Fukushima Earthquake Survivor Says, “Thank You Hawai‘i”
Jodie Chiemi Ching
“On March 14, (2011) Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz convened a meeting of local Japanese American groups, businesses, media outlets and financial institutions to launch an ‘Aloha for Japan’ fund drive to provide disaster assistance to those affected by the earthquake and tsunami.” It was one of several global movements that responded to the most powerful and destructive earthquake in Japan’s history. “Sending ALOHA In Japan’s Time of Need,” was the cover headline of The Hawai‘i Herald’s April 1, 2011, edition.
Currently, 20-year-old Nanako Numazaki, who was born and raised in Fukushima, Japan, is attending Leeward Community College and performing Japanese dance at every venue she can fit into her schedule. It is her way of expressing gratitude for the aloha she and her family and friends received after the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan in 2011.
Nine years ago, 11-year-old Numazaki was in her classroom when the earthquake hit Fukushima. She and her classmates cried, “Help me! Sensei! Help me!” Their sensei tried to comfort everyone. Numazaki said, “My friend was holding my hand strongly [and] crying. We were just scared and I felt like ‘I will die.’”
After the earthquake stopped, they escaped to the schoolyard in tears. “I was thinking about my family and dogs. My friends, teachers and all of [the] people there were very scared, confused and worried about family and friends,” said Numazaki. After comforting one another, they were able to calm down.
Meanwhile, her mother was at home; her father was in Futaba, one of the hardest hit areas, for work; her brother was at his high school; and her sister was away on a school trip. It took a few days to receive contact from Numazaki’s father and sister to find out they were safe.
Although her family and her friends were all physically OK, their lives would never be the same. They couldn’t eat any of the foods that grew in Fukushima due to the nuclear meltdown that released radioactive materials from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. “It was a hard time. It was sad [and] I hated the earthquake. Everyone was sad; we struggled,” said Numazaki.
“[But] many people around the world supported us, gave us money, worried about us,” she said. “I was so emotional and impressed. Even now, I still appreciate them.”
Traditional Japanese dance was also a way for Numazaki and her community to support and encourage one another after the earthquake. Their döjö was located in the Chuo Gakushu Center in Fukushima and was destroyed by the earthquake. So they moved their practices to the home of their teacher, Hanayagi Sariju. Numazaki said, “Most of us were sad, [so] we encouraged each other through dance.”
Meanwhile, 420 miles away, in Okayama Prefecture, a group of volunteers from Okayama University called Okayama Baton banded together to provide support to victims of the earthquake and tsunami. The outreach made it possible for Numazaki’s dance school to continue their annual summer training camp in Okayama.
This relationship continued for five years. To show their appreciation, the Fukushima dancers held a recital in Okayama every year. This was how Numazaki figured out that she could show her appreciation through dance. But she took it one 4,000-mile-step further to Hawai‘i and began her mission to show appreciation to the world.
“I want to dance with my appreciation,” she said. So she came to Hawai‘i to work on her English, and with help from Sheree Tamura-Sensei — founder of Hanayagi Mitsusumi Dance Studio in Hawai‘i and past president of United Japanese Society of Hawaii — has danced at numerous functions since she arrived in Honolulu in August 2017.
Through the Fukushima Kenjin Kai, member James Sato connected Numazaki with Tamura-Sensei. Since they were from the same Hanayagi Ryu (style), Sato asked Tamura-Sensei if she could include Numazaki in her programs so she could perform and give thanks to Hawai‘i for their support.
Tamura-Sensei said in an email, “I was very honored that he had approached me and very enthusiastic to have her perform in my community programs. That was the beginning of a wonderful Hawai‘i-Japan partnership and friendship.”
The first time Numazaki danced in Hawai‘i was at UJSH’s New Year’s party. She felt acceptance and aloha as people came up to her and told her how beautiful her dance was.
“It’s always rewarding to see the reactions of the audience,” Tamura-Sensei said. “She can capture and sustain their attention during her performance and just mesmerize all of them. After every event, people flock to her and thank her for her performance. She is an outstanding dancer and her sensei in Fukushima can be very proud of her. Nanako is representing her school very well.”
In the past two years, Numazaki has danced in about 20 events, including various UJSH, Japanese Women’s Society and Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i events. She has also performed at many New Year’s parties, Dennis Oshiro Music Studio’s karaoke recital and Kyoko Sano-Mele Music’s karaoke recital.
And when she’s not in school or dancing at events, she’s enjoying the ocean, poke bowls, acai bowls and loco-mocos.
Tamura-Sensei speaks for all who have been moved by Numazaki’s story and gesture of kansha. “I would like to say to Nanako that you will truly be missed by all of us. Please thank your family and sensei for allowing you to come to Hawai‘i to attend school while you share your wonderful odori. Your energy is contagious and I hope it will encourage the younger generation to work hard in improving their skills and love what they are doing. Please return to Hawai‘i soon.”
This is just the beginning of Numazaki’s gift of dance to the world. Historically, Hawai‘i and Japan have endured many hardships: hurricanes, floods, tsunamis and earthquakes. But with each challenge, the spirit of aloha and kansha has strengthened the bridge between the two island cultures. There is hope for a peaceful future as long as we know it’s in the hands of young people who are as resilient, grateful and loving as Nanako Numazaki.