4th Anniversary of 311

Today marks the fourth anniversary of the devastating earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent nuclear meltdown that ravaged northeastern Japan. I spent the night listening to speakers — Japanese and American — discuss the situation in Tohoku and the current state of recovery efforts. More to come about that discussion, but for now, here are few things you can consider doing to help the people of Tohoku — many of whom are still living in temporary housing and who remain grieving for all that was lost four years ago.

Donate to the Taylor Anderson Memorial Fund — Anderson was one of two American English teachers who lost their lives in the tsunami. Her family has been very active in keeping her spirit and love of Japan alive through this memorial fund, which promotes education and cultural exchange between America and the Tohoku region.

Read about the Situation — This Al Jazeera America piece that came across my newsfeed today really resonated with me. Fukushima Victims Speak. Will anyone listen?  

Visit Tohoku — Definitely one of my next stops when I have a chance to go back to Japan.

Check out the 113 Project — I was lucky enough tonight to catch a sneak peak of some of the stories that will be shared with this project, which aims to “reclaim Tohoku,” promote tourism in the area, and tell the stories of Tohoku residents. Last summer, I profiled the team involved in the project for Japan Today.

2014: A Photo Essay

Per my annual tradition, here are twelve photos representing my 2014. Although it was wonderful to be closer to family, it feels strange not to include a single photo from Japan. Unlike in previous years, all photos below were taken in the Chicago area.

In 2015, I plan finish my “Transition Japan” series to focus on more narrative non-fiction stories. Happy New Year everyone, and may 2015 bring you much joy! 明けましておめでとうございます。


The Adler Planetarium and a frozen Lake Michigan on a frigid January afternoon. Winter 2014 in Chicago was dubbed “Chiberia” by many.


Ice covering the Chicago river in February 2014.
Ice covering the Chicago river in February 2014.


Runners finishing the Shamrock Shuffle, the world's largest 8K race, in March 2014.
Runners finishing the Shamrock Shuffle, the world’s largest 8K race, in March 2014. The city finally thawed.


I love seeing Chicago's skyline from various views throughout the city. This was taken near the intersection of Chicago & Halsted.
I love seeing Chicago’s skyline from various spots throughout the city. This was taken near the intersection of Chicago & Halsted.


Runners gathering on the steps of Soldier Field before the Solider Field 10 Mile race.
Runners gathering on the steps of Soldier Field before the Solider Field 10 Mile race, where participants finish on the 50-yard line.


Chicago's brutally cold winter of 2014 caused an unusually thick amount of fog in the spring and early summer.
Chicago’s brutally cold winter of 2014 caused an unusually thick amount of fog in the spring and early summer.


Michigan Avenue & Wacker Drive, Chicago, July 4, 2014.
Michigan Avenue & Wacker Drive, Chicago, July 4, 2014.


I walked around Northwestern’s campus for the first time in nearly five years and visited Evanston’s Grosse Pointe Lighthouse, which was built in 1873.


I visited Ernest Hemingway’s childhood home in Oak Park for the first time. Our guide gave an animated and informative tour of the house and Hemingway’s early life. “But man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated. ” – Ernest Hemingway, “The Old Man and the Sea”


October in Chicago brings the famed Chicago Marathon. Before volunteering at the after party, I cheered on some of the top runners. Here, Kenyan runner Rita Jeptoo brings in her famous kick to finish first in the women’s division. Unfortunately, she later tested positive for a banned sports enhancer substance.


I climbed the Willis Tower (103 flights of stairs, 2,109 steps) in support of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (SkyRise charity event). Upon finishing, I could see for miles and miles on this crisp fall day.


Two American heroes—Hank Rossetti and Al Mampre—who were combat medics in the 501st and 506th Airborne Infantry Regiments in WWII. I met them courtesy of WWII historian, author, and 101st Airborne expert Mark Bando, at his annual Trigger Time 101st Airborne dinner in Arlington Heights, IL.

Recent Musings (Summer Edition)

I’m working on my next “Transition Japan” piece for those of you enjoying your first month in Japan with the JET Program, but in the meantime, I’d like to share some Japan-related articles I wrote that were recently published. Per my interest about the nuclear situation in Fukushima, two of the articles discuss ongoing recovery efforts in the Tohoku region.

The Making of ‘Tohoku Tomo’ and the 113 Project (Japan Today)

A Rare Glimpse Inside Fukushima (Japan Today)

Book Review- Year Zero: A History of 1945 (JQ Magazine)

Happy New Year

Happy New Year, everyone! あけましておめでとうございます!I’ll be posting my annual “Year in Photos” later this week, but I wanted to write a short note before December ends.  I have a guest from Japan who is visiting Chicago, and it’s been great to see my hometown through the eyes of someone who has never been to a major American city.  Below is a picture of Chicago’s old Water Tower, which was built between 1867 and 1869 and is one of the city’s most famous landmarks.  Chicago was brutally cold today, but I couldn’t help but admire how the city looks under shimmering winter lights.  More to come soon as I reflect on 2013 and look forward to 2014.  I wish you all health, happiness and good fortune in the New Year.



A Moment for America’s Veterans


I write a lot about how much I love Japan, but I’m also so grateful to be an American.  Living abroad for an extended time showed some of America’s weaknesses but also her unyielding strengths unmatched by no other country, in particular the extent of diversity and entrepreneurial spirit found in so many citizens. Today, on Veterans Day, I visited the gravestones of my three grandfathers who served in WWII.  My father’s biological father, Nicholas J. Neises, a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne, was killed in action in France in 1944, and he now rests eternally in Normandy. He never came home from war to meet his infant son. His parents, Nicholas and Clara, are buried in Saint Mary Catholic Cemetery in Evergreen Park, not far from my hometown.  My sister has been researching our grandfather’s life and she discovered that his parents dedicated their burial plot to their late son. They lived some twenty years after their son’s death, harboring in them a pain that only parents who have lost a child can understand.  My father went to the gravestone for the first time today.  “You could tell (his death) really affected them,” he said while clearing the gravestone of leaves.  We also visited the graves of my maternal grandfather, William J. Donahue, and my father’s adoptive father, Edward J. Burt, Sr., who raised my father as his own.  Both men served in the Navy and rarely talked about their experience though without a doubt it was traumatizing and life-changing. America would not be the great country it is today without their dedication and the service of countless others.  I salute and remember them now and always, no matter what country I am in.

Neises Burt Donahue


A Farewell to Japan

It’s hard to believe that three years ago I came to Japan. The time has passed so quickly, and I feel like a different person in so many ways. In July 2010, I boarded a plane from Chicago to arrive in Tokyo and begin a new adventure teaching English in Japan. Excited but also extremely nervous and worried, I planned to stay only one year. Slowly, one year turned into two, and two into three.

Finally, it is time to bid a temporary farewell to my love, Japan. I am in LAX Airport waiting for my connecting flight back to Chicago. I have no idea what the future holds, but I will certainly be writing many more “Stories from the Inaka” now that I will have more time. Thank you always for reading, and safe travels to you on your own journeys.