"Mom,” Emily said excitedly, “most people don’t get their once–in–a–lifetime trip twice!”
I had to agree.
In July 2014 I was invited for the second time to join an outreach to Japan sponsored by United States - Japan Foundation, Mount Sinai Hospital, Japan Society, and Tribute Center. The first of these annual outreaches had taken place in 2012.
The outreaches had begun in response to the tremendous suffering caused by the Great East Japan tsunami, earthquake, and nuclear disaster of March 11, 2011. The Tohoku earthquake had triggered the tsunami that had destroyed entire villages and caused the loss of many lives. And miles away, the tsunami caused the meltdown of the reactor at Fukushima nuclear power plant, which led to mass evacuations. Those evacuees still had their homes but due to radiation levels couldn’t live there.
The concept of the outreaches was simple: the survivors of 9/11 bringing hope to the survivors of 3/11.
The Tribute Center’s connection to Japan went back to 2007 when Japan showed their support by donating 10,000 paper cranes to the newly opened Tribute Center.
The inspiration for the cranes had come from the true story of a twelve–year–old girl who had leukemia due to radiation exposure after the Hiroshima bombing. Shortly before her death in 1955, Sadako set a goal of folding a thousand paper cranes as a way to cope with her illness and share her hope for peace with those around her.
In 2007, among the 10,000 origami cranes donated to the Tribute Center was one red paper crane folded by Sadako and donated by her brother, Masahiro Saski.
After the earthquake in March of 2011, the Tribute Center donated a Sadako–style crane made from World Trade Center steel to Japan. Tribute Center docents, Mount Sinai doctors, and Rotary Club members traveled to Japan to deliver the crane. The Soaring Crane was installed in Kaisezan Park, Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture. Mounted on a beautiful marble pedestal, the crane was positioned to face toward New York.
It was the first of what would become an annual outreach.
At the time of this writing, I’ve been invited to go on four of these trips—and counting.
Just traveling to and from Japan from New York is an adventure in itself. First, it’s a long flight. You’re served not one but three meals. There is enough time to watch four complete movies and take a short nap. And when you fly home, with the time change you actually land before you left.
To be honest, the schedule for these trips is grueling. The itineraries are multiple pages long. You get up early, go to bed late in a different hotel just about every night, and travel long hours between appointments, meeting and interacting with many people along the way.
I know five words of Japanese while I am in Japan which I promptly forget when I get home. What I never forget are the people—amazing, gentle, giving people.
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