll wait it out.”

“Should I get out of bed?” Bower recalled her experience in a blog entry dated March 11. “Shaking gets more intense, this seems like a pretty good one, typing this as a pretty big shock rocks my house.”

Bower said she didn’t realize the severity of the disaster until she turned on the television. As nature would have it, Bower learned a few days later that all students in her study abroad program were being evacuated from Japan.

Bower, who had recently landed a teaching job, said she was reluctant to return home so soon.

Like many Americans, Bower is safe from the aftershocks and the spread of radiation. However, she said her thoughts are still with the people of Japan. Since the earthquake, she has stayed in contact with her friends and host family in Tokyo, where basic supplies such as toilet paper are being rationed. According to Japan’s National Police Agency, the death toll stood at 10,151 as of Saturday.

However, another 16,621 are still missing.

Over the past couple of weeks, it has become evident that others’ thoughts are also with Japan; on March 18, PSU students and Mercy Corps interns Asami Katayam and Mana Morimoto quickly put together a candlelight vigil at Pioneer Courthouse Square that raised $7,833 for relief efforts overseas.

In addition, a benefit concern for Japan was arranged over spring break by the Portland Taiko and the PSU Music Department. The event drew more than 500 attendees, many of whom waited in lines outside the packed auditorium in Lincoln Hall to show their support. The benefit concert raised around $16,000 for Mercy Corps

Michelle Fujii, artistic director for the Japanese traditional drum ensemble, said the idea for a show was born out of a conversation she had with PSU’s assistant professor of music Wynn Kiyama. All of the performers were more than happy to participate, Fjujii said.

Fujii said immediately after the earthquake she overheard people in a coffee shop acknowledging how supportive and strong the Japanese community is here in Portland.

Yumi Torimaru, who performed with the group Takohachi, said she hopes Japan will remain in the public’s mind, as rebuilding will take many years.

“This is our way to give back, probably the only way we can do something,” Torimaru said. “[Japan] needs our support, [both] money and


Maki Aoki, who used to perform with Portland Taiko, said she felt helpless as she saw pictures of embattled Sendai, a city she remembers for its laidback energy. 

According to Aoki, taiko drum, besides being a traditional art form in Japan, signifies celebration, community and prayer.

“There’s always a drum in the center of the town, and as long as you hear the drum, you know you belong to the community,” Aoki said. ? 

For Aoki, the tsunami hit too close to home—her maternal grandmother’s house in Sendai was completely destroyed. Fortunately, she made it out before the tsunami hit.

Aoki spent most of her time in Japan in the Fukushima prefecture, the site that houses six nuclear reactors that have been releasing radioactive material since March 11.

“Fukushima is a beautiful place,” she said. “There’s a lot of orchards, hot springs and mountainsides.”

PSU student Brendan Boyle, who attended the concert at Lincoln Hall and spent six months in Sendai volunteering in 2009, said seeing the houses being swept away by the tsunami was both surreal and macabre.

“What if that was my family in those houses that were being swept away like fallen leaves on a rainy day?” Boyle asked.

According to Scott Gallagher, PSU’s director of communication, the university currently has two students still in Japan, one at Kansai Gaidai University in Osaka and another at Hokkaido University in Sapporo. Gallagher said that neither campuses are located near the affected areas. 

In addition, the Office of International Affairs reported that the university is home to 186 international students from Japan, including Asami Katayam. A survivor of the 6.8 magnitude Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995, the community development student now directs her energy toward relief efforts with Mercy Corps.

Kristen Kohashi, secretary and public relations officer for the Japanese Student Society (JSS) at PSU, said that families of most of the students in her group live in Tokyo, which was not directly affected by the earthquake.

“They are staying positive, although the main concern right now is the radiation from nuclear reactors,” Kohashi said.

She added that students keep in touch with their family and friends in Japan via Facebook, Twitter and Mixi, a Japanese-based online social network.

According to Kohashi, the JSS will have a table between Smith Memorial Student Union and Neuberger Hall this week where they will collect donation from students.

At yesterday’s vigil for Japan, held in SMSU, PSU President Wim Wiewel said he is proud of the role that PSU students have played in the past weeks to show their support for Japan. Speakers at the event included the consul general of Japan and the board chair of the Japan American Society of Oregon Paul Taylor.

According to Taylor, an Oregon Japan Relief Fund was created and within two weeks has raised over $500,000. ?