The lovely Ayumi and I met while taking a course during the Summer of 2004 at Parsons School of Design- she was my roommate. Ayumi, the lucky one, was continuing on that fall to obtain a degree in Interior Design from Parsons (I thought many times that summer about transferring). I had never lived with anyone from a different country before and it was truly an amazing experience. I loved hearing her speak Japanese to her mother on the phone and I remember being incredibly fascinated by her packets of powdered green tea that literally turned her glass seaweed green. “That’s not green tea,” I told her. “No, you are used to the light green tea right,” she said, “That’s too sweet, that’s not real green tea.” You mean, since high school, I’d been drinking green tea that wasn’t actually true green tea? A catastrophe! So, I thought….
It was with Ayumi, that I had sushi for the first time. She took me to an authentic Japanese restaurant on the lower East Side. I am relatively sure I still know exactly where it was. She made me venture beyond the sushi rolls – I tried sushi nigiri and sashimi. I had her choose the fish. And, Ayumi and I have stayed in contact ever since. Though we haven’t seen each other in several years- we are always careful not to lose touch. Of course, when I heard about the devastation in Japan, I immediately reached out to her. She’s brilliant, beautiful, smart, and has wonderful eye for design. I immediately wanted to know the best way to help her loved ones and Japan. She is from Tokyo and that is where most all of her friends and family reside. Though she has not lived in Japan since this past fall, she feels as if she has been there during this entire tragedy. “My emotions are helpless,” she told me, “My heart and soul is out there, but all I can do is spread the word to people who are willing to help by donating money to the organizations that help Japan directly. Even though Tokyo experienced the earthquake, they are fortunate that they didn’t have as much damage as Sendai.”
The antenna is now bent on the pictured building due to the earthquake
Ayumi’s mother is in Japan and has been reporting the tragedies directly to her daughter. “My mother said her heart is broken to see the devastated areas like Sendai and can’t imagine what it’s like the lose a house – covered with water – and to be separated from the ones you love,” said Ayumi.
So, did the Japanese know the earthquake was coming? “My mom and I just had a conversation on the phone about ‘when is the big earthquake going to hit Japan’ two days before it happened. It was a common subject to talk about between Japanese people because scientists were predicting it for years,” she said, “ When it occurred, I thought I jinxed it. My mother’s experience was at an old ten floor small building office ALONE, and she felt a minor earthquake in the beginning (Tokyo has frequent earthquakes and we are all accustomed to them already).” But, Ayumi’s mother knew this one was a bit different. The floor began to shake with more intensity than usual and she started to panic. “She immediately went to the front door to make sure it wasn’t stuck,” said Ayumi, “The cabinets and electronic appliances all fell to the floor. At that time, she didn’t know what happened and didn’t know what to do.” Unfortunately, all phone lines were busy and her mother wasn’t sure if she should go outside. Ayumi’s mother decided not to- in fear that cracked glass might fall on her. “Afterwards, there were many aftershocks that continued and she felt nauseous,” said Ayumi, “There weren’t any subways working and she spent the night at the office.”
She told me the most helpful aspect throughout the initial shock, was that there was a prompt assistance from other countries. “There are several U.S. Army Bases located in Japan that were able to help immediately,” she said, “Many non-profit organizations gathered food and shelters for the people who need assistance. South Korea contributed, sending rescue dogs to find people that were still alive under the houses.” She says there are still people who need more help than you think and has contributed to street fundraising in New York with the Tzu-chi Foundation, which is helping to collect money and send blankets and instant food. “I understand that the United States rarely has earthquakes and Americans may not feel the immediate relation or connection to what occurred in Japan,” said Ayumi, “I really want the Americans to pay attention to the street fundraising for Japan. If they are hesitant to donate money on the street, please check out the American Red Cross. By texting 90999, you automatically donate $10 to the American Red Cross. Every dollar makes a difference and remember- actions speak louder than words.”
The hardest part for Ayumi has been the separation from her friends and family during this time. She has had to mentally support herself here in the US by taking action on the streets as a part of organizations helping disaster recovery. “It will take many years and hopefully no one will forget this tragedy,” she said, “I understand that this isn’t the only disaster we can focus on, but I really want people to understand how an earthquake and tsunami can change everything.” Japan is currently undergoing a shortage on rice and water- a day Ayumi believed would never come.
Two Japanese girls in kimonos walking towards cherry blossoms.
“This was taken last April (2010) and is something we would like to see again in the future: Japan with beautiful cherry blossoms (‘sakura’). All Japanese people look forward to this new season (a new start) and school usually starts this month.” – Ayumi
So how is Ayumi getting through this difficult time? “I literally wanted to fly back home the day it happened,” she said,” My mother was the positive one who thought it unnecessary for me to come back home. She wants me to keep going and live everyday like nothing happened. My mother is my role model and inspiration – she went back to the office the following Monday. I would be too traumatized to go back to the office. I told her to stay home for weeks, but she said nothing is going to stop her! I am coping because of my mother.”
Ayumi and her husband
* all photography by Ayumi