Japanese Students at SMC React and Respond

Japanese international students and faculty members at Santa Monica College are still reeling in the wake of what is now being called the worst crisis to hit Japan since World War II.

SMC, which serves a greater Japanese population within the Santa Monica and West LA communities, has 352 Japanese international students currently enrolled on its campus.

"It's kind of a weird feeling," said Yusei Shimada, 21, a sophomore at SMC. "I watched video of the tsunami but that's like watching an action movie that's totally unreal, even though it's a real situation."

Shimada went on to express that until he returns to Japan, he probably won't realize the extent of the disasters currently plaguing his home country.

"Now, like I can't believe that and I don't accept that it is a real situation," said Shimada.

Many of the students interviewed did not undergo much personal loss or tragedy, but the anxiety suffered from the whole event has been enough to deter students from going about their normal lives.

In fact, watching and reading the news has been the only thing many Japanese students feel they can do.

"I want to help, but I can't. What should I do? I don't know what should I do," said Monyka Kawase, 20, a psychology major.

"I was writing an essay yesterday but I, you know, I want to check the news I want to see the video clips about it," said Takehiro Koyasu, 21. "It's kind of hard to focus on the school stuff."

Hiromi Yoshikawa, 21, added that she couldn't "think about anything, just watching," as a cafeteria television screen flashed image after image of the devastation.

There are students like Eriko Fujita, 21, whose friend in Sendai, the coastal capital of Miyagi prefecture plowed in half by the tsunami, has been limited to one meal a day since the disasters occurred. 

Kayoko Nagaoka, 22, has yet to hear from her friend from neighboring Fukushima prefecture, where the current nuclear crisis is taking affect. And looking for a sign, Mayuki Moto, 23, anxiously awaits her friend to make an appearance on Twitter.

Japanese language Professor Yasuhiko Miura, whose family lives in Miyagi but is lucky enough to have avoided the tsunami, has only been able to contact his family by text message. 

"Fortunately they are not in the evacuation area so they still are living at my friends house and they have water and also gas," said Miura. Although they currently have food stocks, Miura worries about the situation a week from now with the currently crippled commerce and transportation infrastructure.

Department colleague Makoto Nishikawa was able to hear news of his brother's safety the day after the disasters struck, and although fortunate to not experience a direct loss, he and his wife have heard news of friends' relatives who haven't been so lucky.

Though a majority of the news coming from Japan has been that of tragedy, Nishikawa points out the will of the Japanese people in light of such adversity.

 "I really cannot help but notice the resilience and steadfast character of the Japanese people under such devastating circumstances," said Nishikawa, "there's no riots… and most of them have remained calm and very cooperative and helping each other; I'm really amazed."

The despondent emotions felt by Nishikawa and others on campus have turned into immediate action with student groups such as JELA (Japanese English Language Association), Pray for Japan, and Neighborhood Fund meeting together to coordinate fundraising and donation efforts. 

Commissioner of Publicity Hiroki Kamada's group, Neighborhood Fund, plans to fundraise at the 3rd street promenade Saturday from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. and Sunday from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Efforts to raise funds on campus are pending AS approval although a tentative date is planned for next Tuesday.