Old fashioned telephone is a lifeline to West Hampstead for one Japanese family

Chieko Kibe from West Hampstead tells of the terrifying ordeal of waiting for news from Sendai

My husband woke me up at 6am on Friday morning because he had seen there was a huge earthquake.

I was the only one of my whole family who was away from my home town. Everyone else – my sister, my two brothers, my parents and my 94-year-old grandfather, were all in Sendai.

I was immediately in front of the TV and I could not physically drag myself away from it. I tried to call my parents, my sister, my brothers but none of the phones were working; I was just so worried.

But I was in England and I have my children here who had to go to school. I took them – to school and nursery – and then I went to my job as a teaching assistant at Beckford school.


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At lunchtime I was calling all my family, trying to get through when a colleague asked me how my family were. I burst into tears and told her I hadn’t heard from them. She told me that I must go home and try to reach them.

Over the hours I had tried every single, possible way to get in contact with my family and I still hadn’t been in touch.

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Then my husband had an idea. He said that some really old phones would not need electricity to work. Suddenly I remembered an old black phone of my grandfather’s with these winding buttons.

And as I thought about it I realised I remembered the number. I had learned it very young and things you learn when you are young stay in your head.

By this time it was Saturday night and I rang the number and it rang and then I heard my mother’s voice very quietly and I was just saying mum! Mum!

We were both very emotional but she was more worried about my sister as she knew I was safe in London and my brothers’ families had already visited them.

My sister’s husband was in Tokyo working for the police. My sister was at home, one of her daughters was at secondary school and the other two daughters were at primary school – the whole family was scattered when it happened.

In Japan we are used to earthquakes and we are well prepared for evacuation. My sister left her house and the secondary school and primary school evacuated separately. The windows of the secondary school shattered and my 14-year-old niece cut her leg on the glass.

My sister went to look for her children, and they were all safe and reunited. Finally, on Sunday, I got in contact with her.

Her husband’s good friend and colleague died in Sendai doing his job as a police officer. The house of my brother’s wife’s family was completely washed away and they spent the first night in a school playground.

o Chieko Kibe and friend Takane Funatsu are raising money for Japan. They have a Sendai flag that Chieko’s brother sent his niece, Aria, to use in a special performance of a Japanese fisherman’s dance at Beckford School. The families are now asking local people to write their wishes for the Japanese people on it before Chieko returns it to the village.

Chieko and Takane, also from West Hampstead, have been collecting for the quake appeal at Beckford school and have raised �1,135. The pair, along with their families and other Japanese families, are also running an event in Essex this weekend.

The fundraiser, which will be held on Saturday between 11am and 3pm at 32 Tamar square, Woodford Green in Essex will feature Japanese food stalls, Kimono dress up, Origami and crafts and a bouncy castle. The flag will also be on display.

Chieko and Takane urge people to donate to the ‘Japan Tsunami Appeal’ at www.redcross.org.uk/donate.

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