Caitlin Quiat is a senior majoring in east asian studies. She spend the past year studying abroad at Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan.
Last year, I had the awesome opportunity to study abroad in Japan for a year. I spent my year abroad at Waseda University in Tokyo. This was a great experience for myriad reasons, but honestly my favorite part of the whole experience was volunteering in Fukushima.
Whenever I mention that I spent time in Fukushima, people look at me with concern. “Are you okay? Isn’t there a ton of radiation over there?” they would often ask. I would respond with what I always said: that Minami-Aizu was 2 hours from the epicenter of the nuclear disaster and is completely safe. Unfortunately, Fukushima has been suffering recently, due to the stigma of the nuclear disaster and destruction incurred by the incident on March 11th, 2011. Industries such as tourism, agriculture, and fishing have been hit especially hard.
So part of my job while I was in Fukushima, beyond learning about local culture and experiencing the area, was to try and make the area more “tourist-friendly”. I translated documents for a ski resort into English, including the ski map and restaurant menu, and visited the local elementary school to take pictures and talk with the kids about what it was like living in America. I also helped with cleaning and cooking, and learned traditional crafts from around the area.
The most important thing I learned, however, is that the people of Fukushima are strong. When I returned in the spring to visit, I went outside of Minami-Aizu and visited other places, such as Fukushima City and Iwate. The cities are vibrant and healing, and everywhere I saw advertisements for things to do in Fukushima- it was obvious they were trying to reboot the tourist industry. I found stickers that read “Rise Fukushima” which I found particularly striking. Fukushima was recovering, slowly but surely.
From this experience, I’ve gained perspective on what I’d like to do in the future. Being a translator would allow me to take words and feelings that may not be able to be comprehended otherwise and make them into something that can be understood by the English-speaking population. My motivational phrase: mutual understanding and communication can be reached, using the right words.