My experience with the Tamago program started when I received a school newsletter and there was a program listed on there that talked about Japan. This caught my eye because I’m half Japanese so my whole family on my maternal side lives in Japan. In middle school, there was never any club or class that talked about Japan which is why I thought this would be a great unique opportunity and applied. And a great opportunity it was! What made the program for me was how Tamago brought greater connections to my roots in Japan. The obvious example of a connection to Japan is speaking Japanese more often.
Prior to joining Tamago, I could speak Japanese, but not very well. My Japanese studies back then consisted of saying “hi”, “what time is it?” and other simple phrases to my mom. This is why it was great that in breakout rooms during Tamago class, we practiced our Japanese through repetition and conversation. We would learn phrases that I wouldn’t say at home such as “I would like to get 3 bananas” or “nice to meet you” and as a result, I learned more phrases and vocab. This is important to me as my goal is to speak fluently to my family in Japan over the phone for example, and when I go to Japan, I want to be able to converse with others. And the Tamago program brought me closer to that goal.
The other connection that I found from Tamago to family back in Japan was when we learned about culture. We learned about topics such as the atomic bombing in Hiroshima, table manners, and prefectural dialects. This was valuable in that it helped remind me of parts of Japan that I may have lost or forgotten through living in the United States all my life. So overall, when I look back at my year in Japanese Tamago class, it was a club that kept me going through this challenging year. And for that I’m very grateful and appreciative of the speakers who came to class, teaching assistants, the donors, parents, and of course Eshita Sensei and Sally who made this program possible.
Recently during Tamago class, we focused on Okinawa for the cultural aspect of the lesson. This meant we did a Rajio-Taiso exercise that was filmed in Okinawa, learned about Okinawan food, and also learned about the US military bases on the island. There is a long history of American military interaction with Okinawa, starting off in World War II with the battle of Okinawa resulting in many casualties, a lot of whom were civilians. After the Japanese surrender in 1945, the US occupied Japan up to 1952 and this meant Okinawa was in the control of the US. During the US occupation, military bases were constructed and used in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. The southern islands began to be returned to Japan in 1953 and all Ryukyu Islands were returned in 1971. After this, many military bases remained on Okinawa, playing roles in the War in Afghanistan, and Iraq War. Nowadays, there’s still a whopping 18% of Okinawa’s landmass that’s being used for the 32 American military bases on the island. And while Okinawa only constitutes 0.6% of Japan’s total landmass, 70% of all US military bases in Japan are on Okinawa.
The continued American military presence on Okinawa brings quite a bit of controversy among locals and authorities. This stems from the incidents that have happened at the main base in Okinawa, Kadena Air Base, and just the general intrusion. For example, there have been incidents of sexual violence committed by US servicemen. And there have been accidents involving civilians, like in 1959 when a fighter jet crashed into a local elementary school killing 17 people and injuring 210. Other accidents include a nuclear rocket being fired into a local harbor, nerve agents being leaked, and a lost hydrogen bomb in the nearby seas. Then in 2013, an accidental firing of the sprinkler systems spewed tens of thousands of chemical contaminants into the water system. This chemical, PFAS, has contaminated the drinking water of 450,000 people! Quite obviously, a military base comes with lots of risks for the residents.
One major controversy going on now is around the plans for the relocation of Futenma Marine Corps Base. Since the 1960s the US has had plans to relocate Futenma to the area of Henoko. The US military is now starting construction despite the opposition from locals where 72% of residents voted to reject the relocation. The reason there is so much opposition is that bases around Okinawa cause lots of trouble for the residents as evidenced above. In the case of Futenma, construction would require the destruction of coral reefs, which are prized in Okinawan culture. And the roars of Ospreys and other military aircraft have been connected to hearing loss among some of the elders. Protests and sit-ins are carried out to delay the construction of Futenma and yet the Japanese government continues to side with the US military, leaving protesters feeling unheard, adding to the frustration.
This is not to say that the majority of Okinawan residents want the US completely ejected. The opinions of residents are far more complex with surveys (Source) finding that half of the residents couldn’t decide whether US military presence was a good or bad thing. The majority of people think the US-Japan security treaty is a good thing with benefits for the island such as the tourism that comes with the bases and the strategic balance in Asia that the bases might bring. But the root of the problem is that there are too many bases in too small an area. Personally, I agree, and based on what I’ve read, it seems that the bases are a huge intrusion on residents. It feels like an extension of American imperialism, where the bases aren’t actual territories, but they allow the US to have so much influence around the world. The residents often have to pay the price for this through the horrible incidents that have happened. Then when people protest, they are not heard by the governments and by the wider world. If you’d like to read more about the US military bases in Okinawa, some articles are listed below, along with sources.
To mark the 10th anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake on 3-11-2011, the students in our online Japanese Tamago program used video and other resources to learn about the horrific events that unfolded that day. The goal was to help our DC students connect with the experience and the residents of Tohoku, and to try to imagine themselves in the moment. Here are some of their immediate responses.
By Zoe Roell
Ground splits Black waves Homes fall Lives collapse Wreckage The world grieves
By Hallie Munsat
In 2011, an earthquake and tsunami occurred on the pacific coast of Tohuku in Japan. The magnitude of the earthquake came to be 9.0-9.1. This terrible tragedy turned out to be the most recent deadliest earthquake. It left almost 16,000 people dead, about 6,000 injured and 2,500 people missing. Now ten years after the fact it’s still left many people unstable emotionally and financially. I cannot even begin to imagine what being in that situation is like. It’s bad enough to experience it in the moment, it’s worse to live with it for the rest of your life. This was an event that couldn’t really have been prevented. It’s terrifying to go through things you can’t control and it takes time to process things like that. We have to be gentle to ourselves and others during hard times and we have to be there for each other to listen, and to support. Because of the severity of this event, many people in the same community went through the same thing. There’s always someone to listen to or understand because no one is alone.
By Penelope Morris
At first, I almost couldn’t believe that three events that would by themselves have been horrific to deal with, all happened simultaneously and hurt so many people. But the damage was right there in front of my eyes.
By Kourtney Beauvais
My initial reaction to the film of 3/11 was shock. I wasn’t aware of how fast the devastation occurred, and couldn’t imagine what it would feel like to be there. With the recurring earthquakes, I assume that the residents of the area had very conflicting emotions, flicking back and forth between hope and desperation and fear. It makes me wonder if they were thinking about what was happening in the present, what the future consequences would be, or a mixture of both. It was also saddening to think of the feeling of loss, not only of belongings and a familiar landscape, but of their family, friends, and community.
By Sakarrio Moore
I’ve never experienced any tragedy of this magnitude, and I literally can’t imagine the physiological response of people who lived there. I just feel so sorry. I imagine that in the instant, people would have just felt as if the world itself was against them.
By Akesh Mallia
My reflection on 3-11 is that it was really heartbreaking to see so many lives impacted by something as uncontrollable as nature. I thought it was especially scary when the tsunami hit the people trying to escape by car, those people couldn’t even evacuate. And the impacts of the natural disasters are very much still present today, especially with the nuclear meltdown which I think shows the scale of the earthquake. I hope safety measures and public awareness measures are being put in place to prevent this type of event from happening again.
By Owen Strasberg
I found it interesting how initially even though the situation seemed very chaotic, people were handling it calmly (like when everyone was evacuating). It was sort of scary though to think that whatever high ground people stayed at was where they would have to be for the whole thing, and you would just have to hope it was safe enough.
By Dara Lira
If I previously lived in Japan, I would probably not pay much attention to the earthquake at first. However, as the day progresses, I would become more scared, confused, disturbed, and shocked at the events unfolding before me. A matter of life or death such as this terrifies me, and I can hardly imagine what this was actually like, especially seeing as I’ve never been in an earthquake before.
By Chamiya Carnathan
The amount of earthquakes that appeared continuously during March 11 was mind blowing to me. I can’t imagine how scary the situation must have been for everyone inhabiting that area. Earthquakes are common in Japan and I wonder if the inhabitants living in the affected area thought that it would be a regular occurrence. I truly cannot imagine the fear of earthquakes that were that large being struck down on me. The biggest takeaway that I gained from watching the video and map is that you have to go to high ground. Don’t worry about taking pictures and videos or watching what’s happening. Worry about your own safety and go to high ground.
By Camila Marryshow
If anyone had known March 11, 2011 would have submerged entire towns in water along with thousands of other civilians fighting for their lives, there would have been preventative action to protect the people along Japan’s east coast. But there was no way of knowing the events that would unfold within those 24 hours.
Employees worked to earn their pay to support themselves and their families. Graduations occurred. Earning diplomas, congratulating friends, and celebrating achievements of other students would soon be replaced with sheltering in place under desks, evacuating school and office buildings, and rushing to higher ground to ensure safety. Some walked away with missing friends while others without families to provide for. Some could not walk away from their cars with water impeding their ability to escape while others would never walk the Earth again. The tsunami stripped towns of commerce, buildings, history, and many of its residents.
Within 24 hours, several earthquakes evolved into a 9.1-magnitude earthquake that generated waves many meters high devastating hundreds of square miles of Japanese land. Over 120,000 buildings were destroyed. More than 100,000 people lost their homes. Nearly 20,000 people died.
The Tohoku region of Japan along with other coastal areas have worked over the past ten years to rebuild Japan and provide housing to those who are in need. The survivors who witnessed the events of that day will be able to not only recount the suffering numerous people endured, but can speak of the recovery and progress the Japanese people have made from the rubble of the tragedy.