St. Albert, Alberta resident Steve Johnson passed through Revelstoke over the weekend, as part of a Edmonton to Vancouver walk to raise awareness for the victims of the March 11 earthquake in Japan.
As a concession to his wife, he’s not actually walking on the main highways out of safety concerns. Instead, he travels from town to town and then does the kilometres on side roads.
Johnson called the Times Review and sent some information about his trip, which we were looking to get up on our website. While out on a bike ride south of town on Airport Way on Monday afternoon, I stopped for a drink of water. Who rounded the corner, but Steve Johnson. I had a chance to do a brief video interview (above).
Johnson said he’d received a warm welcome here. He’d been in touch with community members through the United Church, and the people at the Visitor Info Centre invited him to speak at the Grizzly Plaza concert that night, which he was on his way to when I spoke with him.
Below is an essay that Johnson sent in to us. Good luck on your walk, Steve!
My reason for embarking on the Ganbaro Japan! Walk for Japan
By Steve Johnson
The disaster in Japan on March 11 has been a shock for people worldwide, for Canadians, and especially for those who have ties to Japan. After living and teaching in Japan for eight absolutely fantastic years, I had returned to Canada with my wife (a Japanese citizen who recently attained her Canadian Permanent Residency) only a few months earlier. Upon hearing about the extent of the devastation, I felt a deep sadness for all the people in Japan who have been affected directly as well as indirectly by this tragedy. My wife and I are not from the area affected by the disaster, but we find ourselves amongst a group of people who are, strangely, unaffected yet affected. We don’t have any direct connection to anyone from that area, but it troubles us just the same that the people of a country so dear to us, a people who have treated me and my family with such kindness and hospitality over the years, should be in distress. I wanted to do something.
Now, as the memory of the disaster slowly fades from the public eye for many Canadians, I feel I have an opportunity and a duty to do something positive. Drawing from the insight I gained through my many experiences in Japan, I want to share that insight and perspective with my fellow Canadians.
I have prepared a presentation and talk that aims to share my experience in the endlessly fascinating Japanese culture and thereby connect Canadians to this event. Furthermore, I hope to encourage people to develop their natural feeling of connectedness to current events and to take action when they feel passionate about an issue, whether it be global or local. The presentation/talk is largely comprised of stories and experiences I find myself naturally sharing with friends, family, and students. Telling these stories about the Japanese seems to naturally relate to broader themes such as service, hard work, selflessness, and sense of duty. I really think it is appropriate for people of all ages, and I hope to find opportunities to share with community groups of all ages: schools, Girl Guides, Boy Scouts, church groups, anyone who is interested! We have also prepared some simple activities like folding origami and a simple taiko (Japanese drumming) experience, for situations where a full presentation isn’t possible or, on the other hand, isn’t enough! I am hoping that when people hear about us they won’t hesitate to contact us as well as pass the word along! (e-mail: email@example.com Blog: http://walkforjapan.blogspot.com)
We heard from friends and relatives time and time again: “You and your family must be so glad to not be there!?” And while I appreciate these considerate words – and without overlooking how easy it is for me to say this from the comfort and safety of my immediate surroundings – my response was often: Well, both yes and no: Yes, one must always count oneself lucky to not be in or close to a disaster – of course. But not being there also meant not being able to help…actually lend a hand. But there are other ways to help … we all have a role to play should we be willing.
I want to share with my fellow Canadians my sense of connectedness to this country, so that those who might already have a sense of sympathy for the victims of this disaster might be prompted to act. Building on the strong feelings of sympathy that Canadians seem to naturally have for such global issues, my hope is that in sharing my story as a fellow Canadian, my connection might complete that tiny gap between people’s feeling of sympathy and their taking action; should it be a small donation to the Red Cross or a larger change in perspective that leads to other action. Especially as the story of the “Disaster in Japan” slowly gets pushed further and further back from the front cover of the newspaper and out of our daily thoughts, I hope my actions will remind people that for so many, the story is far, far from over.
Ultimately, my hope is that a message is sent out from this country and from countries around the world that says loud and clear: we are with you Japan! I believe that along with donations and disaster relief efforts, what Japan needs most, is for the world to say, for Canada to say, “Gambaro!! Japan!” (meaning “Stay Strong, Japan!”). Not a message that they need to endure more, but rather that they receive a message of hope. What they need most is to hear from the world an echo of their resiliency, their bravery in the face of adversity, our sympathy for their hardship as well as our admiration for how they are dealing with it…and to make sure they know that despite our cultural differences, in spite of their solitude as an island nation, we are interconnected with them as they are with us! Through our actions, our donations, our sentiments, the people of Japan who are struggling to overcome these difficult times and the challenges that lie ahead will do so with the knowledge that we care: we want to help and our thoughts, understanding and best wishes, as well as our donations, are with you! This sentiment is fully embodied in the Japanese word “Gambaro” and as such is the name of this event: Gambaro JAPAN!