In 1988, I lived in Osaka, Japan, for a few months, teaching English to Japanese people at a little school north of the city. When I first arrived, I was overwhelmed by the size and density of the place — so big, so many people, so busy. But I was quickly embraced by people who were kind, open, interesting, and delightful, with wonderful social customs, especially in the evenings. I learned to anticipate rice for breakfast, to soak in a tall, narrow tub, and to take my shoes off (and duck!) going into homes. I made many friends, visited Tokyo, Kobe, Kyoto, and Nara, and formed a special place in my heart for the Japanese culture.
Visiting again a few years ago, I was struck by how little had changed. The Shinkansen still glided into Tokyo, the Sony store was still a destination, Shibuya seemed about the same, and I still loved spending time with the Japanese. Nicer people you will never meet.
For many in our field, Japan represents a favorite culture, people, and place. For scholars, publishers, and librarians, Japan’s academic culture has long been vibrant and accessible. So the terrible tragedy of the earthquake and tsunami of yesterday had many of us emailing contacts there, checking in on friends and associates, and wondering what we could do to help. Certainly, friends and acquaintances across the years will be on our minds for weeks to come.
This weekend, I know many of us will be thinking of our friends in Japan, doing what we can to help from this great distance, and praying for a swift return to something resembling normalcy.
Even if the sea floor shook, our bond with these people remains solid.