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Tragedy in Japan creates an overwhelming amount of support on campus

By Laura Molinari, Staff Writer


At Hofstra University, both students and faculty have become incredibly moved by the disastrous earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on March 10, 2011.

On March 14, the following Monday after the earthquake and tsunami had hit Japan, an atrium table was set - up in the Student Center by Professor of Japanese Language and Linguistics, Mari Fujimoto, and Director of the Asian Studies Program, Patricia Welch.

"Professor Fujimoto and I felt we needed to do something for the people of Japan after this devastating natural disaster," said Welch. "Fujimoto brought up the idea of the bake sale, but it's been a real joint effort between the two of us, and the very dedicated students who gave their time and energy to help raise the money."

According to Fujimoto, the bake sale brought in around $850. "In a short amount of time, I think that is excellent. I am really grateful for people who chipped in," Fujimoto said.

Fujimoto and Welch are deeply touched by the occurrence of the earthquake and tsunami; both having close ties to Japan, and previously teaching Hofstra's Study Abroad Program in Japan.

"It really hits hard for me because we had a big earthquake in Kobe, in 1995, and that's where I'm from," said Fujimoto.

Fujimoto explained that her immediate family living in the Southern part of Japan has not been affected by the earthquake or tsunami. Although, she said that her mother's family, who lives in the Northern part, was affected.

"As for the students," she said," I know they are deeply touched by the tragedy."

Welch agreed that students are upset by the occurrences in Japan.

"The earthquake, the tsunami, and the unfolding nuclear disaster remind us of how fragile things really are, and how quickly things can change, and how important it is for us to work together to help in difficult times," said Welch. "Many students from previous Hofstra in Japan programs have approached me to inquire about their host families, or to inform me that their families are ok."

According to Welch, Hachinohe, one of the three parts in Japan where students have stayed in, was not severely hit.  

Although there was damage to one of the restaurants that one of the host families owned, there were few casualties, and majority of the damage done, was restricted to the port area.

Welch has lived in Japan, on-and-off for over seven years, spending her time between both Kyoto and Tokyo, located in Western Japan. She became extremely interested in Japan when she was younger, and traveled a lot around Japan.

"I feel that I have some understanding of [the Japanese's] responses of perseverance and determination. But in a real sense, I feel affected by virtue of the fact that events like this demonstrate how quickly what we think is a normal reality can be swept away, and how ephemeral things really are, as well as how connected we all are."

Welch revealed that when she arrived at Hofstra, there was no Study Abroad Program in Japan, so she began organizing one¾along with Associate Professor of Political Science, Takashi Kanatsu.

"There is a possibility of cancellation, but at this point I am planning to still run the program, [but] maybe modify to some extent," said Kanatsu.

Despite the hit of the earthquake and tsunami, Kanatsu believes that students would gain a beneficial experience from studying abroad in Japan, but above all things, he stated that he wants to make certain that the students are safe at all times.

Kanatsu carefully watches the news everyday, and every morning he makes sure to e-mail the 14 students who have applied. He explained, that one mother had e-mailed him, worried about the disaster in Japan and questioned whether it would be safe for her child to go.

When asked if he thought the situation in Japan was depicted accurately, Kanatsu said that although it is bad in some areas, he thinks the media and the government are "making it more dramatic than it really is."

"I do not want to put everything in one color," he continued," but many of the media, to my disappointment, are depicting the event to just catch [our] eyes."

He also said, "Panic-inducing coverage is the last thing that Japanese people want and need at this point."

Stefanie Avila, sophomore, whose cousin was in Japan during the earthquake said that she found out about the disaster in Japan at 7 a.m., due to a massive amount of Twitter updates on her phone. When she found out that the earthquake was in Japan, she started panicking. She was terrified for her cousin. "As a person who knew somebody who was there, it just hurts you so much more.  I can't tell you the panic I felt when I knew she was there, and when I had heard that the earthquake had hit," Avila said.

Avila's cousin had lived in Japan, and taught English to six–year-old Japanese students.  At the time of the earthquake, she was singing to the students.

"[Her cousin] said that everyone got under the desks and all of the kids were whimpering and panicking, and she had never been through an earthquake, but Japanese people are used to it," said Avilas.

"Americans are dramatic," Avilas said, quoting her cousin.

After a week of staying there, Avila said that her cousin packed up all of her belongings, and within 20 minutes UPS took her life away.

According to Kanatsu, the worst things Americans can do is leave Japan. "Because Americans are evacuating, it means Japan must be in a dire situation-- it means there will be no future for Japan, or this disaster will last forever in Japan," Kanatsu.

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