The American and Japanese flags outside the skyscraper that houses Japan’s Consulate in New York City are at half mast to mourn victims of the tragedies that hit the island nation this month. Citizens of that country, Japanese-Americans, and ordinary New Yorkers have been visiting the consulate’s 18th floor offices to sign a book of condolences for disaster victims.
There is a solemn hush in a room at the consulate where several hundred visitors have taken the trouble to go through security to share their condolences with victims of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan nearly two weeks ago. They include retired businessman Shiro Oda, who emigrated from Japan to the United States with his wife Akiko 30 years ago.
"We’ve been watching all kinds of media reports, especially NHK programs, and we’ve been talking all day long about the incident, and I thought we should express our sympathy, or condolences to those who lost their families," said Oda.
Oda’s entry was written in English, his wife’s in Japanese. Both extended their deepest sympathies to those who lost family and friends in the disasters. Akiko Oda says her uncle, a high school teacher, survived the disasters in northeastern Japan’s Tohoku region.
"Many of his students lived in Tohoku, and he worries about the students and his students’ families," he said. "[He did] not find out many people’s condition."
Japan’s Deputy Consul General, Yasuhisa Kawamura, says U.S. diplomats, members of other consulates, New York City officials and representatives of the New York Stock Exchange are among those who have signed the condolence book. Kawamura says remarks by young people are particularly touching.
"One American young girl dropped by the consulate a couple days ago with her own painting," said Kawamura. "The painting shows the two countries, Japan and the United States, shaking hands over the ocean, and saying, ‘we are with you.’ So, we are very, very moved and touched by this young girl’s expression."
Wednesday is the last day to sign the condolence book. Kawamura says it is intended to lift the spirits of survivors and will be forwarded to them through the Japanese Foreign Ministry. He says the consulate is also accepting donations from governments, private individuals and organizations to help victims of Japan’s multiple tragedies.