Posts Tagged ‘japan’

Reflections on the Japanese earthquake and tsunami disaster

March 22, 2011

A Mother’s Love
by Kumi Pinneo

– English translation from a Japan Sankei News article, March 21, 2011

[ … She doesn’t raise her voice to call his name anymore.

It has been nine days after the terrible disaster for a mother looking for her 9-year-old son, in a twisted place where his elementary school once stood.

“I know he is not alive, but he must be very cold in there – I just wanna hold him in my arms and take him out of the dark and cold place,” she said.

Her son was at school when the huge earthquake shook Japan. Few if any, especially that boy’s mother, expected a giant tsunami would eat the whole town only a few minutes later.

In those moments, all the students ran to high ground to escape. But the power of nature was bigger than any could imagine. The monster tsunami swallowed 108 students in one relentless bite.

Only 24 students survived. Many bodies are still under knots of rubble, splintered schools, homes, cars and trees. Many parents still today come to this place to look for their children’s bodies … ]

ISHINOMAKI, Miyagi Pref., Japan - Small bags near the Ooakawa School, Mar. 18, 2011, where numerous children went missing after a tsunami engulfed the building. (Japan Sankei News)

As a mother of two boys, it just hurts my heart so much to read that.

How could I face the fact if I lost them? How could I face that fact if I couldn’t find their bodies in the wreckage, knowing they are in that dark and cold place? How could I control myself?

The mother above was not crying or screaming or going crazy.
She just looked and looked and looked for her beloved son.

As a mother, I strive to protect my sons from any danger and I will do whatever it takes to keep them safe. But what if their safety is out of my control?  What if we cannot protect our children from injury or death?

What would I do?

What would I feel?

I have no idea. I can’t even imagine.

I feel for that mother in Japan so much. I really feel her – as if I was her. But I think that what I am feeling for her is not even one percent of what she is feeling.

Such as it is with earthquakes and tsunami, the power of nature is strong and often human beings have no power over it and it just happens. The Japan earthquake and tsunami disaster was no one’s fault. It just happened. It happened just as spring arrives in one’s town.

Can that mother blame someone or something? No, she can not.

What is she feeling right now? I pray that we will never know.

Let’s hug and kiss our children when they leave the house each day for school.
When they leave, let’s not forget to let them know – to make them feel – that they are so loved.
Sometimes they give us a hard time whining, fussing, ignoring us, yelling and distracting.

However we do not want to regret. We do not want to look back, at the moments that we didn’t give them hugs and kisses, and wish we had.

~ With love and respect to all the mothers in Japan who lost their children, but not their hope.


Please Help Japan

March 13, 2011

Please support the recovery effort in Japan, by donating to one of the following organizations. Some make it as simple as texting.


Donate via Google Crisis Response



Donate via iTunes



Donate via Doctors without Borders




Donate via the American Red Cross
Text REDCROSS to 90999 to give $10



Donate via The Salvation Army
Text QUAKE to 80888 to donate $10



Donate via Save the Children


“Generosity brings happiness at every stage of its expression.
We experience joy in forming the intention to be generous.
We experience joy in the actual act of giving something.
And we experience joy in remembering the fact that we have given.”
— Siddhārtha Gautama




Japan Trip 2009: Part One

July 24, 2009

It’s hard being here.

That is, it’s hard trying to balance participating in every new experience my kids have in this strange and wonderful land, while at the same time trying to capture it in photos and notes.

I get that feeling every time we come here. Occupational hazard of a journalist I guess.

philo dinnerBut other than that, experiencing Japan from an insider’s view borders on bliss. This culture has spent centuries perfecting the art of making guests feel welcome – which I absolutely do.

Much of our time spent since I arrived has been in the home and company of my wife’s aunt who lives in Yamanishi.

It was about a half-day drive west from our home base in Chiba, where my wife’s immediate family lives. Kumi’s sister, Miwa, drove. In all, it was Miwa, her four-year-old son, Sora, Kumi, our two boys and I. Kumi’s dad drove separate.

map_japanFor reference, Chiba is on the east side of Japan’s largest island, Honshu. The city lies near Tokyo and I couldn’t tell you where one city ends and the other begins. It’s an urban sprawl unmatched by anything in the States – and is simply hard to imagine or describe. It’s like something out of a sci-fi flick, with buildings stacked upon buildings for as far as the eye can see – and a constant flux of people, cars, mopeds and bicycles.

But eventually, as we continued inland, the skyline of towering industrial development dispersed, faded and eventually gave way to a green and blue-grey backdrop of colossal mountains.

farmAlas, we had arrived in the countryside. Tokyo is something to see, for sure, but in my opinion, nothing compares to a drive through Japanese rural life. Mountains, hot springs, rivers, traditional Japanese homes and farming. It’s the only place I’ve ever known where the deeper I travel into, and the more lost I get, the more centered I feel.

Kumi’s aunt’s house sits inside the forest, along the bank of a gully. The house was once owned by an artist, who rented the house out to photographers as a studio. It was a deep and spacious place, with three levels, each like a stage with large curtains separating the levels. Around every corner, was something interesting and creative that the previous owner left behind. After we settled in, had dinner and were rested, the following day her dad and I took a hike into the woods and along the stream at the base of the gully.


It was exhilarating.

I hiked alot as a kid, and hadn’t been up to me knees in a cold creek in years. And I admit, at three years shy of 60, Kumi’s dad is pretty hard to keep up with. Dad

He made it a point to tell me the water in the stream was from the mountains and that is was clean and OK to drink.

I hadn’t heard that in a long time.

Seems like everywhere I go these days, someone’s making a point to tell me the opposite.

The four days in Yamanashi was one activity after another. The Japanese can pack more activity into a single day than anyone I know. The secret to keeping up, I discovered, is to figure out the rhythm. It took me four visits to understand that. They have a saying in Japan: Deru kui wa utareru, (the nail that sticks out gets pounded down.) I come to interpret this to mean that Japan is like a giant structure, or machine, and everyone is part of it. It operates ever efficiently and flows like water. Anyone out of rhythm is like a cog out of place, and it throws the whole system off. That’s why the nail sticking out gets pounding down – not by force, but by momentum. It’s hard to explain – and like I said, I’m just now starting to understand it myself. It might be a few more visits before I can fully define it. I hope so – I hope to define it again and again. Because we could glean so much from that single concept in America … or as ironically called, the United States.

futonMy kids get it. They adapt better here than I do. I suppose that’s true of kids in general – with the exception of sleep. They say it takes one kids day of adjustment for every hour of time difference. So, if it’s 12 hours difference between America and Japan, that’s about 12 days till they’re adjusted to a new sleep schedule … or something like that.

One thing is certain – I no longer get pounded down here. I used to get exhausted when we’d come. Now, I eat when everybody else does. I shower at night like everybody else, I take my cues from others – and I go with the flow. There’s no room for abstract behavior here.

And, having previously tried, I realize how much I miss by trying to do things my own way.

The true beauty of this land is to observe and learn the rhythm, and to simply get in step with it. It’s wonderful. I’ve learned to anticipate what’s coming next. There is a time for everything here. Everything is taken care of if you can learn the rhythm, and allow yourself to trust it. The momentum flows toward a state of doing, toward achievement, arriving at comfort, and repeats day after day.

The hardest part about going back to America is looking for a similar rhythm where one just does not exist.

auntAfter a great visit in Yamanishi, we said good bye to Kumi’s aunt and headed back to Chiba.

A great thing about being in a foreign country with kids is that even long car rides are entertaining. Here, the steering wheel is on the opposite side of the car, and they drive on the opposite side of the road. That makes it interesting enough. But everywhere we look, we see things that are unusual to us.


Here’s Sora, Kumi’s nephew, and one of our traveling companions, enjoying a cucumber on a stick. The kids absolutely loved these. The sell these and other fresh foods at the service stations along the expressway. Sure beats a bag of chips or Burger King (no offense, Flame-Broiled Whopper, you’re still my number one.)

Have you ever driven through a mountain for like 5 miles?

I hadn’t before, but they do it all the time here. tunnel back

Philo thought that was pretty cool. (yeah, me too.)tunnel

red road

Red roads. They have alot of red roads in Japan. You know, your riding along and the road just turns red for a while. That happens, right? I don’t know – it just seems cool to me.

bug bandThen there’s the bug band. This thing is great. It’s an elastic band held with Velcro, and the device on top emits small but safe amounts of nuclear radiation to deter bugs. Kidding. It’s actually the same chemical that’s in bug spray, diluted, and dispersed into the air by a small internal fan and has a little on/off switch. Keep the bugs away and let’s the kids feel like bug-thwarting superheros. And as you can see … the bugs here are no joke!

mushiYes, that is real and yes, they are everywhere. It’s pure irony. Everything here is small. Cars, roads, meals, coffee, people – everything but the bugs. Well, that’s not entirely true. Where the roads may be narrow, the minds of the Japanese are wide, and their hearts are big. It’s a culture built on respecting yourself and caring for others. My wife has a philosophy borrowed from her late grandfather: “Be strict to yourself, and kind to others.” As far as any common thread I see woven throughout this entire culture, that sums it up perfectly.

I bet he was a great man, her grandfather. He was a farmer. Loved bonsai. He died when she was young.

prayerEach time we visit the countryside, we make a trip through the vineyards and peach orchards he once tended, until we come upon his final resting place there among the mountains and cherry blossoms. We bring flowers, burn incense, bow our heads and silently wish him continued wellness in the afterlife. We gather water in traditional buckets, and pour it on the stone, cleansing it.

It’s really something, seeing my kids here, in this place that is genetically so much a part of them – a part I can only know from observation.

They are Japanese and I am not. I strive to understand the culture, but that is the best I can do. They however, have it in their blood.

ji-jiWhen I see my father-in-law playing with or holding my kids, I am reminded of the depth they have inside them. That they can belong to such two differing cultures, such alternate worlds – one built on principles of new-found freedom and independence and another steeped in deep meaningful tradition and service to others – is a privilege I am so proud to afford them. It’s a healthy blend I think, for the world they will someday face. Whether they choose a world in the east or west, in between or both, I think we’re setting them up with open minds.

Someday when I am gone, when and if someone ever comes to visit my stone to wish me well in the afterlife, whoever they are, if they too were raised to have an open mind and an appreciation for all kinds of people, places and things of this world, then I will indeed be eternally grateful.

More to come …