Divinity School’s Japan ties bring tragedy close to home

By Gustav Spohn
Director of Communications and Publications

An international training facility for grassroots rural leaders in northern Japan founded by a Yale Divinity School graduate reported serious damage to its infrastructure from the earthquake that rocked the island nation in mid-March.  A YDS graduate living in Tokyo is planning an international art charity exhibition to raise relief funds in her own art gallery.  The Yale Institute of Sacred Music, one of YDS’s two partner institutions, dedicated proceeds from a recent concert to the University’s multifaceted Japan relief effort.

boatWhile the earthquake and accompanying tsunami, followed by radiation dangers, occurred half a world away, the Divinity School’s Japan ties have brought the tragedy close to home on Sterling Divinity Quadrangle

Kyoko K. Ishikure ’59 M.R.E., who lives in Tokyo, said,  “The earthquake was the biggest we have ever experienced and it lasted so long that we never knew what would happen next.

“We are all right where we live but the degree of loss and devastation is really great where people were hit, not only by the quake but also by the tsunami. . . The survivors are bearing all the sorrow and agony and helping each other with limited amounts of food, water and other necessities of life. We are having electricity cut. We will do anything and everything to help the afflicted and rebuild towns, cities and our country.”

Ishikure reported on March 31 that she is planning an international art charity exhibition to raise funds in her own art gallery.

“With the help of Swiss and English friends, we already have seven artists who are donating their works for the exhibition which I hope will be held sometime in June or early July,” she said.  “ I am now having a charity bazaar in the gallery to sell our personal belongings as well as to collect clothes, blankets, towels, etc. to send to the survivors.”

Persons who wish to assist with Ishikure’s initiative can contact her at phoebe2@triton.ocn.ne.jp.

ConcertOn March 26 the Yale Institute of Sacred Music presented a performance of Bach's Mass in B Minor by the Bach Collegium Japan, conducted by its founder and ISM Yale faculty member Masaaki Suzuki, a native of Japan. The concert had been on the calendar for many months, but in the wake of the devastation in Japan the decision was made to transform it into a primary fundraiser for the Yale Japan relief effort.  Woolsey Hall was filled with an enthusiastic audience. The Yale relief effort features numerous initiatives, including, among others, an April 11 benefit concert by the Tokyo String Quartet, a Japanese American Students' Union dinner fundraiser, and an automatic payroll deduction option for Yale employees to donate to the Red Cross–Japan Earthquake initiative.

Misa Furumoto ’99 M.A.R. reported that she, her husband and two small children were all safe and living in Kyoto, studying at Williams' Theological Seminary of The Anglican Church in Japan.

Furumoto said a message from the bishop of Tohoku Diocese indicated that many churches in the diocese were heavily damaged but that most people were safe.  Yet in the case of two churches near the ocean, Shin-ai Church and St. John's Church, contact with most parishioners has been lost, according to the bishop.

“Please do give prayers for the people who lost everything, rescue corps, and churches in Tohoku, as your everyday prayer of this time of Lent,” said Furumoto.

Professor of Liturgical Studies Teresa Berger, who has a friend in Japan, posted a March 14 entry on the PrayTell – Worship, Wit & Wisdom web site entitled A Litany, for Japan, which begins,“that all the lives that have been lost may find their eternal rest in You that those grieving the loss of loved ones, especially their children, and the loss of entire families and communities, may find glimpses of hope and life that those injured and those fighting for their lives may find solace, hope, and healing that a nuclear catastrophe may be averted”

Hallam Shorrock '52 M.Div., a retired Disciples missionary who lived and worked in Japan for nearly 25 years and married a Japanese woman, Yasuko Fukada, following the death of his first wife, said, “Now, as senior citizens ourselves, we feel a special sense of sorrow, grief, and sympathy for the Japanese people, especially for the older generation of Japanese and their families, so many of whom, in addition to the wartime suffering and trauma during their youth, have lost their lives, family members, close friends and neighbors, or been left injured and homeless by this disaster in their final years. “

Yet, noted Shorrock, he and his wife are “freshly inspired by the spirit and manner in which the Japanese people are responding to the current tragedy, just as they did to the suffering and difficulties during the war, and to the immediate post-war hardships that were exacerbated by earthquakes, fires and floods: that is, the qualities of family and group loyalty, fortitude, patience, hard work and endurance, resilience, self-restraint, stoicism, and suppression of individual desires for the common good.”

Shorrock said the devastation in the northeast coast of Japan hit "close to home" for him:  “First, because the stricken areas were one of the places where I first spoke to the young people who were crowding the churches immediately after the war, and are now among the elderly who compose about one-third of the victims of the tragedy; and secondly, because of my eight years of working together with my YDS classmate, Kentaro Buma, as we directed the post-war relief and rehabilitation activities of Church World Service in Japan.”  Read more from Shorrock here.

VigilNow, more than six decades later, Church World Service is engaged in the post-earthquake relief effort in Japan, observed Bert Marshall ’97 M.Div., New England director of CWS.

Marshall pointed to reports from CWS’s Chris Herlinger, which outlined the ecumenical agency’s response: emergency relief support to at least 5,000 families, about 25,000 individuals, living at 100 evacuation sites in the northeastern area of Japan -- the prefectures of Miyagi, Fukushima, Iwate, Ibaragi and Tochigi, focusing on areas where basic needs of food, water, sanitation, electricity and fuel are not being met.

Takeshi Komino, CWS Asia/Pacific's head of emergencies, said, "Due to the magnitude of four disasters happening at once - a 9.0 earthquake, tsunami, nuclear threat, and freezing winter weather in affected areas - it is evident that even a very developed country like Japan is not able to cope with its domestic resources only.”  Donations to the CWS Japan relief fund can be made online.

Like Shorrock, Richard Wood ’65 Ph.D., dean emeritus of Yale Divinity School and past president of the Japan Society, pointed to the resiliency of the Japanese people in the face of tragedy.  He and his wife, Judy, now in New York City, have lived along the devastated northeast coast of Japan off-and-on since 1969.

“We are deeply impressed, but not surprised, at the courage and resourcefulness these rural Japanese have shown and are showing,” said Wood.

He referred to the  “self-reliance, care for each other, and organizational skills” of people living along the coast.  “For most of Japanese history,” Wood noted, “these isolated coastal towns needed to fend almost completely for themselves.  They developed social structures as tough as the terrain.”

In 2009 Wood was awarded The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star by the government of Japan for his contributions to the promotion of educational and cultural exchange between Japan and the United States.  Read more from Wood here.

The Asian Rural Institute, founded by Toshihiro Takami ‘60 B.D. after he was involved with disaster relief during the Bangladesh floods of 1970, is a training center aimed at instructing grassroots leaders from across Asia to more effectively serve in their communities as they work for the poor, the hungry, and the marginalized. Located inland a 1.5-hour drive north of Tokyo in Nishinasuno, the Institute suffered significant harm to its campus, including shattered windows and structural damage to some buildings, according to a report on the American Friends of the  Asian Rural Institute web site.

Despite the damage, ARI is working with another local NGO to collect food and supplies and deliver them to people staying in the Choju Center, a nearby relief facility. ARI is also inquiring about needs at other evacuations centers, and at homes for the elderly and handicapped.  Donations toward work of the center can be made online.

Arlington, VA-based International Relief & Development, a humanitarian aid agency founded in 1998 by Arthur B. Keys, Jr. ’73 M.Div., does not have a program emphasis in Japan but, nonetheless, has established a fund for those who wish to support the humanitarian relief and recovery efforts in Japan.  IRD provides nearly $500 million annually in development assistance to Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East.

Another major relief agency headed by a YDS alumnus is also engaged in Japan relief.  The International Rescue Committee, headed by George Rupp ’67 B.D., is sending funds from it Japan relief effort to three Japanese agencies working in the affected areas.

Posted: 04/04/2011