With everything Japan has to battle right now – the sea quake, tidal wave, a possible nuclear fall-out as well as warnings about a volcanic eruption on Kyushu – I wonder how much a nation can take.

View onto Wakato Hashi and Dokay Bay in Kitakyushu, Japan

From Facebook I have learned of siblings gone missing, such as former Frankfurt International School (FIS) students. My thoughts are with all the Japanese families who have come through Oberursel and FIS. I have heard from one former adult student that she is safe and both her college-age children have decided to leave Tokyo and return home to Aichi prefecture for now.

Another former FIS student and her family are still looking for the brother, gone missing in Sendai.

So many lives have been touched and/or come undone in this disaster-stricken time.

My first thought immediately went to late January 1995, the time after the Great Hanshin Earthquake (a.k.a. the Kobe earthquake). While holding our one-year old in my arms, I watched the NHK channel run lists of people who had perished in the big earthquake. I often saw the same name mentioned five, six, seven times in a row. The age given behind each name was conclusive enough to see that in each case, two or three generations of one single family had been wiped out.

In Kitakyushu, we had felt only a very slight tremor. But so many Kyushu residents had family, or friends, or somebody gone missing in and around Kobe.

My thoughts are with you, the people of Japan.

Missing Kitakyushu or Itsuka kaette kuru

Itsuka kaite kuru (Someday I will return) — I must have said that at least fifty times during the last two weeks before we left Japan in July 1995. After three years of living in Kitakyushu, it was time to move on. Back then my husband was in the Japanese Exchange Teaching programme (JET) which was limited to a maximum stay of three years. During that time we had our first child as well and could not imagine making ends meet on a long-term basis with just free-lancing jobs.

Well, now the time has come for me to return to this important place in my stage of personal growth. On April 6th, I will take our born-in-Japan son for a 10-day trip to the island of Kyushu, where we still have many dear friends. I will show him the hospital he was born in and the small eatery where the proprietor would hold him, so I could eat. I will take him to the green grocer’s down the street where the grandmother, running her fingers over the abacus, would total up my purchase in such a shrill and unforgettable voice.

Japan, to me, had been the land of a thousand opportunities. It’s a challenging place to live and with the Japanese people’s help, I got to explore myself a bit more. I had the chance to take photos for the Asahi newspaper, I was on the cover of the local newspaper and got interviewed on TV, I held a lecture about Germany in the local library, and much more. It had been a very exciting time — not to mention giving birth in Japan as well!!

Wakamatsu-ku in Kitakyushu-shi, where we lived, is a very rural place inhabited by lots of senior citizens made up of fishermen and vegetable farmers. Living there, halfway up Takato mountain, we got a true sense of Japan. We looked at bamboo forests from our back window. When we walked to the other side of the apartment – done fairly quickly! – we overlooked Dokai Bay (industrial port) with its Wakato Hashi bridge, and many high-rise buildings made up the rest of the landscape.

Japan is a land of opposites, which makes for its charm and provides endless topics to talk about.

While checking on-line bookstores, I came to realize not much has been written about Kyushu. It is hardly ever on a tour agenda and might be viewed by some as the “armpit of Japan”.

The only book I have come across which mentions Kyushu – at least in its final chapters – is Alan Booth’s travel log about his hike from Hokkaido to Kyushu. I loved this book. He captured it all: foibles and quirks of the Japanese, encountering annoying moments and extreme kindness at the same time, and the highs and lows of any kind of undertaken journey.

To learn more about this book The Roads to Sata click here

If you have ever been to Kyushu, share your experience!

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