Ambassador Reiichiro Takahashi and Mrs. Masako Takahashi were both deeply moved by their visit to the 9/11 Tribute Museum as Tribute Museum Co-founder Lee Ielpi guided them through the galleries.
He was very familiar with the lives lost on September 11, because every year on the anniversary, he hosts a luncheon at the Japanese Consulate for the families of the 24 Japanese citizens who were killed on 9/11. Each year some of their parents come to New York for the memorial ceremonies, but he said that as they get older, the trip from Japan has become more difficult. Mrs. Takahashi noted that for some of the families, the next generation is now representing the families at the memorial events.
When the Ambassador read the many stories in the gallery highlighting 9/11 based foundations’ Service to the World, he said that he admired the fact that our exhibits are filled with stories of hope. He said that he believes it is so important to find positive narratives going forward, particularly for the benefit of young people making choices about the paths they will follow in life. One of the stories highlighted in this exhibit is the story of the 9/11 Tribute Museum’s outreach to support the survivors of the 3/11 triple disaster in the northeast region of Japan. On March 11, 2011, an earthquake followed by a tsunami took the lives of almost 20,000 people in the Tohoku region. A malfunction at a nuclear plant in Fukushima several days later resulted in the spread of radiation that forced the evacuation of whole towns close to the plant. Some of those people will never be able to return to their ancestral homes.
Soon after the disaster, Lee Ielpi suggested to Japanese diplomats that he thought the 9/11 community could provide meaningful support to the people who survived 3/11. With assistance from the United States-Japan Foundation and American Airlines, the 9/11 Tribute Museum was able to develop an outreach project in collaboration with the Global Health program at Mount Sinai Hospital and Rotary International.
9/11 Community inspires those who lived through 3/11 to sharing their stories
For the past 6 years, groups of Tribute Museum volunteers have been traveling to Tohoku to meet with students in schools close to Fukushima, with families who have been displaced, and with survivors in towns that suffered great loss of life. By recounting their 9/11 stories of trauma and of resilience, they have inspired people who lived through 3/11 to begin sharing their stories.
Both the sponsors of the project and the project participants realized how important it is that the project has continued over a period of years showing commitment over the long path to recovery. Strong friendships have developed between people who never expected they would meet, and exchanges beyond the trips to Japan are carried out both with visits from Japan to the 9/11 Tribute Museum in New York City and through the graces of emails.
“Before September 11, I don’t know if I would have been as sensitive to things that happen in other countries as I am now,” reflected volunteer Anthony Palmeri who worked to clear the World Trade Center area for the Department of Sanitation of the City of New York throughout the recovery. “I don’t speak the language in Japan, but I know what the people in Japan feel. If I can tell them how we in the 9/11 community stick together and help each other, if they can stick together and help each other, they can heal. These dialogues we had in Japan were one of the best experiences of my life. I feel that we made a difference.”
These dialogues we had in Japan were one of the best experiences of my life. I feel that we made a difference.
– Anthony Palmeri, 9/11 Tribute Museum Volunteer
“The first year we went on this trip in 2012, the people we met didn’t want to talk about what happened to them. But this year we heard a presentation by a woman who lost her daughter at a school. It was heart-wrenching and I cried… But I did get to speak to her through one of our interpreters. She was so gracious and brave – an amazing human being,” recounted Jeanette Gutierrez, a volunteer who is a 9/11 survivor.
On June 7, 2017, Ambassador Takahashi bestowed The Consul General’s Commendation for 2017 on the 911 Tribute Museum. In a ceremony at his residence, he presented a plaque that read “Tribute has made remarkable contributions to the promotion of mutual understanding and friendship between Japan and the United States. By sharing experiences from the unprecedented terrorist attacks on 9/11, this center has provided great support to the survivors and family members of victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake.”
The 9/11 Tribute Museum’s connections with the people of Japan continue to grow. The Japanese Consulate in New York continues to bring visiting diplomats to our galleries so they can meet people in the 9/11 community and better understand the culture and history of the people of this region. Visiting groups of students meet with our volunteer guides and hear stories of 9/11 first hand. The next groups of students, nursing students from Fukushima, and high school and college students in a leadership program with Beyond Tomorrow, are expected here in early August. We will keep you posted on what they share with us.