By Dustin Perry, U.S. Army Garrison Japan Public AffairsApril 25, 2012
CAMP ZAMA, Japan (April 26, 2012) -- Three streets on an Army installation in Japan now bear new names that commemorate the worst natural disaster in the country's history, but also pay tribute to the joint relief and rebuilding efforts that followed.
A ceremony held Wednesday at Camp Zama culminated with the commander of U.S. Army Japan and I Corps (Forward), the chief of staff of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, and the governor of Japan's Miyagi Prefecture officially unveiling the signpost for the newly christened Tomodachi Avenue.
Elsewhere on the installation, the intersection of Sendai Street and Ishinomaki Avenue recognized the two other roads included in the commemoration.
The ceremony came a little more than a month after the one-year anniversary of when a 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck off the northeast coast of Japan on March 11, 2011, and the resulting tsunami killed more than 15,000 citizens and caused significant damage to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.
The new names for the roads were chosen because they each have direct and significant ties to the events that occurred on and after 3/11, said Maj. Gen. Michael T. Harrison Sr., USARJ commander.
Operation Tomodachi, which took its name from the Japanese word for "friend," was the extensive, months-long joint support mission involving more than 100,000 Japan Self-Defense Force members and 24,000 service members from each branch of the U.S. military. Their efforts included search-and-rescue operations, food and water delivery to thousands of displaced citizens, construction initiatives, and various goodwill projects.
"Our purpose here today is very simple," Harrison said during his ceremony remarks. "In remembrance of the sorrow and the triumph [of 3/11], we will enshrine on Camp Zama a lasting memory of the cooperative effort between the Japanese people, her Self-Defense Force, and the U.S. Army."
Sendai is the capital of Miyagi Prefecture and the largest city in Japan's Tohoku Region, the northeast coastal area that suffered the most catastrophic damage as a result of the tsunami. The permanent memorialization of Sendai Street at Camp Zama was an extremely humbling gesture to the city's citizens, and a fitting tribute to the resilient spirit of his entire home prefecture, Gov. Yoshihiro Murai said during his remarks.
"After March 11, our town and our way of life completely changed," Murai said. "The scene that remained was one that no one could ever imagine overcoming. But we eventually stood up and moved forward from the devastation, and we were able to do so because people from the U.S. military and all over the world supported us."
The city of Ishinomaki, also in Miyagi Prefecture, suffered significant human casualties and property damage when 10-meter-high waves crashed into the coast there and quickly swept through the streets, minutes after the earthquake struck at 2:46 p.m.
The quick response, decisive actions and seamless teamwork of U.S. and Japanese forces in the aftermath of the disaster were a testament to the strong and enduring relationship between their two nations, said Gen. Eiji Kimizuka, JGSDF chief of staff. The general added that he was extremely honored to be a part of the momentous ceremony, and thanked the U.S. for its ongoing assistance to his country.
"USARJ's support through Operation Tomodachi, and also other volunteer efforts such as the Camp Zama Girl Scouts' 'Operation Backpacks,' reached the hearts of the Japanese people," Kimizuka said. "We were able to regain the courage to rebuild, thanks to the friendship and bonds of our partnership of more than 50 years."
In the year since the tragedies of 3/11, great progress has been made on several fronts, Harrison said. Both Japan and its U.S. allies will continue to move forward and persevere together "as partners in preparedness, recovery, and hope," the general added.
"I hope that when people, regardless of affiliation, walk these renamed streets, that they are brought to a point of both somber reflection and quiet pride at all that we accomplished together."