I've written a bit about our experience with Japan and our friends. Rick discovered this beautiful country first, and made many friends on an extended Rotary trip about 15 years ago.
Through him, I met many Japanese friends, many of whom were part of our Sister Cities program. We spent wonderful evenings cooking together, enjoying fun times. We showed Yukari and Atsu our lake and introduced them to Northern Michigan. I think fondly of the things I learned to appreciate from them.
I'll admit, Tokyo wasn't my favorite spot. Perhaps I was still too much in transition. It could have been I didn't understand the language or the ways of the country enough to feel confident.
But the wonderful party of Rick's friends we met with outside of Tokyo made me feel so very welcome, so much at home. Even though everything was new and very different, I could tell from our smiles that we were really much the same. And while we could not understand one another, those smiles spoke volumes.
There was tremendous peace in Kamakura as we visited Diabutsu.
The "Big Buddha" was so massive, magnificent. I feel quite sure that even if he was in the path of a tsunami, he alone would survive.
Our friend Yuka took us to see Diabutsu. She lives not far from Tokyo. I suspect she was far enough to not experience too much damage, although I am sure she would have felt the quake. I hope she and those she loves are fine.
Yamagata was high in the mountains, and it seemed like Shangri-la as we climbed higher and higher at Yamadera, a temple.
It felt as though we were at the top of the world.
Along the way there were altars such as these.
I can't help but wonder how many more such altars will appear as Japanese honor their dead, killed from the debris of the earthquake or the ravaging and uncompromising waters of the tsunami.
Hiroshima could tell you a little bit about the dead. The Peace Park attracts visitors at every time of the year -- even on a cold and rainy February day.
The children from elementary schools throughout the country bring their paper cranes to the memorial -- asking for peace.
It was in Hiroshima I met Rick's friend Kiyo and her family and good friends, who introduced me to a wonderful dish called "okonomiaki" and rice balls. Once again, the smiles were warm, the laughter jolly and the companionship simply perfect. They are far from the epicenter. I hope their friends afar are all right.
(Several years later, Greg stayed with Kiyo's family for several weeks in the summer. When he returned, he brought Hikaru, who is holding the little girl in the photo, with him.)
The people in Shiga, Michigan's "sister state" (actually, Shiga is a prefecture) and in Otsu, Lansing's Sister City, are probably safe and worried about their friends and colleagues who live closer to the disaster.
Naoki and Kanako are probably quite secure in their home far away from Tokyo, Sendei and the other cities touched.
But we're not sure about the Shirai's. We went to a place where we could make our own soba noodles -- then eat a wonderful lunch -- with them. Since then, we've lost touch, but last I heard they had moved to Tokyo.
Fumio lives in a suburb of Tokyo, too. Rick met him years ago when Fumio was at MSU and his children and Rick's were in pre-school together.
We toured part of Tokyo with him during our visit and I treasure a deck of cards he gave me. (The Japanese are very big on giving gifts -- omiage, I think it is spelled -- oh-me-ah-ge.)
There is much in my house and in Rick's that reminds me of our time in Japan and our Japanese friends.
I think of them all the more these days as we see the terrible effects of the earthquake, aftershocks and the tsunami. While we are hopeful they are safe and have sustained little if any damage to their homes, we worry.
And yes, pray.
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