International students worry about home, Chase head recounts quake experience

Rescuers conduct search operation amidst smoldering debris in Kesennuma, northern Japan March 14 following the previous Friday’s massive earthquake and the ensuing tsunami. (Photo by Yomiuri Shimbun, Miho Ikeya/AP)

Editor’s note: This story has been edited to include a quote from Diane Adachi.

By Yukari Sumino
Northwest Asian Weekly

Strong earthquakes hit the Tohoku region of Japan in the afternoon on March 11, triggering several 6- to 23-foot tsunami waves that caused massive destruction and killed civilians in areas along the Pacific coast of eastern Japan, especially in the Miyagi, Iwate, and Fukushima Prefectures.

The earthquake itself caused major damage in areas close to the epicenter, as well as scattered fires and damage across the Tohoku and eastern Kanto area. It did not cause widespread damage in any major city like it did in Kobe in 1995.

The tsunami, however, caused extensive damage in coastal areas along the Pacific coast of northeastern Honshu.

The 9.0 magnitude earthquake was the fourth largest earthquake ever to be recorded.

Japanese American Phyllis Campbell, chairman of the Pacific Northwest for JP Morgan Chase, was in Tokyo at the time of the earthquake. She was there as part of the 13-member Japanese American Leadership Delegation. She was to be there for a week to meet with leadership groups, leaders, officials, and new Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto to discuss business education.

The delegation was in Kobe and Osaka, on March 4 and March 5. It was then in Tokyo from March 6 until March 13.

“We were getting ready for a meeting Friday afternoon [in Tokyo], sitting in a bus in the parking lot of the New Otani Hotel, where our meeting was going to take place. We were parked, stationary in the lot.

At first, when the bus started rocking, we thought something was wrong with the bus,” said Campbell. “But when the bus really started rocking hard from side-to-side, we knew it was an earthquake. One of my colleagues said, ‘It’s going to tip over,’ but thank God it didn’t. At one point, I looked up at an office building, and I thought that [it] was going to tip over, too. Things were radically moving.”

The delegation was supposed to also meet with Prime Minister Naoto Kan toward the end of the trip, but the meeting was canceled due to the earthquake.

“It was chaotic,” said Campbell, describing the aftermath. “The trains were basically shut down. The subways were shut down. The freeways were shut down, particularly because they wanted to keep the area open for aid vehicles. For about 24 to 38 hours, people couldn’t go anywhere. They couldn’t even get any phones calls out because the system was overloaded. It took us a number of days to get home.

The trip from Tokyo to Narita [International Airport] usually takes one hour. During our first attempt, after six hours, we turned around. We ended up staying [a few extra days] and finally got out Sunday (March 13), when the freeways were open again.”

More than 10,000 people are estimated to have died in Friday’s tragedy, which caused deprivation for people in an industrialized country that has not seen such hardships since World War II. In many areas, there is no running water, no power, and four- to five-hour waits for gasoline. People have been reportedly suppressing their hunger with instant noodles or rice balls, while dealing with the loss of loved ones and homes.

Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking sites became an invaluable tool for millions of people caught up in the earthquake. Websites, powered by broadband connections, became lifelines for many when mobile phone networks and some telephone landlines collapsed in the hours following the earthquake.

“My hometown is close to the devastated area. When I saw the news, I could not believe it,” said Makiko Kato, an international student in Seattle from Aomori, Japan. “Immediately, I contacted my family. Fortunately, they are fine, but they have a difficult time, now. [At least], the earthquake hit the right place. If this earthquake happened in other countries, the damage would be bigger. Japan did prepare for the disaster based on their past experience, the big earthquake in Kobe.”

“When people in the United States asked me about the Japanese situation and worry about it, I feel how terrible this disaster is,” said Saki Matsumora, an international student from Okinawa. “Actually, I cannot imagine it. Even though I saw the news, I cannot think that this is my country. I feel it is just a movie. I try to figure out what I can do for Japan. I donated through the Internet. Even though I live in the United States, I want to do something as a Japanese [person].”

Two nuclear reactors at the coast of Fukushima Prefecture suffered damage from the earthquake and tsunami. Authorities have issued evacuation orders to people living within 20 kilometers of the first reactor and within 10 kilometers of the second reactor.

The damage to the nuclear plants is also causing a power shortage in Eastern Japan. As a result, rolling blackouts are being carried out in the Greater Tokyo region. Power is switched off for three-hour periods in rotation between five areas from 6:20 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Most of central Tokyo is excluded from the blackouts.

“I was supposed to go back to Japan on March 13, but I have no way to go back home from Narita International Airport,” said Ayumi Urayama, an international student from Yokohama. “I feel so bad I am in the United States, though I am Japanese. However, it is actually really impolite to people in Japan that I am just being sad [because it] does not help anything. [I am trying to] stay calm, stay healthy, and stay normal while praying for Japan. I think this is what Japanese in foreign countries can do for our country for now, when we cannot help with anything physically.”

Gov. Chris Gregoire collects donation at the March 15 Sounders game for relief efforts for Japan. (Photo by George Liu/NWAW)

Last Tuesday, March 15, Japanese American community groups collaborated with the American Red Cross to raise $22,000 for relief efforts in Japan through a Sounders game. Gov. Chris Gregoire and her husband, Mike, collected donations at the event. JP Morgan Chase has also committed $5 million in aid to victims of the earthquake. “I feel lucky,” said Campbell. “Mostly, we want to make sure people turn their attention to Japan to help them in their struggles. It’s so terrible. We have 1,400 colleagues of JP Morgan Chase in Japan. They’re all very nervous about the earthquake and aftereffects.”

Additionally Uwajimaya stores are accepting contributions and will match up to $5,000. Local Thai restaurant Bai Tong will donate 100 percent of its proceeds on Saturday, March 19, to the relief effort.

“To our friends and families that have been affected by the devastating tsunami and earthquake in Sendai Japan we offer our sincerest condolences for the many losses of lives, homes and livelihood,” said Diane Adachi, Assistant Vice President and Special Assistant to the Provost for International Relations & Protocols at the University of Washington.  “We are humbled by the grace and humanity in which the people of Japan have faced this crisis and we remain confident that Japan can overcome their many present challenges and build towards restoration and reconstruction of a thriving Japan. Our hopes and prayers go out to all the families and victims of this tragedy and to the people of Japan.”

To donate to Japan’s earthquake and tsunami relief through text message, text “Japan” or “Quake” to 80888 to make a $10 donation through the Salvation Army. Text “RedCross” to 90999 to donate $10 through the Red Cross. Chase Saphhire, Ink from Chase, or Chase Freedom customers will be able to make donations through reward programs (visit for more information). For additional resources on how and which organization to donate through, visit or

Stacy Nguyen contributed to this report.

Yukari Sumino can be reached at

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