On March 11, Mami Takahashi was visiting her mom and maternal grandparents in Nagoya, Japan with plans to join her father and paternal grandparents in Sendai soon.
When she first felt the shaking in the afternoon, she thought it was just jet lag. But as people started running out of the buildings around her, she realized this was an earthquake of a magnitude more serious than the ones she was used to growing up in Sendai.
“I looked around, and there was so many things that could fall on us,” she said, recalling the eventful walk with her five-month old daughter and six-year-old son.
Through news reports, she learned the rest of her family was in danger, nearest the quake’s epicentre. Over and over they tried calling, but couldn’t get through.
“We were glued to the TV … One of the first scenes in Sendai was close to my parents’ house where the old Japanese inn crumbled into pieces,” she said, from her Fairfield home, while cradling her youngest in her arms.
Finally, at 8 p.m., Takahashi learned her father was safe through the emergency message line. By midnight, Takahashi’s aunt in Sendai managed to bicycle to her grandparents’ house, and sent a message letting the family know they were also OK.
At first, she was hopeful she’d find a way to Sendai to be reunited with her family.
“By day three, some news crew was able to get into the Sendai train station, and when I saw that image, I thought … OK, there’s no way I would bring my children to that site,” Takahashi said. “I was sad … I was so close but all the access to Sendai was shut down … It was very unreal. We are on the same island – not such a big island – yet there is this big wall that prevented us from helping.”
While her family’s houses survived the quake, they were without running water, electricity or heat, but had enough vegetables and water bottles to sustain them. Neighbours created a network to let each other know which gas station and grocery stores had supplies.
“My grandmother usually doesn’t whine but she kept saying, ‘I just want to take a bath, it’s cold in the house’,” Takahashi said. “My dad said ‘Don’t worry about us, worry about the people in shelters.’”
Close to Takahashi’s heart are the mothers in shelters with young babies, like herself.
Shock prevented many of them from producing milk, she explained. “They had to share a bottle in the shelter and they didn’t have formula so they diluted sports drink … It’s very frustrating, why those necessary items cannot be delivered to that area.”
At the urging on her father and her husband in Victoria, Takahashi and her children flew home on March 18.
“I’m very happy to be back so I can be useful,” she said, adding she is helping with fundraising efforts. “Right now, the thing we can do is make donations.”
Mark your calendar: Support Japan 2011
Performers for Saturday’s fundraiser organized by the Japanese community have been finalized. Come to Hillside Mall, centre court, between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. for a free family event. It’s about teaching people about the country they’re helping to rebuild, explained lead organizer Mike Abe.
Cultural performances include taiko drumming, koto (harp), shakuhachi (flute), shamisen (three-stringed instrument), children’s choir, and Minyo folk singers, Furusato folk dancers. Victoria singer Ryan Narciso will also perform Tears at my Door, composed for Japan by two local songwriters, and uploaded to Youtube with about 30,000 views (www.youtube.com/user/ryannarcisomusic).
T-shirts in support of Japan will be on sale for $10.