Japanese abroad struggle as crisis unfolds at home

Japanese living far from home are anxiously scanning newspapers, Twitter and Facebook for news of friends and family after last week's devastating earthquake and tsunami triggered a nuclear crisis.

Engineers are struggling to bring the situation at the Fukushima nuclear plant under control, dousing overheating reactors with water to avert a meltdown in an emergency that has caused grave concern in Japan and beyond.

The disaster, the country's most serious crisis since World War II, has seen Japanese expats frantically trying to make contact with relatives, support each other and raise money to help their compatriots.

Australia has one of the world's largest Japanese expat communities, with over 70,000 registered as living in the country, according to its embassy in Canberra.
The Sydney Japanese School said it had been a difficult time emotionally for staff, parents and children, but that they had received tremendous support from the community with fund-raising activities in full swing.

"The images of the Japanese earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck in Japan have been most terrifying," said deputy principal Allan Meadows.

"It is only made worse when we know that our school community is directly affected, with many teachers, families and friends -- past and present -- coming from the devastated regions of eastern Japan."

He said there were staff members whose parents' houses were swept away in the tsunami, and knew of at least one relative of a teacher who was killed.
"Some teachers have been doing it really tough. The uncertainty is the worst," he said.

It was a similar story at the Taipei Japanese School in Taiwan. Several teachers' houses have been damaged by the tsunami that devastated swathes of Japan's northeast, swallowing up whole towns and villages.

Meiko Kobayashi, a Japanese writer living in Singapore, has spent hours on Facebook and Twitter trying to get in touch with family in her homeland.

"As far as I know, some people went back to be with the family but most are staying put," she said of the city-state's Japanese community, comments echoed by Yosuke Tanaka.

"We are not going back home, but we watch TV and websites for news about Japan," said the marketing manager for Albirex Niigata, a Japanese football club based in Singapore.

Some expats have faced agonising days of being unable to contact loved ones in the devastated region, where the number of confirmed dead from the twin disasters now stands at 5,178 with thousands more missing.

Eri Osawa, 33, a teacher at a Japanese school in Kuala Lumpur, said while her family was safe, she cannot reach two friends in Sendai.

"I sent numerous emails to them but till today I have had no response," she said through tears.

Osawa, who comes from Chichibu near Tokyo, said two other friends have left their homes in the capital due to concerns over radiation from the plant, which sent levels rising in the capital -- although not to dangerous levels.

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