Annual Japan Day reflects on earthquake and tsunami disasters

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SORROW, frustration and a determination to do what they could to help a stricken nation inspired the organisers of Japan Day at Sheffield University this year.

The earthquake and subsequent tsunami which hit the country just over a week ago cast a pall over the simple celebration of Japanese culture which has been held in Sheffield since 2006.

Yuki Cockrell with daughters Ameilia and Rosemary

Yuki Cockrell with daughters Ameilia and Rosemary

The university hosts 200 Japanese students, and a further 40 Sheffield students are studying in Japan - all reported to be safe and well.

The event at the Octagon Centre on Western Bank featured live music, martial arts displays, calligraphy, origami and fortune telling.

But new this year were boards with images of destruction - which proved too much for some tearful visitors.

Student Yuka Kumakura, aged 21, who is reading English, has family in Tokyo enduring daily power cuts, bare supermarket shelves, and the threat of radiation from the Fukushima power plant.

She said: “I asked my family if I could go back, but they said to stay here because it’s safe. It will take a long time to recover and I really worry about nuclear power. It’s very difficult to deal with.”

Misao Watanabe, 23, was manning four game stalls at the event in aid of fundraising group Save Japan. He said his mother and sister had fled Tokyo and were staying in a hotel in Osaka.

He added: “I’m frustrated - I’m safe here but I can’t do anything to help. So I’ve put my energies into fundraising.”

Yuki Cockrell, 45, runs the Japanese Play Group and Study Centre in Walkley. She led a small choir of traditionally-dressed children singing in Japanese who have raised £400 by performing at the Winter Garden and City Hall.

She said: “We can’t change nature. My concern is a nuclear disaster, not just for Japan but for the world.”

Paul White, the university’s pro vice-chancellor, said Sheffield students currently in Japan had been asked to gather at Doshisha University in Kyoto for safety. Only one had so far opted to return to the UK, he added.

Of the event he said: “The atmosphere is more reflective this year.” Sheffield University has been hosting Japanese students for more than 50 years.