A group of students from the Tepper School of Business were in Tokyo when the massive earthquake struck Japan's northeastern coast.
Led by Daisuke Tanaka (TPR'12), Hiroshi Higuchi (TPR'12) and Aki Shiraishi, the students had set aside their Spring Break to visit several Japanese cities, experience Japanese culture and make several corporate visits.
But the students returned from their trip with more than just memories. They returned with a renewed sense of just how fragile life is — and a strong desire to help victims of the devastation.
Tanaka kicked off a recent panel discussion about the trip with an update on the crisis.
"More than 300,000 people have been forced into refugee life. That is about the same number of people as the entire city of Pittsburgh," Tanaka said.
Hiroyuki Kawada (TPR'10), now a brand marketing manager for Dell Japan, was working on the 23rd floor of his building when he felt the shaking begin.
He recounted his experience during the discussion via teleconference from Kanagawa.
"The shaking got strong. I couldn't stand at all. I realized this is not a movie, this is real. I felt a sense of death," Kawada said.
He made it safely out of the building then walked an hour home because transportation was down.
"Even now, after the quake, we have had 300 aftershocks," said Kawada, who reported he was experiencing one of those aftershocks during the teleconference call.
Keiji Matsunaga (TPR'11) and Masami Shibatani (TPR'11) took the Japan Trek during Spring Break the previous year. Compelled by video footage of the devastation, they worked quickly to organize fundraising efforts on behalf of the campus community.
Aki Iijima (HNZ'11), who is pursuing her master's degree in public policy and management, had already begun a fundraising effort for Heinz College. Daiji Kano (MCS'11), community liaison of the Japanese Student Association in CMU, had also started planning for similar actions in the undergraduate community.
The four decided to join efforts, inviting the campus community and their partners and families to donate to the Red Cross.
At Tepper, Shibatani encouraged the community to participate in the "1000 Origami Cranes" project.
"The paper crane is a symbol of best wishes for our families and friends," explained Shibatani.
"So I came up with the idea that we can make paper cranes to ask CMU students to wish for Japan's recovery against the on-going earthquake, tsunami and nuclear plant problems."
Matsunaga seeks to broaden their fundraising efforts beyond the Tepper School and CMU to the whole city of Pittsburgh.
"There are many people in Pittsburgh who want to do something for the disaster in Japan," said Matsunaga. "We will support those people and provide a true awareness of the disaster to as many people as possible."
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Watch a video of the panel
View the 2011 Japan trek photo gallery