Students in Belgium and Japan talk about the tsunami

Japan Talk

Satoshi Kikuchi (37, pictured right) has lived in Leuven for almost five years, where he is associated with the Institute for the Study of Spirituality. On Friday, 11 March, he was about to sit down to breakfast when he heard the news on the radio: “I immediately looked up more information on the internet, and then tried – unsuccessfully – to reach my parents. They live on the island Hokkaido, a few hundred kilometres from the epicentre of the earthquake. Eventually I just left for work – I was expected at a meeting – but it was completely impossible to concentrate. I only received word that my family was safe the next morning. And all my friends too, most of whom live in Tokyo.”

“I am very involved, it is almost impossible not to be. I have never felt so connected to my country as I do now, and at the same time, I have never felt the physical distance between Japan and Belgium as strongly as I do now. I am in daily contact with my friends and family over the internet. They are trying to go on with their lives as well as they can.”
“I have received many compassionate reactions here in Belgium. There is considerable solidarity with Japan. As a Japanese person abroad, I feel jointly responsible to keep that solidarity alive.”
Not worried at all
Japanese Studies student Stefaan De Pooter (26, pictured right) is currently in Tokyo for a language programme at Waseda University. When KU Leuven advised its students in Japan to travel to the south of the country or to return to Belgium, he was the only one to stay in the capital. “As long as I don’t see people leaving the city in droves and as long as the government says it is sage, I will stay here. As far as I can tell, companies and universities are somewhat over-cautious when it comes to their employees and students abroad. Don’t ordinary Japanese people just stay here too? Early on, my parents sent me dozens of mails with disconcerting quoted from newspapers, but now they have finally accepted that I am staying.”
“Considering the circumstances, spring break at the university has been extended until 6 May. I had intended to visit China and Korea but because it is impossible to get back into Japan if you leave, I had to abandon that plan. But I’m not complaining, of course, considering the misery that so many people are experiencing at the moment. I work as an assistant in a local shop four days a week. When the radioactivity in tap water in Tokyo was reported to be too high at the end of March, we had to ration bottled water and boxes of tea because our customers started hoarding. But the tap water is fine again now.”
“I did brush my teeth with bottled water during the brief scare, but actually I’m not worried at all. Of course I follow the news, but I don’t scour the internet looking up the consequences of too much radiation. I did go to the embassy to get iodine pills, but they are really more of a souvenir.”
Back soon
Annelore D’haeseleer (21, pictured left) returned to Belgium from New Zealand on 21 March. She was on holiday as an international student in Osaka: “KU Leuven temporarily prohibited us from returning to Japan, so I came home. I don’t know what I would have done if I had been in Osaka at the time of the disaster – it is six hundred kilometres from Tokyo, which is another hundreds of kilometres from the epicentre of the earthquake. I understand both the students who decided to leave Japan and those who decided to stay.”
“If everything is arranged on time, I will return to Japan for the beginning of the second semester on 5 April. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is only advising people not to travel to the region around Fukushima, so I feel quite safe.”

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