Monday, January 16th, 2017

A Bright Spot and a Beacon of Hope

Former Lyons resident Emily Hummel weds in Japan following earthquake

When the devastating earthquake and tsunami struck Japan March 11, Emily Hummel was in downtown Osaka, on a job interview.

“Suddenly, it felt like the building was rocking, as if we were sitting on a surfboard, rocking on top of a wavy sea,” said Hummel, a 1999 Lyons High School graduate who has made her home in Japan for the past six years. “The building rocked and swayed back and forth for three to four minutes and then there was a weird, deep sound, like concrete grinding together. I looked over and saw the hanging window blinds swinging back and forth.”

At first, she was bewildered about how big a deal what happened really was. In Osaka, which is in Central Japan, 10 minutes after the quake Hummel was in the subway and no one seemed to have noticed. She reached her fiancé, Makato Kawasaki, by cell phone. He had been bicycling and didn’t even feel the quake.

Hummel rushed home and turned on the news.

“I then found out that it was a huge deal all over Japan. There was no immediate damage that I saw here. But all day, all I could hear and see fire were engines speeding all over the city with their lights and sirens on full blast. Some fires broke out, but that seemed to be it for Osaka,” she said.

Hummel, the daughter of former Lyons First Presbyterian Church pastor Cynthia Huling Hummel, is an English teacher. She and Kawaski, a freelance translator, decided not to let the crisis in Japan stop their plans. Engaged since New Year’s Eve, the couple was married March 14, in a civil ceremony, attended by Kawasaki’s parents and a few close friends, at the city hall in Osaka.

When they went to the U.S. consulate to have their marriage certified, there were many Americans with children getting emergency passports and talking about nuclear fallout.

”Finally when we went to the window and the tired-looking consul asked what we needed and we told him, his eyes brightened and he smiled and said congratulations and good luck,” Hummel said. “I think in such a stressful time, our good news may have made his day a little brighter. So, I feel like our marriage actually came at a good time. It is like our bright spot and beacon of hope. Knowing that we have each other to support through all of these difficulties has made our marriage and bond stronger in many ways.”

Hummel said they are lucky being far removed from the damage that leveled much of the northern part of the country. And, they are 800 kilometers from the Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Plant.

“I have only seen it from our daily news bulletins and on the Internet,” she said. “About the nuclear disaster, initially, I was panicked and thought we should evacuate. But as the panic subsided, I spoke with my husband and we agreed to leave suddenly now would be a bit rash.”
She said it is all still difficult to comprehend, that it is happening in her adopted country, which she loves. “Perhaps it feels the way that New Yorkers felt seeing the damage from Hurricane Katrina,” Hummel said. “It is the same country and people, but like watching another world or country.

“A positive difference that I notice daily is the many acts of charity happening now. It is really great to see so many of my friends and all people working from a grassroots level to start up fundraisers and collect donations,” she said. “Even if people here are not directly connected to the affected areas, everyone, both foreign and Japanese, feels a sense of community and support for each other.”

That feeling has trickled down to the children she teaches, Hummel said. “Many students have shown great empathy for the fellow students in the affected areas. They are interested now in charity drives, donations, letter-writing, and other acts of kindness. Children are also sensitive to the trauma of others and mimic adult’s reactions. So, it also can cause them some stress, grief, and fear about ‘what if?’ situations. If anything, children are much more cautious and aware now, just as adults here are too.”

Unless the nuclear situation deteriorates significantly, Hummel and her husband plan to stay in Japan.

“We may return to the USA in the far future, or quickly in the extreme case of total nuclear meltdown,” she said. “My plans have been and still are to stay and live my life here, thought it wasn’t my original plan. I came here after graduating from SUNY Oswego (in 2003) and seeking a career abroad. I was offered positions in other countries, but Japan seemed appealing and one of my college classmates who was from Tokyo recommended that I check out Japan, knowing that it would match my character. I still remember my first day here and stepping out in the neon and bustling crowds of a Friday night downtown. It was love at first sight for me. Osaka is and always has felt like home to me, so I cannot imagine living anywhere else now.”

by Louise Hoffman Broach