University of Mary Washington sophomore, Jeffrey Anderson woke up on the morning of Friday, March 11, and checked his email before leaving his Framar dorm room to take a test. He discovered, when glancing his email’s news feed, that an earthquake struck just 58.42 miles from the fishing port town of Ishinomaki Japan, where his sister, 24-year-old Taylor Anderson lived and worked.
He was immediately worried.
“I wanted to read more,” Anderson said. “But I had to go take my test.”
Taylor Anderson has since been confirmed as the first American death in Japan from the recent magnitude 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami. The Great Tohoku earthquake was the largest in Japanese history, and the fifth largest ever recorded, according to the United States Geological Survey.
At the time of publication, the official death toll exceeded 9,000, according to Reuters. However, domestic Japanese media reported that over 20,000 people have died or are still unaccounted for.
However, the Anderson family received mixed information from the Japanese government leading up to her identification.
“On Tuesday morning someone from Japan called my dad and said they found her,” Anderson said. “We were all really happy.”
Major news organizations such as the Washington Post, CBS, and CNN all picked up the story of Taylor as the first American found alive after the disaster.
Their elation was short lived.
“Someone called around 10 that night,” Anderson remembered. “They said that the earlier report was unconfirmed.”
His sister, Julie, sent him the message that Taylor had not been found.
The next day, all of the networks were back for interviews.
“They were really sorry about the false information,” Anderson said.
On Monday, March 21, they received a call from Japanese officials saying that they had found her body. Anderson, his father, Taylor’s boyfriend, and their sister Julie’s boyfriend had received clearance from the Japanese government the day before to search for her.
Her supervisor confirmed the body.
According to Anderson, she made sure that all of the children at the school she taught English at had parents to go home with after the earthquake. And since she knew that tsunamis commonly follow she was riding her bike back to her apartment at the time of her death.
Taylor was teaching English in Japan at a variety of different schools for the Japan Exchange and Teaching program. She joined the program after graduation from Randolph-Macon College in August 2008 and was scheduled to return this August after fulfilling her two and one half year term with the program.
“She was very positive,” Anderson said. “She always had a big smile on her face. I want people to know about her big heart and her love for Japanese culture. She had great love for reading.”
According to Anderson, living and working in Japan was a life-long dream for Taylor.
“She got interested in Japan at the lower school that we went to in Chesterfield,” Anderson said. “She learned more in college…and went to a summer program for it at VCU. She majored in Asian Studies and International Affairs.”
The family is currently setting up a fund in Taylor’s honor to rebuild the city of Ishinomaki.
“It’s family and friends, and a lot of people in Richmond are helping out,” Anderson said. “We want a more focused charity. It’s what Taylor would want for the Japanese people she loved.”
On campus, there was charity event in Taylor’s memory on Monday night, with a showing of the Japanese film “Departures.”
Senior Yuna Lee was in charge of the fundraising event. According to Lee, the fundraiser was originally going to be for a broad charity like the Red Cross, but after she was approached by friend and fellow Framar resident Anderson, she decided to hold it in honor of Taylor.
“I think he felt helpless and restless and wanted to do something,” Lee said. “His sister was still missing at that point.”
According to Lee, she had been wanting to show the film since she saw it last semester.
“When all of this happened I decided it was a really good time,” Lee said. “Especially for people to get more insight into Japanese culture.”
Roughly 30 people attended the film, and the monetary goal of $200 was surpassed by $30.
“President Hurley also said he would write a check for $100, so that brings the total to $330 so far,” Lee said.
Chief of Staff, Martin Wilder spoke at the charity event, relaying a message from President Hurley, who was not able to attend.
“He could not be there but wanted the group to know how heartfelt his concern is for the Anderson family and for all of those affected by the disaster in Japan, and how appreciative he is of the efforts of our students to collect and send funds to assist with relief efforts,” Wilder said.
“My daughter, Nicole, was friends with Taylor. They met as RA’s in the Summer Governor’s Academy in Japanese in 2008. I am sorry that I never met Taylor personally, but my daughter knew her as a wonderful and caring individual who was intensely interested in Japan—it’s culture, language, and people. It is a terrible tragedy to see such a talented and promising life cut short by this disaster. My heart aches for her family.”
They are accepting donations at the study abroad office in Lee Hall until Friday.
It has not yet been decided which charity will receive the donations, but according to Lee they are looking for one that will help rebuild Ishinomaki. They are currently considering Doctors Without Borders among others, Lee said.
“The support we’ve received is great,” Anderson said. “We have a lot of people over with food and flowers.”
According to Anderson, not just the community in Richmond has outpoured support.
“All of the friends I live with in Framar have been sending me messages,” Anderson said. “President Hurley called me too.”
A service is planned for Saturday.