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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC



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Father of American March 2011 victim builds bonds with survivors

Mar. 12, 2018

Among the victims of the March 2011 disaster was a young American teacher. Since the tragedy, her father has been visiting the area every year to reconnect with people who touched her life.

Children at a school in the Tohoku region may have been too little to remember what happened 7 years ago. But Andy Anderson will never forget. It's one of the schools where his daughter once taught. Taylor Anderson was an English teacher. On that day, she made sure that all students were safe. She then headed home, but didn't make it.

Andy's first visit to the area was to confirm his daughter's death. But he was moved by the locals, who welcomed him and showed him kindness despite losing family members and their homes.

Since then, Andy has built special friendships with the people of Ishinomaki. Shinichi and Ryoko Endo are among them. The tsunami took their 3 children, Hana, Kanta and Kana -- who were also Taylor's students.

Soon after the disaster, Andy and his family set up a foundation in Taylor's name. They commissioned Shinichi to make bookshelves so that the foundation could donate books to local schools. Taylor loved to read as a child. So they felt this was what she would want them to do. "Taylor had a dream to build a bridge between the US and Japan. I put her thoughts into the bookshelves, so I want you to use them carefully," says Shinichi. So far, they've set up 'Taylor's library' in 13 schools.

"She wants us to be happy, Endo-san's children want them to be happy, so that is not always easy but together it makes it easier to be happy," says Andy.

Andy says it brings him joy to see Taylor's former students grow each year, including 19-year-old Maika Sugiyama and her sister Yuina. The sisters say Taylor motivated them to learn English and dream big.

"Taylor was kind and considerate to everyone," says Maika. "I did not know her as a teacher so learning from her student what she was like and it is a real treasure to me," says Andy.

They visited one of Taylor's favorite places -- a hill overlooking the city. This year, Andy and Shinichi decided to plant 2 cherry trees where Shinichi's house used to stand. The trees represent their children whose lives were cut short by the disaster. "Andy is like my brother. He taught me how to live even after losing my children. My wife and I appreciated our children's relationship with Taylor so we planted trees as a tribute," says Shinichi.

"I think that important thing is that we who experienced it together and lost so many loved ones...that we are always remembering, honoring, and celebrating our loved ones," says Andy. He's determined to continue coming back -- to heal, rehabilitate and rebuild their lives together.

NHK Newsline's Editor-in-Chief Miki Ebara joins Newsroom Tokyo Anchor Aki Shibuya in the studio.

Shibuya: You've been following Taylor Anderson's family for the last 7 years, and it seems their bond with the people of Ishinomaki has become very strong.

Ebara: Indeed. As Mr. Endo said, he and Andy now feel as if they are brothers. Andy's wife Jeanne told me Ishinomaki feels like the family's second home, because people there are so helpful and hospitable every time they visit. You may have noticed in the report that there was a young man beside Andy during his trip. He's Taylor's younger brother Jeffrey. He came to Japan after Taylor's death and spent 2 years teaching English to children in Nara on the same JET program as Taylor until last summer. Truly amazing, but as he and Endo-san both said, they're able to move forward because they've helped each other.

Shibuya: There was another young American teacher who lost his life, and who was on the same program.

Ebara: Yes. His name was Monty Dickson. He died in Rikuzentakata, in Iwate Prefecture, and his legacy continues too. He was from Alaska, and his alma mater, the University of Alaska Anchorage, set up in his name the Montgomery Dickson Center for Japanese Language & Culture.

With help from various groups both in Japan and the US, they've expanded language programs, organized public events, and exchanged students and researchers with universities in northeastern Japan. So both Taylor and Montgomery are remembered by so many people whose lives were touched by them and beyond.

Shibuya: Looking back, 7 years ago, it was a tough time and it still is for many. It reminds us of how helping hands from neighbors or people from other countries really can be priceless.

Ebara: That' right, and the generous assistance Japan received is still helping people in the affected regions. For example, in the field of infrastructure, one local railway was badly damaged by the tsunami in Iwate prefecture. With assistance from the Kuwaiti government, the railway bought new cars which are running now, and they've become a symbol of rehabilitation for local people.

There's also the case of a public hospital in Minamisanriku. The tsunami destroyed it and killed more than 70 staff and patients. But donations from the Taiwan Red Cross made it possible to rebuild the hospital, and it's now up and running.

Another example is a seafood processing facility in Onagawa, in Miyagi prefecture. It was rebuilt with the backing of a fund from Qatar, giving hope to the fishing community that had lost so much.

Shibuya: The disaster taught us many valuable lessons, including how to help others in need.

Ebara: That's right. It was really the first natural disaster on that scale in Japan's modern history, and the first time so much help poured in from all over the world. We now understand what it is like to receive help. Knowing what is needed in each affected area is essential. But also, we know now that kind gestures, words of encouragement, and friendship can have a positive impact. And we can apply the same to those who are suffering in other parts of the world.