I went back to Kumamoto in early April to meet Governor Kabashima and Mayor Onishi, and to talk with people there about local progress in recovering from the April 2016 earthquakes. As always I was impressed by the beauty of the place. A sense of history is everywhere you go. It was a warm sunny day and flowers were in bloom. It could not have been a better day to tour Kumamoto Castle, truly one of the greatest sights in Japan.
When I served as the Principal Officer at U.S. Consulate Fukuoka, I had many opportunities to visit Kumamoto City and to travel throughout the prefecture. I have such pleasant memories of walking around the Castle, of Kurokawa Onsen, of Amakusa, of the many people I met. I enjoyed representing the United States three times at the legendary Country Gold music festival and got to know Charlie Nagatani (and the Texas Cannonballs). The organizers have always had a knack for picking promising American Country music artists. The chance to talk with these up and coming artists was a special experience, as was spending time with the most fervent country music fans to be found anywhere in the world.
I was in Tokyo on April 14 a year ago when news reports began to come in of the devastation from the earthquake. The aftershocks continued for days after that. I can only imagine how frightening it must have been for residents of Kumamoto and the surrounding areas. My heart goes out to all those who were lost and suffered from the devastation. But on this most recent visit I sensed resilience and determination everywhere, including from the owner of a wonderful ramen shop in a newly constructed housing complex in Mashiki who is growing his business. And when I met the world-famous Kumamon in Tokyo, I could see why he has become such a strong symbol of resilience, goodwill, and a positive spirit.
I am very proud that we were able to offer a helping hand through the U.S. military to communities that were isolated by the earthquake. I am also proud of U.S. Consulate Fukuoka, which immediately went to the affected areas to offer assistance and check on the well-being of the American community there. The support we received in turn has been outstanding – relief services provided updates in English for those who could not speak Japanese, and everyone went out of their way to care for our citizens coping with this tragedy in a place far from home. This is the Japanese spirit of "omotenashi" at its very best. Thank you.
Kumamoto Castle was damaged by the earthquakes but the structures and surrounding site remain spectacular. This April, I saw first-hand how hard the expert staff is working to restore this historic treasure to its original glory. I also visited the site of the historic Janes' Residence, which was devastated by the April 2016 earthquakes. Built in 1871, it was the first Western-style house in Kumamoto and was the home of L.L. Janes, an American teacher at the Kumamoto Western School. The building may have been lost, but I witnessed the passion of people like Ken Honda, who are committed to preserving this precious history and getting support to rebuild the house.
The friendship between the United States and Kumamoto is very strong, especially between Montana and Kumamoto as sister states, and Kumamoto City and San Antonio, Texas, and Rome, Georgia, as sister cities. I worked for the late Ambassador Mike Mansfield and know how thrilled he was to see Montana and Kumamoto establish a sister-state relationship. He would be pleased to know that those bonds continue to strengthen and that his good friends in Kumamoto continue to demonstrate the resilience and goodwill for which they are so well known.