Fri, Mar 18, 2011 - Page 5 News List

JAPAN DISASTER: Japanese abroad struggle to cope with news

INFORMATION NEEDED:Staff and students at Japanese schools in Taipei and Sydney are desperately doing all they can to find out about loved ones and friends in Japan


The focus is on how people in Japan are dealing with the disaster unfolding around them, but tens of thousands of Japanese expatriates around the world are also struggling to cope.

Across the globe, Japanese remain desperate for news after last week’s massive earthquake and tsunami, which devastated swathes of the country and knocked out the power supply and back-up generators at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant.

The lack of power at the facility, 250km northeast of Tokyo, has sent temperatures soaring in reactors, with fuel rods being exposed, triggering fears of a meltdown.

The disaster, the country’s most serious crisis since World War II, has seen Japanese far from home -frantically trying to contact friends and family, support each other and raise money to help their compatriots.

Australia has one of the world’s largest Japanese expatriate communities, with more than 70,000 registered Japanese in the country, according to its embassy in Canberra.

The Sydney Japanese School said it had been a difficult time emotionally for staff, parents and children, but they had received tremendous support from the community with almost US$10,000 raised for the Red Cross so far.

“The images of the Japanese earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck in Japan, have been most terrifying,” deputy principal Allan Meadows said. “It is only made worse when we know that our school community is directly affected, with many teachers, families and friends — past and present — coming from the devastated regions of eastern Japan.”

He said there were staff members whose parents’ houses were swept away in the tsunami, and knew of at least one relative of a teacher who was killed.

“Some teachers have been doing it really tough. The uncertainty is the worst,” he said.

A former music teacher was from Fukushima and returned there last year. The school held grave fears for his safety, but recently received an e-mail confirming he was fine.

It was a similar story at the Taipei Japanese School in Taiwan, with several teachers’ houses in Japan partly damaged by the tsunamis, although no one had rushed back home yet.

Meiko Kobayashi, a freelance Japanese writer living in Singapore, has spent hours on Facebook and Twitter trying to get in touch with family in her homeland, but she too intends to remain where she is.

“As far as I know, some people went back to be with the family but most are staying put,” she said of the city-state’s Japanese community.

The worst thing for many expatriates is not being able to contact loved ones in the devastated regions with the number of confirmed dead from the twin disasters now 5,178, while the official number of missing remains at 8,606.

Eri Osawa, 33, a teacher at a Japanese school in Kuala Lumpur, said while her family was safe, she cannot reach two friends in Sendai.

“I send numerous e-mails to them but till today I have had no response,” a teary Osawa said. “I just hope they are well.”

Osawa, who comes from Chichibu near Tokyo, added that two other friends who live in the capital were evacuated because of radiation concerns.

“I feel very sad and I am worried about the radiation,” Osawa said, adding that she was constantly on Facebook to find new information on what was happening.

Across Asia, Japanese embassies have opened condolence books, while donation drives are being organized to raise funds.

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