Native Missoulian reports in from Katashina, Japan



Since the record-breaking 9.0-magnitude earthquake hit Japan on March 11, a number of interesting local connections have come to light. A group of local residents have even raised funds to get Missoula homeboy and Hellgate High grad Brandon Palmer and his family to the Garden City, away from the disaster that continues to unfold half a world away (the Palmer family is due in to Missoula this evening, according to fundraising leader Rick Heilman). News organizations are now reporting this as the costliest natural disaster in history.

Another native son has opted to remain in Japan, however, continuing his work as an English teacher and helping aid efforts in whatever way he can. The Indy contacted Brian McGrath yesterday via Facebook for a quick question-and-answer session on what he saw, and he plans to do next. We also spoke briefly with his father, Tom McGrath, who described the hours between when he heard about the quake and when his son finally phoned home as "stressful." Here's the news from Katashina, a small village of 5,000, two weeks after the quake from the eyes of one of Missoula's own.

Indy: What was the scene in your area like immediately following the earthquake?

McGrath: I live in the village of Katashina located in Gunma Prefecture. Besides the initial shaking of the earthquake, my area sustained minimal damage. Older architecture may have received slight damage in a few locations around me, but other than that nothing of real consequence. People were scared by the force and length of the quake, but at the time no one realized how unique it was.

Indy: When did your thoughts first turn to contacting family in Missoula?

McGrath: I attempted to reach my family soon after the quake. I was aware that it had been fairly strong, and I wanted to let them know I was okay before things were picked up by the international media. I wasn't aware of the damage it had caused or the impending tsunami. I just wanted to contact them and let them know I was fine.

Indy: How long did it take to get word back home?

McGrath: Due to the loss of cell phone service, I was unable to contact them for about 6 hours.

Indy: How have the reports you've heard from America differed from what you've heard from the Japanese government?

McGrath: The American media (the international media as well) has basically emerged as a fear-monger for whatever reason, content to speculate a myriad of possible doomsday scenarios and spread a general panic. In contrast, the Japanese have been constantly reminding citizens to remain calm and to offer assistance to those around them, all the while reporting reliable, fact-based information. I am pretty disgusted by the international media's treatment of this situation. The fact is the Japanese are the most safety conscious, meticulously prepared group of people on the planet. They have pulled together in a way that should stand as the best possible example of how to face a national disaster. The American media should be urging the U.S. government to scramble for its proverbial notepad and get busy scribbling an extended "note to self," as opposed to inciting a global riot.

Indy: And how have the Japanese people reacted to this disaster?

McGrath: The Japanese are really stepping up. For example, my village is a hotspot for tourism. As such, we have a thriving bed and breakfast industry (like family-run hotels). We recently accepted 1,000 evacuees from Fukushima and will be providing them a with place to stay in these various mom-and-pop type accommodations. My village only has a population of about 5,000, so it is really inspirational for me to witness even the smaller communities offering their help. My respect for the Japanese people has grown deeply since the disater. I would also like to say that the Japanese are very touched by the support they have received from around the world. They are very thankful.

Indy: Do you have plans to return to Missoula, or volunteer in any relief efforts in Japan?

McGrath: I will been staying in Japan until at least the summer of 2012. I was hoping to volunteer over the upcoming spring break, but it is hard to say if they will let be letting many people into the devasted areas. My village will pick up about 60 new students due to the evacuees' arrival here, so I will just do my best to take care of them and offer help whenever possible.

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