Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Missing friends in Japan

I'm worried sick.

My 12-year career as a professional snowboarder took me to Japan four, or was it five, times. It's a mystical, frantic place, overwhelming in its embrace of modern technology, and beautiful in its ability to maintain ancient culture, tradition and rituals.

I regret that I was often a typical American when I was there, complaining about the omnipresence of fish, even for breakfast,  and the inability to even read road signs.  I spent a lot of time in hotel rooms, feeling alien and displaced, much like Bill Murray in Lost in Translation.

But I won't forget sitting in an outdoor onsen, a Japanese bath, the lone white woman in a sea of beautifully exotic, to me, Asian women, as steam rose off the pleasantly hot water and up into the freezing mountain air.

I will also never forget my friend and teammate, Masami. A sweet girl/woman I trained with, and competed with, on and off throughout my career. Her name, Masami, means beautiful river. At least that is what I remember she told me.

And I hope she has forgiven me, and some other teammates, for teaching her some less-than-ladylike ways to describe the weather in English, as we stood on the top of Breckenridge in 30-mile-an-hour winds, waiting our turn to go down the giant slalom course our coach had set for us.

Masami became so fond of one particular expression, after we had assured her it was "perfectly appropriate," she used it when my mother came to see us in our hotel room. When my mom attempted to make small talk with her about the weather, Masami sweetly responded to my mother's observation that it was cold,  with a jaunty "Yes. Fahcking cold!" 

Where is Masami now? I don't know, but I remember her telling me she lived near the coast somewhere.

And then there is Motoki, the other Japanese rider on our team. Motoki is a man who cannot hide he has been drinking because he turns red as a beet with the slightest sip of alcohol. His favorite thing to say in English was, "People are kindly."

Do they have children? I'm guessing yes.

Are they safe? Are their friends and family safe? I do not know. And it is difficult to find out. But I'm working on it.
As far as I know, neither Masami or Motoki has a Facebook page. And whenever I type their names into Google, I get a bunch of pages, unreadable to me, in Japanese.

And I hate wondering about them. I hate all of this. The world, sometimes, is not kindly. Not kindly at all.


MT said...

As a scientist, I too have had the pleasure of meeting people from Japan. I haven't had the opportunity to visit yet. All my friends are from Tokyo or regions south. Still I can't help thinking that they must have friends or family in the tsunami zone. It is just so heartbreaking.
I hope you are able to get in touch with your friends. Google is supposed to have a "people finder" for the tsunami but I have no idea how it works.

i.ikeda said...

I love your stories about your friends. And my husband is exactly like Motoki when it comes to drinks, haha, and it only takes one beer.... And I remember the first time I went to visit my future in-laws. They live in a small suburb of Osaka, where nature meets technology in amazing juxtaposition, just like you said. The beauty of that country is so hard to describe, it's been etched over the land by its people for so long now...

But I'm rambling. Thank you for your sweet comment and for your support on my blog. I hope you can find your friends. Do you remember their last name? Would it be very difficult to find their last names from your old competitions or list of team members? Can you google that instead?

Anonymous said...


What's going on there is so heartbreaking. Watching the videos and seeing the pictures, it's been hard to get my mind around what they've been going through. And, as you said on Babycenter, they're keeping the peace through it all.

I think that the most terrifying thing is the nuclear aspect of the situation. I've often wondered why we would use something so potentially dangerous, even if it seemed like it was for a positive use like power. I'm horrified at the thought of the death and illness that could come from a nuclear meltdown. I'll also admit that I'm afraid of where that radiation will end up raining down on. How many people will it poison?

I hope that you hear from your friends soon and that they're safe. That would be the best "fahcking cold" that you ever heard.

cecile said...

I did work with people from Japan, too, when I first arrived in the US, doing research at the U.of Minnesota. They were great, and I remember that at least one of them lived somewhere by the sea North of Japan. Like you, I tried to find them but could not.... let's just hope they are all safe. This kind of catastrophes remind me how lucky we are simply to be alive.

Anonymous said...

Did you try a site like this yet?


Just trying to help and hope you find something out soon...

Melissa Joy

Betsy said...

I got in touch with another Japanese friend via Facebook and she has assured me that Masami and Motoki are both "OK." She also said that Masami was "pleased and surprised" to hear I was asking about her. Silly girl doesn't realize she is unforgettable.

Karin (an alien parisienne) said...

This post really touched me, Betsy.

I worked with foreign students for over six years in the US. Many of the students I taught were from Japan. I met a survivor of the horrific Kobe earthquake of 1995. To think that this one was WAY worse that than terrifies me. I have worked with more than probably 200 Japanese students over the years, and that is a conservative estimate. Statistically, I can be relatively certain that some of the people I taught are no longer alive because of the Sendai earthquakes and tsunamis.

One of my best friends from college, a Japanese woman, lives in Tokyo. Thankfully, I heard from her. What freaked me out was that I thought she was going to be fine, relatively untouched by the earthquake because in Tokyo, she is 2 hours by bullet train from the hardest-hit areas. When she wrote to me about the power and strength of the quake in Tokyo and what happened to her as a result, I was shocked. It was so huge that it rocked Tokyo for minutes as well.

I hope that your former boarding buddies are safe and sound (ahhhh, I just scrolled down to the comment there which says they are! WHEW). I hope that they have been relatively untouched by the chaos.

Here are good thoughts to all of those in Japan -- a very magical place, like you wrote. A crazy place, a wonderful place, an intriguing place to me, too!

Take care, Betsy!

Karin (an alien parisienne) said...

P.S. Now I am going to be saying "fahcking cold" to myself all day today, too. :D LOL.

Betsy said...

Thanks for commenting, Karin. Yes, that particular expression, said in a faux Japanese accent, is as catchy as a pop tune. I have to watch myself, lest I say it in front of my kids. I think of it every time I am out freezing weather.