In 2011, I became friends with a Japanese engineer who was transferred by his company in Fukushima to one of their branches in the USA. I was in charge of reviewing and approving applications for licensure made by foreign engineers, specifically Japan and Canada. There were items needed to complete his application and he had been notified of the deficiencies. A back and forth of emails and phone calls ensued. One day, he just showed up at the office and was sent to me. A handsome and proud man, he asked me to see the man in charge. I told him I was the “man” in charge of his application and licensure. I removed us to a private conferring room and went over his files with him. He said he could never get the information needed. “Don’t you understand? Do you have any idea what a tsunami is and how this was total devastation?” I was dealing with frustration and deep grief. Eventually, we found a way for him to obtain the required information.
The day after I called him to let him know that finally, the process was complete and he had been approved for licensure. On Friday, he came to the office again requesting to see me. Because I had worked so hard and helped him so much (at one point serving him green tea and homemade udon during a long session. I had brought my lunch from home that day and shared it with him) he wanted to take me to lunch. When I told him that was not allowed, he asked if I would take a walk instead. It was peak cherry blossom season and in the office park were over 65 cherry trees. I knew exactly where I would take him. This began a long and deep friendship. Every Friday, if he was in town and I was in my office, we would walk and talk. We learned much about each other.
I wrote a series of poems about this friendship – The Walk – and there are various parts to it. This is one of those parts, posted in memory of those who lost their lives during the tsunami of 2011 and in honor of those who survived and rebuilt.
free public domain photo
She looked at the calendar and sighed.
It was not Friday, the usual day of their walks.
It was the one year anniversary of the tsunami.
She knew he would be there
In their place under the cherry trees.
The cherry buds were barely beginning to show color.
A bit of pink, bit of white, bit of red.
Holding themselves tight
On this day.
No blooms today.
She walked to their place.
He was standing
Huddled in his coat
Looking diminished by his grief.
Tears coursed down his cheeks –
Rain running down a smooth brown rock,
A statue, the bark of a tree.
Softly she walked until she came beside him
And gently touched the sleeve of his coat.
She looked into eyes that had witnessed hell
And still was looking through that broken window.
“That day, the sea ate up our town.
I lost friends at the nuclear facility.
We tried, we tried but we were helpless.
The sea washed away my home,
The graves of my wife and son,
Friends, people I knew in the neighborhood.
Pets, belongings, altars…
All eaten by the wild animal sea.”
“And now I am here.
Alone. I eat alone, I sleep alone,
I drive alone.
I try to fix a meal to remind me of home
But it doesn’t smell the same
Or taste the same.
Gone…gone…so many just gone,
Swept away like garbage.”
She took his hands in hers.
“I promise you –
Japan will rebuild.
The cherry blossoms will bloom.
Children will be born.
I am your friend.
You will make more friends.
Let us light candles for the souls of the lost.
Let us light incense and send our prayers
Out for those who live and who rebuild.
I promise you, on my honor.”
Fitful flakes of snow
caught in his hair
as he lit a candle and set it
at the base of the cherry tree.
He bent down
And she held him close as he wept.
She could only be his friend.
free public domain image