March 16, 2011

Crisis in Japan reaches U of C community

Rockefeller Chapel’s carillon bells carried a particularly somber melody Tuesday evening, as an interfaith vigil held there for Japanese victims of last week’s earthquake and tsunami drew to a close.

Roughly 40 students, administrators, and other University affiliates attended the vigil hosted by the Office of Spiritual Life. At turns mournful and hopeful, the service featured poetry readings and a musical performance before culminating in a moment of silence and a candle lighting. Also present were members of the Japanese Student Association (JSA) and the Booth School of Business’s Japan Club, who collected $550 in donations for the Japanese Red Cross.

“We hold the people of Japan close to our hearts, and we offer what we can,” said Assistant Director of Spiritual Life Laura Hollinger, who organized the event with Dean of Rockefeller Chapel Elizabeth Davenport.

A series of readings set the tone of the vigil, which was as much a celebration of Japanese culture and resilience as it was an demonstration of grievance.

Davenport opened the service with a haiku by Japanese poet Ban’ya Natsuishi. Various attendees, including Dean of Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews, stood and recited a shared poem compiled from English and Japanese news sources covering the disaster.

“People are keeping really strong back home,” said Chihiro Yoshida, an international student from Tokyo in the college and a board member of the Japanese Student Association. Yoshida shared tweets from the Twitter account of a 21-year-old refugee currently at a relocation camp in Tochigi, Japan. “I think Japan is the most heartwarming country in the world. I just cried and cried,” she said, quoting a tweeted anecdote about how people were opening their homes to those whom the quake had left homeless.

Samuel Becker and Andrew Thornton, two musicians in the University’s Jazz X-Tet, performed a short piece they composed, which they called in an e-mail their “artistic and emotional reaction to the events of the past few days.”

The service took a more political turn when Ariya Sasaki (B. A. ’11) read excerpts from Taeko Kansha’s Is It Too Late? The Longest Letter I’ve Ever Written, a book written in the aftermath of the 1986 meltdown at the Soviet Union’s Chernobyl nuclear plant. The work strongly condemns the usage of nuclear power—a topic of contention that has flared in the past week as emergency responders rush to prevent a potential calamity at three nuclear reactors badly damaged by the tsunami that struck Japan’s northern coasts March 11.

While government estimates place the official death toll at 3,373, that number is sure to rise as cleanup efforts intensify and more bodies are found. According to Japanese state broadcaster NHK, over 450,000 people have been displaced by the tsunami and its causative earthquake, which, at 9.0 on the Richter scale, was the largest in Japanese recorded history.