I finally had an extra moment to sit down and update my many blog posts that have piled up over the last six months. My May article for the North American Post was published several weeks ago, but I haven't had a second to post it on the blog until now!
This article was inspired by a crazy twist of fate that occurred on March 11, 2011. I had a long day at work, including an educational presentation for the ICU at one of my hospitals that got me home around midnight. Kyle was up as we were hosting his co-worker at our house, and he was secretly preparing for an interview the next day at Microsoft. Needless to say, this was a stressful evening. Ironically, I had been talking with a doctor at my hospital about Japan and my ties to the country. I was advising him on where to visit when he was able take a trip with his family.
As I tiredly walk in the house, Kyle nonchalantly mentions to me that there was an awful 8.9 earthquake (as it was originally classified) in Japan. Immediately, I froze. My parents had left earlier in the day for a 4 day trip to Japan for a good friend's wedding. Because the trip was so short, we hadn't really thought much about it...until that moment when we did the math and realized that they were supposed to land at the same time the earthquake hit.
I immediately ran to the TV and saw horrific images of the Armageddon-like shaking of the quake and then the massive tsunami that came after, washing away whole towns. I called my father's phone, which should be on to receive International calls, and got a very alarming message saying the number was not in service at this time. I realized that my phone had a strange number that had called earlier in the evening and checked my messages. It was our family friend in Tokyo, saying that she was OK, but that there was a massive earthquake and that my parents should have arrived at her house by now; she couldn't get in touch with them.
The next update on the news was that a tsunami was headed towards Hawaii, where my whole extended family live. I called my aunt in Hawaii, and when I started talking with her I was overcome with emotion. My aunt said that they would be fine as they were far enough away from the potential reach of a tsunami. As cliche as it sounds, these type of experiences really put into perspective what is most important, and I am convinced that I will forever better appreciate my blessed life because of this scare.
By the time I hung up and tried to sleep, it was after 2:30AM, and Kyle was supposed to leave for his interview around 7AM. At 6AM, my phone made a glorious ringing sound, signaling that a new email came through. My mother emailed a simple and short message saying they were OK and that they were being housed by the Red Cross. I found out later that as they were descending into the airport in Tokyo, the pilot was alerted to the earthquake. In a moment of panic, many workers at the airport fled to their homes, and there was no one to bring the airplane into the airport. They were diverted to the Yokota airbase, where they spent the night in a community center and were eventually flown by the US Air Force back to Tokyo where they boarded a 3 hour packed train and eventually made their way back to our friend's house.
The first meal they had was at the sushi shop I mention in the article.
So many lives were forever changed because of this horrible tragedy. Kyle and I felt incredibly lucky to know that my family and all our dear friends in Japan were safe. We also felt compelled to help in whatever way we could. Although my writing may only be seen by a handful of people, I thought maybe I could have a tiny impact by doing an article on how to help and to recognize those that are helping with relief efforts.
By Emi Suzuki / For The North American Post
• Wed, May 04, 2011
As the 9.0 earthquake rocked Japan on March 11, and the ensuing tsunami devastated the Tohoku region, my parents were in a plane descending into Tokyo’s Narita airport. Unaware of the magnitude of damage, the plane was re-routed to Yokota Air Base where they were cared for and housed by the U.S. Air Force and the Red Cross at a local community center.
After a long journey making their way to our friend’s house, my parents replenished themselves at one of our family's favorite neighborhood sushi restaurants in the Nerima-ku part of Tokyo. Like so many of the best sushi restaurants in Japan, this one is small and hidden, nestled within a residential area. The chef and owner is always serving up the freshest and most interesting sushi for the lucky locals; on this occasion, my parents asked for the chef’s recommendation for the seasonal specials. They savored every bite, fully appreciating the privilege of having a meal during this uncertain time; however, there was one dish that they will forever cherish: the sazae (horned turban shell) from Fukushima.
In an attempt to immortalize this rare treat, my mother took a photo of the gnarled gastropod that was full of sweet, meaty marine snail. As my father popped the rich and fatty dark end piece in his mouth, he savored the intricate flavors, knowing that at the same time, a nuclear reactor was deteriorating in the sazae’s origin of Fukushima.
When my parents returned home, they recounted their earthquake stories, speaking to the heroism as well as devastation they saw and heard about. I, like so many others around the world, felt the need to do something to help. Inspired by the tale of the last Fukushima sazae, I turned to a favorite Seattle neighborhood sushi restaurant, Shun.
Shun has been one of the many Seattle area restaurants that have donated portions of their profits to support relief efforts for Japan.
Similar to our Nerima-ku sushi shop, Shun is a neighborhood favorite located in the University District. Owner and chef, Yoshi Nishizawa, opened Shun in 2006 after working at many of Seattle’s most prestigious sushi restaurants. He wanted a traditional Japanese family restaurant that would appeal to both the students and business professionals that live in the neighborhood.
“I am proud of our customers,” Chef Nishizawa tells me, explaining that his passion for the business is in making his customers happy. Chef Nishizawa also understands the importance of giving back to the community, which is why Shun participated in “Ganbaro Japan” as well as the upcoming “Sushi Chef Dream Team,” both benefiting relief efforts for Japan. The Sushi Chef Dream Team benefit will be held May 5 at the Bell Harbor International Conference Center on the Seattle’s Waterfront and will feature some of Seattle’s top chefs, with drinks, entertainment, a silent auction and delicious sushi.
Seattle area sushi chefs like Nishizawa and their staff are closely tied to the unfolding disaster, not only because many have family and friends from the Tohoku region, but a portion of their fish supply comes from Sendai and Chiba. Chef Nishizawa tells me that his restaurant has experienced some delayed supplies related to the ongoing issues in Japan. Benefits like the Sushi Chef Dream Team provide an avenue for the chefs and their loyal customers to raise relief aid for the people of Japan in this crisis through the simple and delicious act of making and eating Seattle sushi.
What are you doing to support relief efforts in Japan? Share your stories with me at twitter.com/EmisEats or EmisEats@napost.com.
Shun is located at 5101 25th Ave. NE #11, Seattle. (206) 522-2200. For more information on the Sushi Chef Dream Team, visit http://www.sushichefdreamteam.com/.