Since waking Friday morning to hear the news of what happened in Japan, I have no allowed myself to be drawn in to the story. I avoided pictures, videos, news articles and more. I shut off my mind from the horror and hoped it would go away.
When I was 12, we hosted our first Japanese exchange visitor. His name escapes me now, as he was nearly 20 and because of our age difference he made it a point not to get too close to me. The next year, my brother was host to another Japanese boy through the same program: Takafumi. Then Tomomi, who was placed with me though she was a few years older and much more reserved than I was. The next year I hosted a beautiful girl my age, whose name is currently on the back of my tongue. But the summer I was 16 was the most memorable. Our family hosted Yoko, a beautiful Japanese girl a year my senior and my mom's good friend and her daughter hosted Naoko. Yoko and Naoko made friends during their time in Japan preparing to come to Arizona, and so by the time they were here it was like a match made in heaven. The 4 of us were tight the whole time they were here (though, honestly, Naoko's host sister wasn't my favorite person and she and Naoko didn't have much in common but Naoko was too kind to let on that she didn't love her) and I promised them that if I ever made it to Japan I would come and visit them.
The next summer, I made it to Japan. I was 17, and fresh off an insanely long plane ride overseas (my first) when I stepped into the terminal and was met by a grinning and ecstatic Naoko. She lived in Tokyo and had made it her business to greet me along with the official staff of the exchange program (I went there on a scholarship through the same program that had sent them to us) so that my welcome was a warm one. I saw Yoko once while I was there as well, though it turned out she and I got along famously but were not quite the kindred souls that Naoko and I ended up discovering ourselves to be. I was blessed to spend some time with Naoko that summer, and we've kept in touch since.
Over the years, as we both went to college and started our adult lives, we've talked less. But I've never, ever forgotten her or the way we laughed together in spite of (sometimes because of) our language differences. I'll never forget the first week I met her in Arizona, when she pointed to my chest and said, "Oh, big boobies! I can touch?" and the way she made my start in Japan feel like visiting an old friend.
Ahhhh, I can't write about it anymore. My heart is officially broken for the amazing people of Japan. I took some time this morning to look over this slideshow, and tears soaked my cheeks. She is a beautiful country, and her people are in my heart. I emailed the organization through which I hosted, and which hosted me during my 17th year, when I so needed a summer to get to know myself and to push and be pushed. I am changed because of my experience with Japan and her people, and I needed them to hear that as much as I needed to say it. I asked about the friends my family hosted and begged them, if they can, to give me information and to tell me everyone I know there is ok. I am not holding my breath that I'll get an answer (no doubt more pressing things are on their minds currently) but as I hope for a miracle in Japan, I hope for health and safety for my friends there, and for those they love.
If you want to help Japan and don't know how, here is a long list of resources.