Courtesy of the Anderson family
Teacher Taylor Anderson, left, of Richmond, Va., was last seen in Ishinomaki, Japan, on March 11, shortly after a 9.0 earthquake struck off the Japanese coast but before a massive tsunami swept ashore.
American teacher Taylor Anderson helped her students get home after last Friday’s powerful earthquake rumbled through Japan and then left the school on her bike.
That was the last time the 24-year-old from Richmond, Va., who has lived in Japan since August 2008 and was a lifelong student of Japanese culture, has been seen or heard from.
“We’re just in shock, you go into a state of where you don’t think about it,” her sister, Julia, 22, said Friday in a telephone interview from Richmond. “We don’t sleep. We just work constantly. We think positive thoughts, have the occasional breakdown, but then we keep going.”
The Andersons stepped up their efforts to find Taylor, who was teaching in Ishinomaki in northeastern Miyagi prefecture, after a false report earlier in the week that she was spotted at a junior high school.
“I think the worst part was Tuesday, when we heard that she was found and then 12 hours later we found out that was false,” she said. “It was terrible. It was bad. That was a really rough night for all of us. It just hit us in the face. We were like, ‘We haven’t done enough.’ … after that we got the ball moving.”
The Andersons have used the Internet to step up their search for Taylor, have contacted the U.S. Embassy in Japan and local officials, and have been in touch with her friends and colleagues to learn details about her routines, and the routes she would take home since she rotated between eight schools.
U.S. consular officials went Thursday to the school where she was teaching when the quake hit on March 11 and interviewed teachers there. They said she left school after the children went home, said her father Andy Anderson, a 53-year-old real estate developer.
“Shortly thereafter, the tsunami warning sirens started to sound. She probably had 10, 15 minutes of bike riding before the water hit. The question is, where was she?” he said.
Anderson said he had learned from the consular officials that her case has been turned over to local police. He said he was upset by the move, and felt U.S. resources should be used to find Taylor and any other Americans reported missing.
Courtesy of the Anderson family
Taylor Anderson, center, with her parents, Andy and Jean, at their home in Richmond, Va., in an undated file photo.
“She could be holed up somewhere, she could be dead, I don’t know but we need to find out,” he said.
It’s unclear how many Americans are missing in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami. So far, none of the estimated 50,000-plus Americans living in or visiting Japan when the quake hit have been confirmed killed.
Leslie Phillips, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman, said the government was “aware of several Americans that are unaccounted for at this point” but that the department does not “have an accurate, up-to-date number every moment of the day.”
James D. Pettit, deputy assistant secretary for Overseas Citizens Services, said that task forces “have been … receiving inquiries on missing U.S. citizens, tabulating those, sending that information out to our consular field teams. …. At present, we have consular field teams at both airports in the Tokyo area, as well as in the north in the affected areas.”
“As time goes by, and we learn that there are individuals from whom no one has heard, we focus more on those individuals. And in fact, our teams on the ground are going to specific addresses to see if the buildings are still standing or if anyone knows the whereabouts of the missing individuals.”
Most of Taylor’s friends and colleagues in the JET Programme (the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme), stayed at their schools overnight after the quake, Julia Anderson said. Two of Taylor’s neighbors went back to their apartments three days after the quake.
“She lived right on the coast you could see the ocean from her apartment,” she said. “Her apartment is still standing and still OK, but she wasn’t there.”
Taylor started learning Japanese when she was in middle school, and eventually got a minor in Asian Studies at college. When she left for Japan, the departure was emotional but the family was proud of her.
“She was living the life that she always wanted and she was getting to know a culture she was always fascinated with,” Julia Anderson said. “Her students loved her.”
Andy Anderson said the family was focused on finding Taylor and did not sit around and “doom and gloom it."
“If that means that I got to go to Japan and hitch onto some truck or whatever, I’m going to do it,” he said. “We just want to find her.”