Professor Hitoshi Abe served as moderator for the June 16 briefing featuring His Excellency Ichiro Fujisaki, Japanese ambassador to the United States.
By Wendy Soderburg. Originally published on UCLA Today
The packet of photos of Japan seemed to take everyone by surprise. On each page of the packet were two photos: The top snapshot showed a scene snapped immediately after the devastating earthquake and tsunami of March 11. The bottom photo of the exact same area taken three months later showed that the debris has been almost completely cleared away, leaving everything looking — for all intents and purposes — normal.
That Japan is making remarkable progress in its recovery was exactly the message that His Excellency Ichiro Fujisaki, Japanese ambassador to the United States, wished to impart to the guests attending "Disaster in Japan," a private briefing held on June 16 at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills.
The ambassador had been invited to speak at the event by the Artists and Athletes Alliance — a nonprofit, educational and charitable organization that serves as a nexus between the entertainment community and policymakers in Washington, D.C., and with whom UCLA is an educational partner.
"We're coming back, so please do have confidence in Japan," Fujisaki told the audience, which included such celebrities as actors Masi Oka, Jorja Fox and Keith David, former NFL star Nick Lowery and Japanese rock star Yoshiki, as well as members of the Japanese Consulate of Los Angeles and UCLA faculty, friends and administrators. "Of course, there are nuclear reactor issues, but it's [in] a certain region. It's not all of Japan that is affected. There are aftershocks, but that's calming down as well.
"So we don't want people around the world to think that Japan is dangerous: 'Let's postpone our trip for the next three years, five years,'" he continued. "No, we are already back in that sense, as you can see from this picture. Please go to Japan!"
He also commented on the Japanese economy, adding that by September, it is estimated that between 90-100 percent of Japan's production will be back. "Some economists say that the reason the U.S. economy is not doing as it should be is because of two reasons: the oil price hike and the supply-chain issue, with the supply chain [problem] coming from Japan's disaster. And I say, that's wrong!" He sat back and smiled. "Just wanted to share my thoughts."
Professor Abe, who chairs the Department of Architecture and Urban Design, was born and raised in Sendai, the nearest major city to the epicenter of the 9.0 quake.
Serving as moderator for the evening was Professor Hitoshi Abe, director of the Paul I. and Hisako Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies at UCLA and chair of the Department of Architecture and Urban Design. The evening held special significance for Abe, who was born and raised in Sendai, the nearest major city to the epicenter of the 9.0 quake.
"I went to the area about a month after the disaster and, luckily, I landed at Sendai Airport," Abe said. "Many of you have seen the airport, horribly washed out by the tsunami. I think the American Navy came in and cleaned up the airport. It was part of Operation Tomodachi (Operation Friend)."
Fujisaki concurred, "It was a difficult time. But we couldn't have gone through that difficult period without American support. All the Japanese are really grateful for American help. And I've said that American soldiers, rescue teams, officials and experts really worked as if it were their problem. And we felt like family members. This is not an exaggeration.
"And so the Japanese will never forget this. They will remember this. On behalf of the Japanese, I would like to say to the American people that we are so gratified," the ambassador said, bowing his head.
Japan's economy has also made a remarkable recovery from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, reported Ambassador Fujisaki.
Actress Jorja Fox, well-known for her role on "CSI," is on the board of the Artists and Athletes Alliance. She said that Fujisaki's appearance was a testament to Japan's persistence, hard work and bravery. "My heart goes out to the people of Japan and everything they've been through. We can't even conceive it. In Los Angeles, we're incredibly vulnerable to the set of circumstances that happened in Japan … to earthquakes, to a nuclear meltdown, to a tsunami, under the right conditions," she said.
"So a lot of thoughts and prayers are going out in that direction. I'm grateful that the Japanese people are setting such a high example for the rest of us in times of trouble and strife. I feel pretty certain that Japan was probably the most prepared of anybody to actually receive the [disaster]. And just in an esoteric sort of way, I'm grateful. Japan took a hit for the entire world."
Earlier in the day, Fujisaki was the special guest at a luncheon held at the UCLA Faculty Center, attended by a select group of graduate students who showcased their research and by faculty members who were able to talk to the ambassador and share their thoughts about Japan.
The Artists and Athletes Alliance event was just one way UCLA has been helping to get the word out about Japan. On the website for the Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies, Director Abe has included a special message outlining how people can aid the stricken Asian nation.
"We felt that our most useful role would be to direct people on how they could help," Abe said. He and his staff have prepared a list of organizations they believe can be most effective in getting overseas aid to Japan. This list, which includes the Japanese Red Cross, the Salvation Army and AmeriCares, is posted on the Terasaki Center website.
The broader UCLA community is offering its expertise to the Japanese in a number of ways. For example, after the quake Dr. Kozue Shimabukuro, a specialist in pediatric critical care, turned a vacation to visit family in Japan into a medical mission to treat injured Japanese children, many of whom were newly orphaned. She joined a government pediatric disaster relief team now in northern Japan, where damage from the disasters was severe and radiation concerns linger. Professor Jonathan Stewart, an expert in seismic engineering from UCLA's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, was part of a U.S. response team that spent a week in Sendai, Japan, where they inspected structures, including levees, dams and ports.
Yoh Kawano, a UCLA urban planning lecturer, served on a six-member team of geographic information system specialists who were asked by the United Nations to put together an interactive map of Japan for relief workers. The map gives users critical information to help them do their jobs.
Chemistry Professor Jim Gimzewski spends several months a year in Japan, working in Tsukuba as a satellite director of a nanotechnology program for MEXT, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology in Japan. He's currently working with colleagues in Japan at the National Institute for Materials Science in Tsukuba to help get their research back on track after the quake.
Andrew Ng, a 2010 UCLA graduate, was teaching English in Sendai when the quake hit, and he stepped up as a relief worker when his school became a temporary shelter. After making sure his students were safe, he ended up caring for community members who had arrived to take shelter at the school. Ng created a blog that describes his story and includes photos.
On campus, the UCLA Nikkei Student Union and Japan Student Association collected more than $1,500 for the American Red Cross and are continuing to raise money, while the Anderson School of Management's Japan America Business Association, in partnership with USC Marshall School of Business and Pepperdine Graziadio School of Business and Management, created a website to raise money to help Japan rebuild.
The Artists and Athletes Alliance event at the Four Seasons Hotel served as a reminder that, while Japan has made great progress in the last three months, much more work remains to be done.
"We believe that having the opportunity to hear firsthand from diplomats, political leaders and prominent journalists provides members of the entertainment and creative community, as well as UCLA students and faculty, with a unique insight and perspective on the important issues facing our nation," said Steve Ross, executive director of Artists and Athletes. "With a better understanding of the issues, we hope that our members will be able to assist their favorite charities, causes and foundations more effectively."
The Artists and Athletes Alliance is pleased to have UCLA as its educational partner, said Ross, who pointed out that the UCLA component has added an important educational element to the organization's events.