Students confronted by tsunami aftermath

Published 28 March 2012

The recent anniversary of last year’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan was particularly poignant for two students of Japanese at the University of New England who had returned from a tour of the affected area not long before.

Rhys Ewins and Danial Newman were chosen as members of a group of Australian university students who travelled to Japan in the summer holidays as participants in the Japan – East Asia Network of Exchange for Students and Youths (JENESYS) program sponsored by the Japanese Government.

Their party of 22 students travelled to the devastated coastal city of Ishinomaki where they saw – in Danial’s words – “piles of cars by the side of the road higher than our tour bus”. “They’ve achieved so much – but there’s still a lot of debris left,” he said. “They’re waiting for that to be removed before they can do anything else.”

He recalled that, on the tour bus that was usually full of talk and laughter, “you could hear a pin drop” as they travelled through the devastation. “It was hard to take,” he said.

“Coming from Australia, where it’s easy to forget about the disaster, and where we’ve seen only what the media have shown us, it was confronting to see the reality,” Rhys said. “But we were amazed to find that the people were still so positive and wanting to move on.”

At the local Kirin brewery, which had been destroyed in the disaster, they were impressed to see how the employees had rallied to its revival. “There were hundreds of thousands of bottles everywhere” (as pictured here), Rhys said. “But not a single employee had quit. They had all stayed on to get the plant functioning again.”

Their 10-day tour also included a visit to the Australian Embassy in Tokyo and Tohoku Gakuin University in the city of Sendai, and a night of “homestay” with Japanese families, when the students had a chance to talk about the disaster in more detail, and to experience Japanese domestic life.

The students’ lecturer in Japanese at UNE, Dr Kiyomi Yamada, said that she had recommended them for the tour following contact with the Japanese Embassy in Canberra. “The tour was for students who had never been to Japan,” she explained. “It gave them a good opportunity to experience Japanese language and culture.”

Both Rhys and Danial are hoping to return to Japan soon: Rhys for further study, and Danial as a teacher of English.

Clicking on the image displayed above reveals a photograph of Dr Kiyomi Yamada with her students Danial Newman (left) and Rhys Ewins.