Geneseo reaches out to Japan in tsunami's wake

On March 11, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit Japan and triggered a tsunami that destroyed a large part of the country's northern Pacific coast and claimed the lives of thousands.

Entire villages vanished beneath the wave and thousands of bodies now line the coast. The death toll currently sits at 11,000; 17,000 have been reported missing. The final toll is estimated to reach nearly 20,000.

The two Geneseo students studying abroad in Japan, juniors Gemma Martinelli and Theodore Tkaczevski, are studying at Kansai Gaidai University in Hirakata and were a safe distance from the affected area.

"General concerns at this point are interruptions in the Japanese economy and food shortages," said Wes Kennison, a faculty fellow for the Office of International Programs. "At the university there wasn't much even in the way of interrupted classes."

Concerns in Japan are mounting as damage to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station becomes more evident. Three nuclear reactors are leaking radioactive steam, and traces of radiation have been found in Tokyo's water and in water being poured back into the ocean after being used to cool the overheated fuel rods. Experts have yet to decide how to deal with the contaminated water once the rods have cooled.

High levels of radioactive chemicals have been detected in the sea 300 yards south of the plant, and very slight traces were identified in southern California. Experts from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, however, assure that the levels in California are too low to warrant concern.

Students on campus have been working to raise both awareness and money for the cause. There are currently 26 foreign exchange students from Japan at Geneseo, and none are from the affected area.

"I was so surprised that maybe a few hours after the earthquake, there were already so many organizations to help Japan," said senior Mai Otsuki, an international relations major from Saitama. "An area like Tokyo was affected by the earthquake but not by the tsunami, so it was possible to get people together through the Internet."

Over 190,000 people are being housed in temporary shelters and resources are slim.  Many are without any electricity, and both transportation and communication have taken a hit.

"Even if there were supplies to provide, it'd be hard to get them transported," Otsuki said.

Although Japan continues to struggle, awareness of the challenges has diminished.

"There's a lot going on internationally, and the earthquake has fallen off the front page," said Mary Hope, Geneseo's director of international student services. "This is something that will take years to recover from."

Geneseo's Japanese Culture Club is currently hosting an event that teaches students to make a paper origami crane for a donation of one dollar. The event is part of a larger effort by Students Rebuild to donate $2 to Japan for every paper crane mailed in. JCC hopes to send in 1,000 cranes and donate the money earned to International Red Cross.

"It's an old belief that when you make 1,000 cranes, your wish comes true," said senior Satoko Hirano, an anthropology major from Hiroshima. "It has become a symbol of peace, reconstruction and survival."

Another plan to raise money is a charity concert. Sophomore Yudai Ishida, a communication major from Kyoto, recently gained permission to host the concert and is in the process of looking for local bands interested in participating.

While international media is focusing on the economy and the threat of a nuclear meltdown, "the focus in Japan has shifted to encouragement and rebuilding," said communication professor Atsushi Tajima.

"We want to keep people aware that reconstruction has just started," Hirano said.

So far, the campus has been very supportive. Students and faculty have been offering their support and making generous donations.

"It's surreal to us," Hirano said. "We can't believe that it's happening to the people who speak our language. It's been frustrating, especially the first week after the quake, that so much is happening overseas in our country and there's so little we can do. At the same time, I feel very supported; I really appreciate the kindness and help that we've been receiving."