A Japanese family is visiting Jim Thorpe to find respite from the triple onslaughts of earthquake, tsunami and radiation that ravaged northeastern Japan three weeks ago. While the family, whose home was a distance from the center of destruction, escaped the worst of the catastrophe, the lingering supply shortages, blackouts, and spread of radiation motivated them to take a visit to friends in the United States.
Tsutomu "Tom" Noguchi, his wife and three children have been visiting Jim Thorpe as guests of Jane Engler and her husband, Jim Brogan. Tom has been visiting Jane and her mother, Mary Engler, for 25 years. This year, Tom is most thankful to have friends in the United States for his family to visit to allow them some time away from Japan during its period of recovery.
The Noguchi family was returning from a memorial service for Tom's mother, when as they were entering their home in Kazo Saitama prefecture – a town of 110,000 population located about 125 miles from the affected nuclear plants, when the earthquake, which would be a massive 9.0 on the Richter scale, began.
"We were outside and we couldn't stand still," Tom said. "It was totally different from a normal earthquake. We have earthquakes every week, really small ones. That one was totally different. Normally, the shaking stops in less than 10 seconds. This lasted about five minutes."
In contrast to a small side-to-side earthquake, or a larger up-and-down quake, Tom described the March 11 quake as, "a rolling type, like waves. It started really slowly but had a big swing," Tom explained.
"The ground liquified. We watched fences fall down and tried to keep the family away from dangerous places. The neighbors all came out because it is safer outside. A parked car was actually moving. I hadn't seen that before."
Inside his home, damage was limited to a few fallen, broken dishes, and his CD collection strewn all over the floor. In his town no one was reported injured, but there was a significant potential for danger as the tile roofs on thousands of homes broke loose and tumbled to the street. Then, the recovery began.
The Kazo Saitama prefecture lost power that first night, and has been on scheduled blackouts since the earthquake.
Gasoline was in short supply, was rationed, and lines formed. Food was likewise scarce.
They learned that radioactive cesium was found in their water supply and were advised to not give it to babies.
But, because bottled water was quickly emptied from the shelves, the government softened its warning. Three weeks later, the aftershocks were continuing.
Kazo Saitama helped 1,400 people displaced by the catastrophe, housing many of them in a vacated school building.
Because a 30-mile radius surrounding the damaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant has been closed to travel, and the destruction of food supplies contaminated by radiation, it has been difficult to feed both Saitama's native population as well as the displaced people.
The loss of power temporarily knocked out the cell phone system and the Internet. Tom could not be contacted by Engler, or any of his friends and business associates in the U.S.
"We had friends call to see if Tom was all right," Engler said. "I was glued to the television for two days watching."
Twenty-five years ago, when Tom was a 19-year-old student, his family and he met Mary Engler on a Grand Canyon tour.
Handy with a camera, Tom took photos of Engler and sent the prints to her.
They soon became pen pals. Tom went to the University of Maine, and he would visit, first Mary, then Jane. At the University of Maine, Tom met his wife, Sachiyo.
For the past 20 years, Tom and Sachiyo have been friends with, and frequent guests of Jane and Jim.