Disaster in Japan: Two RIC professors share their stories

Sanae Tashiro, assistant professor of economics, traveled to Japan the day after the devastating earthquake and tsunami struck. Lloyd Matsumoto, professor of biology, describes the efforts of a high school classmate in providing aid to survivors of the disaster. Their stories are below.

Sanae Tashiro travels to Japan in the midst of the country's natural disasters

By Nicole Wilson '12, Staff Writer

A 9.0 magnitude earthquake, the largest in Japan's recorded history, struck the Pacific coast on Friday, March 11, resulting in a horrifically destructive 23-foot tsunami, followed by an unprecedented nuclear crisis, causing radiation leaks and evacuation of those within a 20-kilometer (12.4 miles) radius of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in the Fukushima Prefecture.

The humanitarian effort in Japan: helping a church help others

Lloyd Matsumoto

RIC biology professor Lloyd Matsumoto tells about a friend who is involved in the effort to help survivors of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami.

For over 25 years a high school classmate of mine, Elmer Inafuku, has been the pastor of the Shinjuku (a section of Tokyo) Shalom Church. I received emails from him seeking support for the relief effort that he and his church are conducting for the survivors of the Sendai earthquake and tsunami.

He has been in Sendai with his parishioners distributing aid to people affected by the earthquake and tsunami. I asked him how he selected where his relief efforts were to be directed. He explained that he works with other Christian churches, which know the needs of their parishioners, and Elmer distributes relief supplies to these churches, which then distribute them to people. In addition, extra relief supplies are given to shelters and orphanages.

The needs of the survivors include food and water, medicines, and anything for babies, (e.g., diapers, formula, etc.)

I asked Elmer what percentage of the funds that are contributed to his church would be used for the relief effort. He replied that all of it would be used to help the survivors. The only non-relief use of funds would be to rent the trucks to transport supplies to Sendai and the gasoline for the trucks.

He and his parishioners purchase and collect what is needed, drive the seven-and-a-half hours from Tokyo to Sendai, and deliver the relief supplies to other Christian churches.

They also spend some time helping people to repair damages to their homes.

For more information, contact Sharon Rogers of the RIC Biology Department, at (401) 456-8010.

That day, people crowded the Narita Airport in the Chiba Prefecture near Tokyo, desperately looking for a way out of Japan. However, one Rhode Island College professor was looking for a way in, preparing herself for a flight over the destruction that had ripped its way across her homeland.

Sanae Tashiro
Sanae Tashiro, assistant professor of economics at RIC, bought her plane ticket for a March 11 trip to Japan three months prior to the earthquake, which rocked the northeast coast of Japan.

Because the trip was planned so far in advance, Tashiro decided to travel to Tokyo to her mother's hometown of Kinugawa in Nikko City (Tochigi Prefecture), 250 km (155 miles) from the epicenter of the massive earthquake in Tohoku, Japan, regardless of the disasters, and follow through with her original plan to bring her back to Rhode Island for a two-and-a-half month stay.

“The earthquakes happened on the day that I left,” said Tashiro. “It was a real coincidence.”

Immediately after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Tashiro was on her way to the airport to leave the United States. She had heard of the news through a Japanese television station while she was still at home, and received a number of emails from friends and colleagues across the U.S. notifying her of the disaster, which has resulted in over 12,000 deaths with 15,000 still missing as of April 5.

Tashiro flew from Providence to Chicago, where she had a five-hour layover. At this time, it was unclear whether Tashiro's flight was going to be able to land at Narita Airport in Tokyo due to cancellations there after the earthquake.

“I was listening to the news at the airport to see what was going to happen,” said Tashiro.

Tashiro landed in Narita Airport the night of Saturday, March 12, but had a difficult time trying to find a way into Tokyo.

“There was a very limited number of trains running, because it was right after the earthquake,” said Tashiro. Local public transportation was heavily affected in Tokyo, even though the city is over 372 km (230 miles) from Tohoku.

Tashiro's mother left Kinugawa by herself by train on Sunday, March 13, at just the right time. Local transportation was shut down in her mother's hometown the following day due to a planned power outage, which began Monday, March 14.

Though far from the earthquake's epicenter, many stores in Tokyo were running out of necessary commodities, including milk and bread. The closer one lived to the disaster, the more difficult it was to find these resources, said Tashiro.

A helicopter from the Naval Air Facility Atsugi flies over Sendai to deliver food. (Photo: U.S. Navy)
The earthquake occurring on March 11 was followed by more than 50 aftershocks, many of them with a magnitude of 6.0 or higher. While in Tokyo, Tashiro felt a number of the aftershocks.

On Monday, March 14, Tashiro and her mother reached Narita Airport to fly back to the U.S.

“There were so many sleeping bags in Narita Airport, because there were many people who couldn't fly,” said Tashiro, adding that the airport was still very calm, though crowded.

Tashiro and her mother were again lucky they took the early train to Narita Airport from Ueno Station in Tokyo, around 7:30 that morning. Like the train her mother took to leave Kinugawa the previous day, the train Tashiro caught to Narita Airport was the last one headed there from Ueno Station.

March 14 was also the day Tashiro's brother and his family evacuated their home in Fukushima, located approximately 50 km (31 miles) from the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant. The Japanese government only required those within a 20-km radius to evacuate, but some experts questioned whether 20 km was safe enough away from the power plant to be considered safe from the leaking radiation.

Tashiro was in Japan for less than two days. She didn't have the chance to visit the affected areas.

Pastor Elmer Inafuku, right, with Yoshiko and Hiroshi
Minegishi, pastor of First Bible Baptist Church of Kesennuma, Miyagi, one of the cities hardest hit in the earthquake and tsunami catastrophe of March 11.
On April 7, 2011, an additional large earthquake with a magnitude of 7.1 hit Japan, occurring in the same area as the March 11 earthquake. Japan continues to be hit daily with aftershocks in the Tohoku and Kanto regions.

“This situation is quite unique,” said Tashiro. “An earthquake of 9.0 followed by a tsunami, compounded by the nuclear tower problem and followed by additional strong earthquakes,” she said.

According to The National Geophysical Data Center, the March 11 earthquake is the fourth largest ever recorded, the biggest in Japan since instrumental recordings began in 1900, and the deadliest tsunami since 2004 in Sumatra, India.

Tashiro wonders how the Japanese government and the Tokyo Electric Power Co. are dealing with the nuclear problems, most seriously with radiation and how it is particularly affecting the product markets, (including fresh vegetables, milk and rice) and the fish living in nearby waters.

“I teach economics, and I see significant effects of this disaster on consumers and producers in Japan,” said Tashiro. Consumers are told not to eat particular things while producers are told not to sell them, which is greatly and negatively impacting the product and labor markets and the Japanese economy as a whole, she said.

Tashiro plans to return to Japan on May 29 shortly after the spring semester at RIC comes to an end. Tashiro travels to Japan every summer, but this time she plans to stay for a month, longer than her usual visit, because she plans to volunteer in the affected areas.

For more information on the Japanese disaster and how to help, visit www.ric.libguides.com/disasters.