Weeks after the catastrophic events of the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan, students are still feeling the effects of the natural disaster.
According to Dr. John Buchanan, EWU’s director of the environmental science program, earthquakes are caused by plates within the Earth’s surface moving toward one another. Japan rests at a point where the continental and oceanic plates meet.
“The largest earthquakes ever recorded in the world occur in this type of setting, and Japan demonstrated that very clearly. The frightening thing I would add is we have the exact same geology off the coast of Washington and Oregon, which brings it a little bit closer to home,” Buchanan said.
Buchanan also added that Japan is one of the best prepared nations in the world when it comes to dealing with earthquakes.
“The Japanese engineers are probably the premiere group of engineers that know how to build in earthquake hazardous zones,” said Buchanan. “If I had to be in a country and in a building during a big earthquake like this, I would want to be in Japan and not in Seattle, believe me.”
While this was the biggest earthquake Japan has ever seen, it was the following tsunami that was responsible for all of the deaths and destruction. Tsunamis are caused by the vertical displacement of the water column in the ocean as a result of the earthquake on the ocean floor.
EWU has a number of students studying abroad in Japan who reported that they have not been affected by the earthquake. There are also a number of international students from Japan who are studying at EWU or have recently returned to Japan. Mitsuhiro Oshima and Miho Onuma are two students from Ibaraki University who studied at EWU for three weeks as part of Eastern’s English Language Institute program. These students left the U.S. March 10 and arrived in Japan during the evening of March 11 — right as the events were unfolding.
“At first, during our flight, the Japanese flight attendant said, ‘So, huge earthquake hit Japan.’ We decided not to land at Narita [International Airport in Tokyo] and we will head north to Shin-Chitose [International Airport] in Hokkaido,” Oshima said.
After landing in Shin-Chitose, Oshima said that they had to wait on the airplane for 10 hours and weren’t allowed into the airport until 3 a.m. March 12 in order to complete their immigration procedures.
“When we finally landed in Japan, we tried to contact our family and friends, … but we could not call them because our cell phones did not work well in airport. We just pushed my family’s telephone number to connect again and again,” Oshima said.
Many of EWU’s international students lived in or near Tokyo, which wasn’t greatly affected by the earthquake.
“My house wasn’t destroyed, but in my house, many things were falling down. The roof of my friend’s house is broken,” said Onuma. “I have been staying in my home all day long. I sometimes go shopping with my mother, but there are few goods in the store.”
Parts of Ibaraki University were damaged, and students were unable to participate in club activities. Even the entrance exam had to be cancelled as a result of the earthquake and tsunami.
On the other side of the Pacific, international students at EWU have expressed their concern and support for loved ones in Japan. On March 17, the International Student Association, Asia University America Program (AUAP) and EWU students, faculty and staff showed their support by spelling out “??????!” on Roos Field. The characters translate to “Do your best, Japan!”
Some AUAP students shared their feelings about when the tsunami occurred.
“I was worried about my hometown and my friends in Tochigi and Tohuku [near Fukushima]. The tsunami is very big, and I was worried for Japan. But my friends and family are safe,” AUAP student Kohei Yamaguchi said.
Another AUAP student, Maki Udagawa, was also worried because her home is in the affected area of Ibaraki.
“I’m relieved about my parents because they are safe, but now many people feel sad, and I want them to feel happy,” Udagawa said.
The International Education Office in Showalter Hall has a number of resources available for students who need to call Japan and immigration advising services for students who need to return to Japan on short notice.