John Traphagan

UT associate professor John Traphagan and his wife, Tomoko, could not reach their family members for two days following the tsunami that hit Japan more than a week ago. Tomoko Traphagan said some of her family members live in the areas greatly affected by the disaster. “It took me until Sunday night to get confirmation that everybody was safe,” she said. She did not lose any immediate family members. Tomoko Traphagan and her family often visited the northeastern coastal areas of Japan. She said looking at the devastating pictures of the towns wiped away by the tsunami is very hard for her and her husband. A 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit northeastern Japan on March 11, sweeping away homes and buildings. The tsunami’s force caused countries and states bordering the Pacific Ocean to send out warnings of a possible nuclear meltdown. The death toll in Japan rose to more than 8,000 people, and many more are missing in what is said to be the worst earthquake of the century. After the disaster, the Fukushima Daiichi and Daini nuclear plants stopped producing power, and the tsunami knocked out backup generators that cooled the nuclear reactors. Pressure built after the reactors stopped working, causing radiation to leak into the atmosphere from the Daiichi plant. John Traphagan said U.S. media has been sensationalizing the plant’s failure by reiterating that the Japanese government is hiding critical facts from its citizens, including areas they should stay away from and how much radiation has been leaked. He said the media hype does not help the Japanese as they combat one of the biggest natural disasters the country has experienced in the modern era. The Japanese need immediate assistance in rebuilding the infrastructure and getting back on their feet instead, he said “It will take years for that part of Japan to recover from this,” John Traphagan said. “The destruction is enormous, and the human implications are also very serious. There are thousands who have lost everything.” John Traphagan said he spent about 12 years living in Japan doing ethnographic research, specifically on the elderly population. “They are the ones who are hit the hardest during these tragedies,” John Traphagan said. The elderly, who usually live with their children, cannot move fast enough to get to higher ground when a tsunami hits and are usually left behind, he said. Mathieu Glacet, a Chemistry and Asian cultures and languages senior, said he was supposed to leave for Japan in less than a week, but the Study Abroad Office canceled all trips to the country this semester. He said he had been planning his trip for a year and had looked forward to experiencing the culture firsthand. After seeing the destruction, Glacet said his heart was heavy for the people of Japan. Japanese Association President Nick Prum said the organization will work with other student groups to put together a donation effort. The association will set up tables throughout campus this week to raise money for the tsunami victims in Japan. Victims are currently facing electrical, fuel and food shortages, but Tomoko Traphagan said it will not take long for Japanese people to get back on their feet. “The people up north are known for their perseverance,” she said. “It’s going to be OK.”