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A Year Later, Remembering the Tohoku Quake

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Mina Kim/KQED

Dianne Fukami (L) is working on a documentary about the disaster.

HOST CY MUSIKER: That's an audio rendition of the seismic wave from the last year's earthquake in Japan -- a year ago this Sunday.

The earthquake and the tsunami that followed washed away entire towns, killing 16,000 people.

KQED's Mina Kim has been talking to Japanese Americans here in the Bay Area about their plans to commemorate the quake anniversary. Mina, fill us in.

MINA KIM: What I heard over and over again was the need to remind people that recovery is far from over. That disaster survivors are still in temporary housing and the process of their rebuilding their lives is really just beginning.

Kaz Maniwa is an attorney who will be speaking at a memorial event in San Francisco's Japantown on Sunday and he says while he's making his remarks, he'll be thinking about an elderly woman he met this past year.

KAZ MANIWA: She was in a bus and she just sensed that something bad was going to happen after the earthquake, and the bus driver said no everyone has to stay in the bus, I'm not allowed to let anyone off. So then she started complaining about a very bad stomach ache and the bus driver said alright and just let her out. Then the tsunami just comes on in. She said water was up to her neck and sometimes above her head and she said she ended up in her back yard. She didn't know how she ended up there, but everyone on the bus passed away.

KIM: Kaz Maniwa was born in the United States, and so were his parents. He says any natural disaster would evoke compassion for those affected.

MANIWA: But when it's from a country  of your ancestors, it feels like it's happening to you.

DIANNE FUKAMI:  We had no idea about the overwhelming support we would get from all members of the community, not just Japanese-Americans.

KIM: Dianne Fukami is president of the board of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California. She says her group hoped to raise about a million dollars in relief aid -- it raised $4 million.

Fukami is making a documentary film about the disaster and has made several trips to the region, and to Fukushima where a nuclear power plant melted down.
FUKAMI: I didn't realize how stigmatized the people of Fukushima felt. They felt  that there were really four crises: the earthquake, the tsunami, the nuclear power plant and the fear of radiation. And they felt they could recover from the first three, but recovering from the fourth will be much harder.

KIM: But Fukami also says the disaster didn't dim the Japanese sense of community.

FUKAMI: One of the things that really touched me is the Japanese tend to leave a lot of cash at home in these metal money boxes and by-and-by these cash boxes would start to float ashore. And the local police stations were just jammed with little money boxes that had been returned by people who saw them and wanted to make sure they got to their rightful owners.
KIM: Fukami also says she senses a surge of energy among Japan's young people, with the disaster giving many 20- and 30-somethings a new sense of purpose.

MUSIKER: Thanks Mina.    

KIM: You're welcome Cy.

MUSIKER: The morning after the Japan quake a tsunami swept down the West Coast. The harbor at Crescent City suffered major damage. And the tsunami also wrecked most of Santa Cruz harbor.  

Lisa Ekers is Port Director. She said today one of the major changes in Santa Cruz after the tsunami is awareness.

LISA EKERS: We will have new infrastructure, we will have stronger-stouter docks, and we will have heightened awareness.  As you know with any disaster you are immediately aware of the need to be prepared, and over time that starts to die off.

MUSIKER: Rick Wilson of the California Geological Survey was also in  Santa Cruz today. He says the rebuilding effort is focused on making the harbor more resilient.

RICK WILSON: They're using a lot of better material in the docks. As you know most harbors are pretty well protected so they are not used to large waves coming And so when these large waves come in it gets torn-up and tweaked. And so this new material is more resistant to that type of tweaking.

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