I grew up just outside of Chicago, the third largest city in America, so life in a small Japanese town is very different from anything I am accustomed to. Although the tiny south suburb I was raised in often felt like a small town to me, the sense of community that is fostered in Namerikawa feels different compared to anything else I have experienced.
I was reminded of this on Friday after work, when I stopped by the theatre building just outside of the Namerikawa City Hall to donate some towels, blankets and other essentials to help the victims of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Officials estimate that more than 300,000 people are now homeless and living in shelters as a result of the damage. The need for donations and supplies is still great.
Namerikawa is a tiny seaside town on the other side of Honshu, more than 180 miles from Fukushima, yet the theater room was packed with donations, including both used and new items. Outside, volunteers were loading supplies in large vans. Inside, even more volunteers were spending their Friday evening sorting the donations, packing up boxes and ensuring that our neighbors to the northeast would be cared for.
When I first entered the area to drop off my items and help out, I ran into an acquaintance from City Hall. “Oh, Sheila-san, hi,” he said. He was standing on a chair taking pictures for the City Hall’s newsletter. He pointed to all the volunteers. “すごい,” (sugoi) he said, which roughly translates to “This is amazing.”
I nodded in agreement, proud that my Japanese town was banding together to help those who need it most.