The University of Iowa

Locals worry for loved ones in Japan

March 11th, 2011

By B.A. Morelli, The Press-Citizen

Local residents and students tried to contact loved ones affected by Friday’s deadly tsunami that rocked Japan and sent people scrambling in Hawaii and West Coast cities.

Shaw Akutsu, 21, a University of Iowa junior and first generation Japanese-American, has yet to make contact with his father, who lives in Morioka, a mountain town north of Sendai, a focal point of the devastation, which were sparked by a magnitude 8.9 offshore earthquake.

“I am kind of waiting to hear back. I am kind of stressed out because I don’t know what is up with my dad. But, it’s like with tornados here, they are pretty much prepared for earthquakes,” Akutsu said.

Akutsu is optimistic his father is safe because he lives in the highlands, although mudslides are a concern. He has spoken with his mother, who lives in Ishida, an area that was not affected.

“They’ve all grown up knowing that an earthquake could happen, so the natural instinct is to stay calm at first until you get all of the information,” Akutsu said.

Yume Hidaka, 29, a UI Japanese outreach coordinator from Kagoshima and more recently Yokohama, has been “shocked and confused” by the events in her homeland.

She woke up to a series of middle-of-the-night e-mails from family friends back home and quickly found the disaster on television.

“I turned on the TV and it showed all of what happened, but at the time it didn’t say which part of Japan. I was really shocked and confused,” Hidaka said.

“Oh my God, it’s terrifying. It just feels so sad. I want to go and do something — help, volunteer do something. It’s frustrating. I am here and I can’t do anything.”

Hidaka’s family is safe, but her brother is separated from his wife and 11-month-old son. He is stuck at his work in Tokyo because transportation has shut down. Meanwhile, Hidaka’s sister-in-law left her home in a high-rise in Yokohama for a shelter because she didn’t feel safe.

Mieko Basan, of Iowa City, moved to the U.S. six years ago from Kyushu, which is away from the epicenter. Her family and friends are safe, but friends are still trying to make contact with loved ones.

“Oh my God, it’s terrifying. It just feels so sad. I want to go and do something — help, volunteer do something. It’s frustrating. I am here and I can’t do anything,” Basan said.

Nine UI students studying in different parts of Japan, including Nagoya and Tokyo, have been contacted and are safe, said Janis Perkins, associate director of UI International Programs.

Attempts to reach those students by the Press-Citizen were not successful.

Libby Kestel, 48, of Iowa City, woke up startled in the middle of the night on Friday. She couldn’t get back to sleep and flipped on the television. She quickly realized her younger sister on vacation in Hawaii may be at risk.

“They were fine. They rented a house up kind of high. But they were sleeping. I was watching the internet, hearing sirens going off. I was afraid they didn’t have any idea,” Kestel said. “It was scary at first, but they are going to be fine.”

Takako Nakakubo, 40, of Iowa City and an instructor of Japanese at UI, moved to the U.S. 13 years ago from Nagoya. Her friends and family appear to be safe.

“At first, I am thinking, ‘It’s a country of earthquakes, here is another earthquake.’ I didn’t realize how great the magnitude was. Then I started watching the news, and I was speechless. What is going on in front of my eyes?” she said.