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The Great Tohoku Disaster - Part 2


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I will try to recreate my personal experiences from the e-mails that I sent to friends in Canada and Japan, TV news reports in Canada, the U.S., and Japan, and from what my wife Akiko tells me.

Saturday, March 12

We woke up exhausted from worry about family and friends in Sendai. Still no contact.


I got mail from Judith, the sister of my pal Tomo. She was frantic about his whereabouts:

Another message from Marnie from Australia, an old girlfriend of Senji, a good friend who lives in Sendai. The message is the same: “is everybody okay?”

Thank you for the information that he doesn’t live anywhere near the coast. Phew! Yes, we will just wait. I will stay in touch - thank you for helping me.



Hi Judith, No problem! The phone lines seem to be down. My sister-in-law in Sendai did contact her son in a different part of Japan but calling Sendai seems to be next to impossible. My wife reminds me that the day after the A-bomb was dropped on Hiroshima that the city transit system was working the following day. Things will get repaired as fast as humanly possible. Will be in touch! Norm


I spend much of the day sending out e-mails to federal politicians who, while sympathetic, direct me to “emergency hotlines.”


Hi Norm - yes, like all politicians…they suck. If I could, I would get on a plane right now and find him myself…but it doesn’t look likely for a few days at least.
Can’t help but go crazy here.

Thanks for your post - we are trying to stay positive but the nuclear reactor news is very disturbing to say the least.



Hi Judith, Hang in there. I have a rough idea about where Tomo lives and he should be fine. I am pretty sure that he was off work at the time and that all of the schools he would have been at would have been in Sendai city. The quake hit at around 3pm, I believe. The streets in Sendai are a maze, really, unmarked and impossible to navigate if you don’t know the landmarks. My wife was able to get a hold of her mother by phone tonight. She lives close to downtown Sendai. I’ll try Tomo again tonight. I’ve asked friends in Japan to try contacting Tomo but the lines are all cut off. Norm

March 13th/Sunday

Norm! Just got a message from O-san - she says “All Safe - No Damage.” Thank God.

I will be in touch - and I will let Tomo know of your helpful concern when the time is right.



Hi Judith, Any more news from Tomo and O-san? I got news that another mutual friend of ours, Senji Kurosu and his family, are fine too. The rebuilding process is going to be a long one.

My wife will be in Sendai on May 26th and be staying for a month. Hopefully she will have a chance to meet Tomo and family then.

Sendai and the rest of the area are a disaster zone but it is good that those we know are well. I’ll send news as I get it. All the best, Norm


Hi Norm - right after the email they called us. Tomo and O-san were home when it happened and Tomo went rushing out on his motorcycle to pick up S-kun and bring him home. Evidently they can cook because they have gas. Tomo very emotional thinking about some kids not far from them that didn’t make it.

I haven’t received any further communication from them - perhaps the phones are down/internet down as well. Or maybe they are just trying to get food and water. It must be emotionally and physically draining. I know that we are drained - so I can’t imagine how they feel.

Thank you for keeping in touch.
Cheers, J


Hi Judith, Yes, my wife told me some of the sad stories that are coming out in the Japanese media now too... I know that my in-laws close to downtown don’t have gas so the situation varies. I’m going to try calling a little later. Electricity is still a problem. I’ve been told to try cell phones as they seem to be more dependable. Now the long road to recovery.... will try the Google People Finder. Will be in touch, Norm

Monday, March 14

It’s the first day of the March Break and I am stressed out. The day is spent watching the TV news reports about the tsunami and earthquake. I check out the internet and some of the discussions taking place there. Disaster truly brings out the very best and worst of people. Some comments stun me by their callousness and idiocy. These were mostly making a connection between the crimes against humanity that Japan committed during WW2, and the earthquake and tsunami…that they were some kind of divine retribution.

We are all worried. My parent’s friend, Miyo and family in Sendai, sent mail to let us know that they are okay.

My friend Yuri a Russian scientist who I got to know in Sendai when he was a post-doctorate student at Tohoku University was asking about friends and family there too.


Hi Yuri, Akiko’s family is okay. Senji and family are at a rescue center. My friend Tomo and family are okay too.

The coastline was very badly damaged. I can’t recognize the places that I have visited now.

Akiko will be going to Sendai at the end of May now.

Water, electricity, and gas are not available. Very hard situation in Sendai.

Will let you know when I hear more news.

All the best, Norm


From a former student, Shogo H., who lives 35km from the nuclear reactors in Fukushima.

Photo cortesy of Shogo Horiuchi

Hi Norm. I was back to Minami-Soma city (Fukushima).

Our house was broken by tsunami.

My family is all safe. Now nuclear power plant is most dangerous problem.

It is 35km near. I have fear. but almost safe. See you Norm!

My computer was broken too.



Good to hear from you Shogo.
I am very sad to hear about your house.
I am glad that your family is safe.
We are all praying that the Fukushima power plant will be okay.
Take care, my friend..... we are trying to help here in Canada too.
Stay in touch, Norm


Hi Norm: Just a brief note to let you know that Tomo called this afternoon. They are still OK and they are rationing food. He said he hopes to have internet access soon. This is all I know right now. Any news on your end?
I don’t know about the latest nuclear thing at #2 - sounds scary.



Hi Judith, Thanks for the update. Yes we are on the same wavelength! Nothing new to report. Will let you know if I hear anything. All the best and please tell Tomo that we are all thinking about him and the family here too.

Don’t get too stressed out about this (easy to say) but I know that Tomo would want us to chill out and have a glass of wine. He will contact us when he can. I am sure that he and the family are fine.
Stay in touch, Norm

Photo cortesy of Shogo Horiuchi

Part 3 >>

© 2011 Norm Ibuki

2011 Tohoku Earthquake & Tsunami, Japan Canada disasters earthquakes Honshu Japan JPquake2011 Miyagi Prefecture Ontario Sendai Toronto
About this series

In Japanese, kizuna means strong emotional bonds.

This series shares stories about Nikkei individual and/or community reaction and perspectives on the Great Tohoku Kanto earthquake on March 11, 2011 and the resulting tsunami and other impacts—either about supporting relief efforts or how what has happened has affected them and their feeling of connection to Japan.

If you would like to share your reactions, please see the “Submit an Article” page for general submission guidelines. We welcome submissions in English, Japanese, Spanish, and/or Portuguese, and are seeking diverse stories from around the world.

We hope that these stories bring some comfort to those affected in Japan and around the world, and that this will become like a time capsule of responses and perspectives from our global Nima-kai community for the future.

* * *

There are many organizations and relief funds established around the world providing support for Japan. Follow us on Twitter @discovernikkei for info on Nikkei relief efforts, or check the Events section. If you’re posting a Japan relief fundraising event, please add the tag “JPquake2011” to make it appear on the list of earthquake relief events.

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About the Author

Writer Norm Masaji Ibuki lives in Oakville, Ontario. He has written extensively about the Canadian Nikkei community since the early 1990s. He wrote a monthly series of articles (1995-2004) for the Nikkei Voice newspaper (Toronto) which chronicled his experiences while in Sendai, Japan. Norm now teaches elementary school and continues to write for various publications. 

Updated August 2014

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