Two years later

I will never forget the morning of March 11, 2011. On a spring break trip with two of my best friends, we woke up to the devastating news of the Tohoku earthquake and resulting tsunami.

Two years later, on March 11, 2013, I woke up in Japan on a beautiful spring day. In the morning, I learned the expression “hinata boko,” a Japanese expression meaning “relaxing in the sun.” It wasn’t until the afternoon when my school observed a moment of silence that I remembered the significance of that day.

During that moment of silence, my mind raced. However, eventually, I decided to reflect on my personal volunteer experience. After the earthquake, many organizations began volunteer trips to support relief efforts and encourage tourism. Last November, with WhyNot!? Japan, I traveled to the Tohoku region and volunteered for a man named Mr. Sato. We listened to him recount the day of the disaster. Pointing to the ocean and to a road that had been split by the earthquake, he told us his story with such appreciation for life. His courage and perseverance awed me. Surrounded by mounds of debris, he told this story while helping us plant tulips in his garden—his possessions still broken, but his spirit strongly intact.

Photo by Hiroki Miura

Photo by Hiroki Miura

Photo by Hiroki Miura

Photo by Hiroki Miura

This man and others like him offer hope to a country that is still coping with disaster. The disaster united people in support and simultaneously fueled protests. Today, there are debates about reconstruction, decontamination efforts and nuclear energy usage. Charged by the passion of leaders on both sides, I hope these debates, lead to advancement and action. I hope that this passion is utilized to build a strong future for those in Tohoku.

Further, no matter where life takes me, I hope to live with the passion that I saw in my brief encounter with Mr. Sato. No matter where life takes me, March 11 will forever be a day in which my heart is in Japan.

Photo by Hiroki Miura

Photo by Hiroki Miura

Happy anniversary

Today is my anniversary. However, rather than receiving a bouquet of roses from a dashing gentleman, I’ve received an invaluable opportunity from a country full of patience and charm.

Watching fireworks in Onomichi and wearing a “yukata” was the perfect way to welcome summer in Japan.

A year ago, clueless and terrified, I boarded a plane in Washington D.C. During that 14-hour flight to Tokyo, I started crying above the Midwest, stopped crying above the west coast and felt hints of excitement above the Pacific Ocean.

Since then, I have adjusted to my new life and developed a daily routine. However, most days, that daily routine is a mere outline and the people and situations surrounding me fill in the lines–sometimes neatly and sometimes abstractly–but, without fail–colorfully. Today was no different.

I woke up and went to school. On the train, I kicked it with some third-year students who think I resemble Blake Lively. I won’t tell them that this comparison is completely irrational and unrealistic because I secretly like it–a lot. (And, yes that link will take you to “Betch of the Week.”) Next, I played table tennis with the table tennis team for three hours. Every team member could teach Forrest Gump a thing or two. Then, I discovered that a history teacher speaks amazing English and we chatted about “The Federalist Papers.” After coming home, I concluded the evening by playing volleyball with two friends and a team full of the loveliest and sportiest Japanese women, most of whom are in their 40s or 50s.

Although my anniversary fell on a seemingly normal day, it was full of unexpected happenings. I love the unpredictability of my life in Japan. There are certainly bad days when I would like nothing more than a piece of cornbread and a glass of sweet tea, but for the most part, something or someone always makes me smile. I can only hope to form more relationships and encounter more surprises during my second year in Japan.