March 15, 2011

In Japan's tsunami, Fuyoko is "fine" (per Facebook messages)

Fuyoko drinking tea in my Tel Aviv flat (January 2005)

On getting news of unspeakable disasters, putting a human face on the victims follows quickly. And so when news broke of Japan's tsunami flood, earthquake, and nuclear meltdowns, it was Fuyoko Sato's face that I saw; she, the only person I know on that island nation.

Feeling a bit loony turning to the Internet (if, miraculously, she was OK, would she even have access?) yet having no other means of contact, I posted a message on Fuyoko's Facebook "Wall" (where I found similar messages from other concerned friends).

Tamar Orvell > Fuyuko Sato
From Tel Aviv, Shalom Fuyoko! All I could think about was you and your family and friends on hearing news of the disasters in Japan. Please put a word here so that we can know of your whereabouts and situation. My heart goes out to you and to your nation. — Much love, Tamar
Sunday at 3:19pm

And then, the next day, came Fuyoko's reply.

Fuyuko Sato
It really nice of you to think of me. I have no problem here though some people in my town have to go to shelter because of tsunami. all of my family and friends are fine. thanks again for your note.
8 hours ago

Tamar Orvell
Your news shines light on news that reports horrors. Please keep me and your FB friends and others updated, and especially, on how we can support you now and over the coming weeks, months, and years. Love, Tamar
about an hour ago 

 ° ° °
The back story
Fuyoko and I were among the Shabbat dinner guests in Jeff and Judith Green's Jerusalem home, a first meeting with the remarkable Japanese young woman that launched our friendship. Fuyoko quickly wow-ed everyone by speaking basic Hebrew that she had learned in less than two years, a tribute to her sharp intellect, Japanese legendary study habits, and Israeli tutor.

What brought the demure, unassuming Fuyoko to Israel that winter in 2005? Research on public memorials to the Shoah — the subject of her thesis for a master's degree in history at UMass Amherst (the flagship campus of the University of Massachusetts system).

From Jerusalem to Tel Aviv
When we learned that the next week she would decamp to Tel Aviv, from where she would visit Shoah memorial sites in the center and north of Israel, I invited her to be my Tel Aviv house guest.

. . . and then to Atlanta
In 2006, after UMass Amherst awarded her the master's degree, and before she returned home, I had the pleasure of hosting her again, this time in my Atlanta home. Fuyoko had been selected to participate in the Summer Institute for Teaching the Holocaust, a program hosted by The William Breman Jewish Heritage & Holocaust Museum, in Atlanta!

Fuyoko preparing her native dishes in my kitchen,
using ingredients her mother had sent from Japan

Over the years, sometimes on Skype, more often via email, and now on Facebook, we have kept up with each other's lives. Exactly one year ago, Fuyoko sent me a long email, that began —

When I traveled to Israel, I had a lot of hard time, but now I really miss Israel and I would love to go back there. People were full of energy and actually they were friendly. (though sometimes there were some people who were rude.) I also miss the sea which was really bright blue. The sea of Tel Aviv was the bluest one I have ever seen.

Today, I especially miss the radiant Fuyoko — her courage, wisdom, sense of humor, and love of people, history, adventure, and the Hebrew language. And I often reflect on our real-time visits, when this gentle, persistent self-starter showed me how to engage with a culture almost totally alien to her own, and not become undone; rather, to notice and value the worthy, honorable, and pleasing differences.

Perhaps the disasters in Japan (and elsewhere in the world) will impel us to find a way to meet again.


JeSais said...

Tamar, I love how you "connect" the big news, or big history to real people... beautiful post. I know no one in Japan, but my grandparents were stationed there after WWII and I've always had an affinity for the Japanese-- and a lot of Japanese paraphernalia in my home.

Tamar Orvell said...

Jen, what were your grandparents doing in Japan while they were stationed there? XO

JeSais said...

my granddad was head of the dental clinic at the naval base in Yokosuka Japan. My Dad graduated from Yokahama High School....

Fuyuko said...

Dearest Tamar,
Thank you so much for writing about me. My facebook doesn't work well now, so I write the situation here.
The earthquake occurred on Honshu island, but I live in Hokkaido, which is also island, so my town wasn't affected by the earthquake. My friend who lives in Tokyo came back to her parents' home in Hokkaido because lots of aftershocks have followed and they made her nervous. She was also afraid of nuclear accident. According to her, things are confused in Tokyo, and she cannot endure them.
I'm sure the government will increase the tax but now nothing affects my life and it is very weird. People are suffering right now, but my life just goes on. It is such an absurdity.

judith said...

Dear Tamar and Fuyuko - thank you so much for reporting, I was worried about you in Japan, but couldn't remember where exactly you were living. It is a big challenge, no matter where you are, for all the people of Japan. Hope to see you some time again in Israel!
shalom from Judith