Japan’s plight touches Salmon Arm

Sister city: Earthquakes, tsunami force cancellation of trip.

Following the news: Margaret Filiatrault and her grandson Leo look at a website with updates about the situation in Japan following devastating earthquakes and tsunami.

Reverberations from the earthquakes and tsunami off the coast of Japan are being felt strongly in Salmon Arm.

Many residents have connections to Japan, not least of which is Salmon Arm’s long-term sister city relationship with Inashiki. On Thursday evening, the day before the earthquake, Japan’s Consul General Hideki Ito was in Salmon Arm to host an evening of celebration of the 20th anniversary.

“I’m very pleased to be here and grateful to have this opportunity to meet all the people associated with what is truly one of British Columbia’s most successful sister-city arrangements,” he told the gathering.

Those attending the evening included local students who were to leave on March 23 for Japan. But by Monday, school district officials had decided that the trip would be cancelled. Sixteen students and nine adults, including Mayor Marty Bootsma, had planned to go.

“With sadness, our hearts go out to our friends in Inashiki. We know they are going through a very difficult time; we do not want to intrude at this time,” stated superintendent Doug Pearson. “We have been in contact with them and they are appreciative of our plans to cancel and reschedule for next year.”

Inashiki is approximately 350 kilometres from Sendai, the city closest to the epicentre of the biggest earthquake.

Teacher Pam Chudiak has been involved with the exchange for years. She and husband Brent were to leave today for Inashiki, where they planned to stay with the family who hosted their daughter four years ago.

“I feel for our Grade 12s. It’s their last year, some waited specifically for it and have been saving for it,” she said of the trip.

She has heard that everyone is safe in Inashiki although there is structural damage.

“They’re dealing with lack of food, lack of water, rolling black-outs and now, the most scary part is, radiation leaks from the nuclear power plants. So far all of our friends are safe.”

In an attempt to show their empathy for their friends in Japan, given that the postal service isn’t working, local students plan to take a photo of themselves in front of a banner of support they’re making and will email it to Inashiki, Chudiak said. A sushi and bake sale fundraiser is planned for both high school campuses Friday.

Grade 11 student Leo Filiatrault was set to go to Japan March 23. His dad Stephen, mom Yukie and his sister Sarah live south of Tokyo, and he’s been living with his grandparents in Salmon Arm so he could complete grades 10 through 12 here. He’s feeling better now that he knows his family is all right, but he has concerns about friends in northern Japan.

Because he grew up in Japan, he knows how accustomed people are to quakes – although not one of this size.

“Japan is ultra-prepared for earthquakes. We had one once a week, once every two weeks… At school, there’s training every month to get under the desk.”

Once the shaking stops, students go outside to open areas.

Leo’s grandmother Margaret, whose five grandchildren were all born in Japan and several family members still live there, said the danger from the nuclear reactors is what has her family most worried.

At the Salmon Arm campus of Okanagan College, a group of 10 young women ages 18 to 20 from Japan have been taking part in a language and cultural immersion tour for five weeks. They will be returning to Japan on Saturday.

Trying to hold back tears, Manami Toyama told the Observer of her hometown of Niigata. It has experienced a big quake but her family is safe. She is happy to be going home but she wants the earthquakes to stop.

Mikiko Tajima is from an island south of Osaka, which just experienced a six-point earthquake.

“I’m feeling bad but my family is safe, so it’s good,” she said, adding that her brother’s friend lives in Sendai. “He said there’s no food, no drink, it’s cold – it’s so terrible.”

She hopes people will donate money for Japan.

Maimu Kawata expresses a sentiment common to all the young women – that they’re grateful for the world’s concern about their country and its people.

Atsuko Nakagawa has lived in Salmon Arm for nearly 20 years, but her 87-year-old mother Mitsuko still lives in Tokyo, where she recently moved from a house to a fifth-floor condominium. Miraculously, Atsuko was able to reach her by phone right after the huge earthquake, although relatives in Japan couldn’t get through.

“She said she had never felt such a big earthquake.”

Although she was all right, all her china and glassware had fallen off the shelves.

“I told her to wear shoes,” says Atsuko. “In Japan inside they don’t wear shoes.”

Wayne Spencer’s son Brent, his spouse and their three-year-old son live just south of Tokyo. His step-mom Linda said they are coming to Canada next week to stay indefinitely. They’re all concerned about the radiation.

“They’re actually safe right now – it’s the paranoid parents,” she smiles.

The Spencers had planned to head to Japan last Wednesday in order to meet up later with the exchange group – but as fate would have it, Wayne became sick and ended up in hospital. They missed the trip, but also the earthquake.




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