March 11 marks the 10th anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that struck Northeastern Japan — our country’s largest recorded earthquake.
The disaster that left nearly 20,000 people dead or missing and forced nearly 500,000 people to evacuate. As the Japanese people look back on this history-making event, I remember with profound gratitude the outpouring of aid and support from our American friends.
I was working in Tokyo as deputy director general of the North American bureau on the day of the earthquake and tsunami. I saw the things I had carefully placed on my desk move and fall. As I looked around, I saw the concern on the faces of the people around me, which grew as we realized the extent of the damage and saw the terrifying videos of waves over 100 feet high overwhelming the coasts' sophisticated defenses. As we immediately started working with our U.S. counterparts in Tokyo, I also saw firsthand the strength of the friendship between Japan and the U.S.
It was moving to witness the countless displays of friendship and support that came from our American allies in the weeks and months that followed. In concert with Japanese authorities, U.S. armed forces immediately launched Operation Tomodachi, a relief effort that rallied an estimated 24,000 U.S. service members, 189 aircraft and 24 naval ships. Back in the United States, through thousands of organizations, Americans donated at least $746.1 million for the disaster response in the five years following the earthquake and tsunami, according to the Japan Center for International Exchange.
That August, I accompanied then-Vice President BidenJoe BidenFord to bolster electric vehicle production in multi-billion dollar push Protesters demonstrate outside Manchin's houseboat over opposition to reconciliation package Alabama eyes using pandemic relief funds on prison system MORE to the affected area where I saw him offer handshakes and hugs to each of the residents at a temporary housing complex in Natori city. I was impressed by Biden's warmth, a personal demonstration of the American spirit of generosity that we had been witnessing over the past few months. My favorite photo from this visit is of Biden connecting with a young girl named Yua, who was only 7 years old at the time. She is now in high school and filled with hope for her future, in no small part thanks to the kindness of so many Americans.
What made the U.S. response so meaningful and unique is that its foundations were built by the Japan-U.S. alliance and the extensive people-to-people connections between Japan and the United States. That foundation only continues to grow stronger and our friendship built upon that foundation is truly unshakable. Japan and the United States share the values of freedom, democracy, basic human rights and the rule of law. We are collaborating on the shared challenges that the international community faces, such as climate change and measures to combat COVID-19. Above all, thanks to the strength and stability of the Japan-U.S. alliance, both countries have been closely cooperating on resolving various regional and international matters. Prime Minister Suga and now-President Biden will continue to further strengthen the alliance.
The U.S. response to the March 11 earthquake and tsunami made clear, once again, that America is Japan’s best and most reliable friend. Likewise, Japan’s ongoing commitment to our partnership with the United States reaffirms on a daily basis that Japan, in turn, is America’s best and most reliable friend. As spring has come, I am excited to once again see the cherry trees, which were originally a gift from Japan in 1912, blooming around Washington D.C.’s Tidal Basin. The festivities for the trees are proof of our lasting friendship at the grassroots level and the shared mutual values between important partners.
Koji Tomita is Japan’s ambassador to the United States. He previously served as ambassador to South Korea andIsrael, and he has held numerous senior Foreign Ministry posts since 1981, including deputy chief of mission at the Japanese Embassy in Washington.