Friday, March 23, 2012

A GW Student's Perspective: Remembering 3.11 Through the Eyes of Students from Japan

This blog post was written by GW undergraduate student Saori Ishihara, reflecting on the event Remembering 3.11 Through the Eyes of Students from Japan, which was held at the Elliott School on March 9, 2012.

In remembrance of the 9.0 earthquake that hit the Tohoku region of Japan a year ago, the Japanese American Student Union of D.C. hosted an event inviting distinguished speakers and 28 students from Japan. This event was generously co-sponsored by the Sigur Center for Asian Studies. The first part of the event consisted of students from Japan sharing their personal experiences on the catastrophe, as well as giving presentations on their research. After the student presentations, Ms. Emma Chanlett-Avery of Congressional Research Service and Dr. Edward Lincoln and Dr. Mike Mochizuki of GWU, led a panel discussion, focusing on the implications of the disaster on Japan’s diplomatic, domestic, and economic policies. The panelists and the guests were then split into smaller groups to have discussions on topics such as the importance of volunteering.
Reflecting on the event, I gained much more than what I had expected. The presentations by the students from Japan were informative and striking. Though I was aware of the severity from seeing images on the TV and on the internet, it reminded me that the level of devastation was, and still is, astonishing. Although I was not in Japan when the disaster struck the country, as a fellow Japanese citizen, I was reminded that the reconstruction process is still ongoing and is full of hardships. Of all the presentations, the topic of volunteering was the most compelling. As someone who is an active volunteer, it was encouraging to hear that volunteerism in Japan has gained value among the Japanese people after the earthquake.
Furthermore, I was encouraged and motivated to hear from the panelists that the future of Japan is bright. The panel discussion made me think twice about Japan. The following is a brief summary of the panelists' speeches. Dr. Lincoln discussed that the Japanese economy is in a rebuilding process following an unexpected level of shock, though there are some long term issues remaining, such as population dislocation and power supply sources. Dr. Mochizuki discussed fundamental changes in Japanese politics, including the increasing level of centralization, as well as rising importance and more active roles being taken by local governments. He also mentioned that we need a new breed of leaders. In other words, the young ones need to step up. Lastly, Ms. Chanlett-Avery stated that the US's immediate reaction towards Japan in helping the country was assisted by a cordial relationship that had already been established, though the issues regarding US military base in Okinawa still remain.
Discussion group was extremely memorable to me. What exceeded my expectations was the level of engagement and eagerness by both the American and Japanese students. Prior to the event, there were some concerns about how this discussion group portion of the event would follow. Since one of the goals of the students coming from Japan was to exchange cultures through sharing their opinions, my organization wanted to assure that their goal would be achieved. Such concern was alleviated as soon as this part of the event began. It was incredible to see how passionately all of the participants listened and shared their thoughts. This, I thought, was a true cultural exchange; I will never forget this occasion.
It was remarkable to hear from both the American and Japanese students about how much they enjoyed the event and how appreciative they were for providing such an academic and cultural setting. I hope that this event was an unforgettable event to each and everyone. I would like to thank all the guests for participating in this event. Most importantly, I would like to thank the Sigur Center for co-sponsoring this event. Without their support, this event could not have been taken place.

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