Toko Igarashi, professor at Joetsu University of Education near the west-central coast of Japan, visited campus on March 21st as part of Joetsu’s longstanding ties to our College of Education. She was able to relate from personal experience and in great detail the terrible events that came during and after the devastating earthquake that hit on March 11th. Toko was able to reach the Tokyo airport by car, and described seeing seeing middle-aged Japanese men with golf equipment heading for a flight to Hawaii, a surreal vision following the devastation and hardships of recent weeks. We were pleased that, in such trying times, Toko was able to visit the University of Iowa to affirm our relationship with Joetsu and to plan future cooperation.
Representatives from the U.S. Center for Citizen Diplomacy, located in Des Moines, met with Toko on Monday. The U.S. Center serves people-to-people organizations across the country, and was recently awarded a grant from the Japan Foundation to establish a “J-Center” here in Iowa with two principal aims:
- to increase awareness among Americans of all ages living in ten states in the Midwest of existing organizations and opportunities to be engaged in citizen diplomacy activities focused on Japan in both the public and private sector, and
- to work with these organizations to expand their outreach and create a sustainable and collaborative network that will expand and initiate new programs.
Joetsu University of Education is the Japanese partner of the J-Center and will help the U.S. Center connect with existing and potential partners in Japan. It is fitting that an organization based in Des Moines was awarded the Japan Foundation grant, given that the relationship between Yamanashi Prefecture and the State of Iowa extends back to 1959. International Programs will support the J-Center through our network, and in particular through our Japan Outreach Initiative, led by Karen Wachsmuth (IP’s Outreach Coordinator) and Yume Hidaka, who is here with us for two years thanks to another grant from the Japan Foundation. I hope that these relationships will help build cultural bridges as Japan looks to rebuild following these terrible recent events.
One of the first things I did following the earthquake and tsunami was to ensure that all University of Iowa students were safe. Fortunately they were; and those who have elected to remain in Japan are far out of harm’s way, south of the affected areas. Many on campus have banded together to contribute to support relief efforts, in particular the Japanese Students and Scholars Club and the Japanese Cultural Association. Collegiate deans and department heads with ties to Japan also reached out to their counterparts there. All of us hope that Japan, with assistance from the U.S. and others, will be able to address the many needs its people have at the moment, the most pressing of which is no doubt the uncertain state of the nuclear reactors at Fukushima.