It all could have turned out so differently for Yuya Kudo.

At 3 a.m. on March 11, Kudo, a West Virginia University junior biology student, received a text message from a friend asking if his family was OK.

Confused why his friend would ask such a question, Kudo turned on the TV.

What he saw was the city where his aunt, uncle and cousins live under water. And the city where his parents live going up in flames.

The destruction was the result of a 9.0 magnitude earthquake that shook northeast Japan, and was followed by a tsunami that later crippled the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

“It was very unreal watching it. It looked like a science fiction movie,” said Kudo, who is from the city of Chiba, located next to Tokyo.

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Kudo immediately raced to contact his family, but had no luck. Later that afternoon, he received a call from his father saying that they were OK but hadn’t been able to get in touch with his grandparents or other relatives, who live near where the tsunami hit.

“My dad told me not to worry, tried to calm me down but I didn’t know how to handle it – seeing my home country go through such a disaster,” Kudo said.

“I stayed in my room for the next five days, just watching CNN and staying updated. Nothing else mattered. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, didn’t go to class.”

Kudo thought about going home to be with his family, but wasn’t sure he should.

“I was very lost,” he said.

On the following Tuesday, Kudo – who is an resident assistant at Boreman Hall – was called into Boreman Hall’s Resident Faculty Leader’s and Resident Hall Coordinator’s office.

“They told me they wanted to get me a ticket to go home and see my family,” he said. “I told them that I couldn’t take it, it was too much. But they told me it would go to waste if I didn’t. That made my decision for me.”

So Kudo left the following Saturday for Japan and spent two weeks traveling the country searching for family and trying to help. He brought with him food, medical supplies and blankets that had been gathered by other resident assistants at WVU.

Shortly after he arrived, he found his grandparents safe in their home. A few days later he traveled to Sendai, where the tsunami hit, and found his aunt, uncle and cousin safe in their home.

“I am grateful that everyone related to me was safe, but I can’t be truly happy,” he said. “More than 10,000 people died and 20,000 are still missing. I can’t be happy when I think about their families.”

Once he knew his family was safe, Kudo reached out to help those around him. He volunteered as a translator for a group of Israeli doctors that had traveled to Sendai to help care for the injured.

He dug through the wreckage helping families look for their missing sons, daughters and parents.

“Everything was mixed up,” he said. “There was stuff that made you wonder how in the world it got there. A fridge was in the bathroom on top of the toilet. There was a house on top of a four-story elementary school.”

He helped people clear out the possessions in their homes and assess what was OK to keep and what had been too badly damaged.

“For us volunteers cleaning out the houses, everything was all dirty and broken and it all looked like it would go out with the trash. But, for the families everything was sentimental and had a memory,” he said. “Each thing we had to ask if they wanted to keep. It was heart-breaking.”

Kudo saw things he never could have imagined.

“The news doesn’t show the worst of it. There are scenes where there is absolutely no way that anyone can point a camera,” he said. “The news doesn’t show the sound of people crying or the smell.

“It is bombarding every sensory of mine and I almost couldn’t handle it. You feel useless, just a shovel in your hand and total chaos in front of you.”

Through all the destruction and devastation, Kudo has found some hope.

“We still have the country, and the people in it are still maintaining their culture. Once the culture breaks, once that gets destroyed, that is when it gets really bad. That is when a country is no longer a country,” he said.

Kudo returned to Morgantown on April 2. Since then he has received an outpouring of support from faculty, staff and classmates.

“Everyone was worried about me,” he said. “People that I didn’t know stop by and say they heard my story and ask if I am OK, and if there is anything they can do. It is an indescribable feeling.”

Kudo tells people to appreciate what they have.

“Appreciate that their family is there, that water comes out of the shower and that they can turn the light on and off,” he said.

By Colleen DeHart
WVU University Relations/News



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