My association with Japan started long before I visited the country. When I was a 6th grader, I had the opportunity to have a pen pal. Our city was beginning a sister city program so I thought that would be a fun experience and signed up.
My pen pal was Nagisa Kawai and we wrote all through middle school and in to high school. During the summer before my Junior year, I was able to travel to Japan with our exchange program and finally got to meet my pen pal. I also had many other wonderful experiences of meeting new people and seeing beautiful sights, like climbing Mt. Fuji overnight and seeing Kabuki theatre in Tokyo.
For my high school graduation my parents shipped me off to Japan for the summer, at my request. My mom encouraged me to go because she said the opportunity to go oversees wouldn't happen much when I was married and had children. Travel was something that I had been longing to do and that experience further deepened my love for the country.
A few years later I decided that I wanted to go on a mission for my church. I could be sent pretty much anywhere in the world and the thought crossed my mind that I could be sent to Japan so I had my hopes up for that.
But, there is no guarantee of where you'll go and wishing is just that, wishing. You go where you are called. The only questions on my mission papers relating to areas of the world had to do with health and how confident I felt in learning another language if I had to do so. I studied 2 years of Spanish and lived with my native Spanish speaking mother so the language was familiar to me. I also had 2 years of Japanese but the language still wasn't that familiar.Long story short - I was called to Kobe, Japan for 18 months.
Two of those months were at the Missionary Training Center for an intensive study with many other missionaries and the rest was spent in two areas of Japan. The first was the large, port city of Kobe and the other was the little country town of Otsu.
Pounding scalding hot rice into mochi. Mochi is tasty!
I could see train attendants in white gloves pushing the last person into the train so the doors could close, groups of college students laughing outside the record store, babies in strollers eating a snack of sushi rice and getting it all over their sweet faces and a local festival in the street where we would grab a fan and join their traditional dance. But most of all, I could see a polite people so often welcoming me into their homes and telling me they were so honored that someone would want to learn their language and culture. I told them it was my honor.
So it is with great sadness to see the devastation, panic and stress upon their faces. It is my hope that the rescue efforts keep finding some happy endings and when they don't, which is the inevitable, they will know there are people all over the world pulling for them.
Because in the grand scheme of things, we are not that much different.