If there were ever a time I wanted to be in several places at once, it was on Sunday, March 11. Throughout the city different organizations observed the one-year anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in significant ways. There were film screenings at the New York Peace Film Festival, anti-nuke marches in Union Square, art exhibits and auctions at galleries, play readings at theaters and rehearsal spaces, and solemn remembrances at churches.
I couldn’t attend everything, but I fashioned an itinerary that allowed me to see several events and pay my respects.
Noon – Japan Society
I started at Japan Society, where activities for children, such as a drawing station to send messages to Japan and a doll-making session, were planned. Taking advantage of the calm before the storm, I spent some quiet time perusing the exhibit Memory: Things We Should Never Forget. A small but powerful collection of photographs taken by Nikkei, Inc., a media organization and newspaper publisher, Memory: Things We Should Never Forget juxtaposes pictures of people and places taken shortly after the March 11 disaster with photos taken two or three months later. Chronicling the lives of survivors as they attempt to recover and rebuild, the photographs show us glimmers of hope in the midst of sadness. Things We Should Never Forget is an exhibit no one should miss. (On display until Sunday, May 27)
HappyDoll, a non-profit that connects children around the world with handmade dolls, teamed up with Japanese pop singer AK Akemi Kakihara for a doll-making session with children from the New York area. Using their individual creativity, the children created unique dolls that will be sent to children in the Tohoku region. AK led the group in a sing-along of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” – in Japanese and English – and “When You Wish Upon a Star.” NHK was there to broadcast live interviews with AK and Japan Society President Motoatsu Sakurai.
2:46 p.m. – Washington Square Park/Judson Memorial Church
I found the large circle of people gathered in Washington Square Park just as Buddhist priest Rev. T. Kenjitsu Nakagaki hit the last chime in the moment of silence that marked 2:46 p.m., the time the earthquake struck Northeastern Japan and unleashed the destructive tsunami. As people wiped away tears, I fell in line with them and walked to nearby Judson Memorial Church for an interfaith memorial service.
Riki Ito, President of the New York Japanese-American Lions Club, a sponsor of the service, introduced religious leaders representing different faiths. Most had messages of hope for the future of Japan.
“What happens when we have a foundation, and it gets all washed away?” asks Rev. Eric Jackson of Judson Memorial Church. “Love prevailed.”
Hindu leader Dr. Uma Mysorekar says, “What can we do from so far away? Sometimes I think it’s just lip sympathy, but I believe our prayers are heard.”
Shinto priest Rev. Masafumi Nakanishi, an officer at the International Shinto Foundation in New York, says, “We need to learn to stand up and live with nature,” recalling the foundation of Shintoism, the indigenous religion of Japan.
Before attendees made offerings of flowers and incense for the victims of 3.11, Rev. Nakagaki spoke about okunen, one of the themes of the memorial. Referring to the two meanings of the word – to remember and to be mindful – Rev. Nakagaki advises, “Remember precious lives lost and remember suffering and pain. But be mindful of what we can do for recovery.”
5:03 p.m. – White Box Studio Theater at Fordham University
SHINSAI: Theaters for Japan is an initiative started by New York-based actor James Yaegashi, who grew up in Yamagata, north of Sendai, a city close to the epicenter of the earthquake. In what was a year in the making, Yaegashi brought together Japanese and American playwrights and actors to write and perform a series of ten-minute plays for a one-day-only event. The main performances were at Cooper Union, but theater companies across New York – actually, across the world – were part of the act, performing the same plays with different actors at different venues.
One of these theater groups is Crossing Jamaica Avenue, a multi-disciplinary, multicultural theater company that blends Western and Eastern aesthetics. Of the nine plays performed at White Box Studio Theater, I was able to watch the first three plays in director Sonoko Kawahara’s collaboration with the Fordham University Theatre Program: Hassaku by Nen Ishihara, A Problem of Blood by Yoji Sakate, and The Remaining by Shoji Kokami. All of the plays are new works specifically written about the events that transpired on March 11, 2011, and speak to how citizens of Northeastern Japan must cope with the new reality of the times.
6:21 p.m. – Japan Society
I raced across town to end the day where it began, Japan Society, for a screening of the Academy Award-nominated documentary The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom. What a special film; I cried from the opening sequence to the closing credits.
The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom was the perfect way for me to end this day of commemoration, as it mirrored the day in many ways. It was a heartbreakingly sad reflection on the tragedy of March 11, 2011. But more important, it also put human faces on the survivors, and in showing their resilience, inspired by Japan’s iconic cherry blossoms, it gives us all hope for the future.