Helpless from home

On Saturday, Tim Keir is flying to Japan. The Whitehorse-based chef was supposed to be going to the land of the rising sun to get married.

On Saturday, Tim Keir is flying to Japan.

The Whitehorse-based chef was supposed to be going to the land of the rising sun to get married.

Now – following Friday’s earthquake and tsunami – he’s making the 6,500-kilometre journey to rescue his wife and their seven-month-old daughter.

“Radiation is supposed to affect kids most,” said Keir.

“It’s terrifying for me, but I’m trying not to freak out.”

Last Friday, Keir called his wife to chat.

She’d left early for Japan with their daughter to prepare for the traditional wedding ceremonies.

But when she answered the phone, Keir knew something was wrong.

The quake had just hit and the family thought it was their father calling.

Promising to call back right away, she hung up on Keir.

More than an hour later, he was still waiting for the phone to ring.

“I was freaking out – panicking,” he said.

Following news feeds online, Keir watched aftershock after aftershock rock the island.

Then, he heard about the tsunami.

In Japan, his wife and baby were hiding in the bathroom as cupboards smashed open and drawers crashed out of the dressers.

Keir met his wife in Toronto more than four years ago.

He was a chef at a sushi restaurant and she bused tables.

“But she didn’t like me then,” said Keir.

“I was annoying.”

It wasn’t until she “used” him to help her move, that things changed.

“I didn’t really go away after that,” said Keir with a grin.

After two years of dating, her visa was about to run out.

Not ready to tie the knot or say goodbye, the pair moved north to take advantage of the Yukon Nominee Program, which allows foreign workers to work in the territory with fewer restrictions.

They got married before their daughter was born and, a year later, were headed to Japan for a second, more traditional ceremony on April 2.

When the phone finally rang, Keir was flooded with relief.

His wife and daughter were safe.

It wasn’t until the next day that Keir started hearing about the radiation risk from Japan’s devastated nuclear plant.

Keir’s wife keeps assuring him it is OK, because the Japanese government is telling its citizens everything is fine.

But he’s not convinced.

Neither is Fumi Torigai.

“It’s hard to say if the Japanese government is really telling the truth,” said the president of the Japanese Canadian Association of Yukon.

“All governments often try to downplay issues,” he said.

“And what the Japanese government is saying is different than what people outside are saying.”

In the last few days, Keir’s been reading a lot about radiation.

His wife’s village is several hundred kilometres from the immediate danger zone.

“But all it would take is a light breeze to move all that radiation there in less than 10 hours,” he said.

Mitsue Ozeki is more worried about food.

Baked Cafe’s kitchen manager has heard that transport companies tasked with bringing food to the refugee camps are having trouble finding drivers.

“They’re refusing to drive up there because of the radiation,” she said.

Ozeki wakes up every morning to the radio.

That’s how she first heard about the quake.

“I leaped out of bed and tried to call my mom,” she said.

She couldn’t get through.

It was hours before she learned her mother was alive.

But Ozeki’s still not convinced she’s safe.

“There’s so much we don’t know about radiation,” she said.

On top of that, Japan is experiencing rolling blackouts.

Heating oil is being rationed, said Ozeki.

Her mom was given only 10 litres.

Fuel lineups are more than four hours long.

And Tokyo is out of food, she said.

“People panicked and bought everything off the shelves.”

Standing in the Superstore in Whitehorse, Ozeki almost cried -“seeing all the food,” she said.

She wants to send some rice to her family.

“But I don’t know if it will get there,” she said.

“And what good is rice if there is no electricity, fuel or water?”

Ozeki has asked her mom to come to Whitehorse.

But she doesn’t want to leave.

“It’s a cultural thing,” said Ozeki.

“When Japanese people die they want to be buried in their own land – it’s a Buddhist thing.

“My mom’s a Catholic … but still.”

On the counter at Baked, a big glass jar is full of $5, $10 and $20 bills.

It’s the Japanese Association’s Earthquake/Tsunami Relief Fund.

“In just two days we’ve raised $665,” said Ozeki.

And Baked’s owners are going to match that.

But Ozeki is not sure where to send the funds.

“I’ve heard about food trucks trying to reach the refugee camps that have run out of gas 50 kilometres from their destination,” she said.

“And some people have already died at the camps, because of the cold.

“It’s snowing there again today.”

Ozeki feels helpless.

“It’s too far away – I don’t know what to do,” she said.

“A lot of our members feel helpless,” said Torigai.

“The devastation is terrible and the suffering of the survivors – the fear is that we don’t know what will happen in a few days, a few months, or even years.”

The Japanese people worked together to rebuild after the horrors of the Second World War, he said.

And they were ready for a natural disaster.

“We are trained and go through (earthquake) drills,” he said.

“But nobody expected this degree of devastation.”

The biggest heroes are “all the men and women at that nuclear plant, trying to keep it under control,” said Keir.

When he goes, Keir is planning to take rice to his in-laws in Japan.

But he won’t be staying long.

The international airlines are talking about stopping flights to Tokyo because of radiation, he said.

He wants to get his family home before that happens.

But it will be hard to leave his in-laws behind.

“I am worried about the whole family,” he said.

Ozeki is battling the same issue.

“I’m still considering trying to bring my family here,” she said.

“But I don’t want to be selfish.

“I want everyone to be safe.”

The Japanese Association is holding a fundraiser at Mt. McIntyre rec centre on April 3.

Called the Japanese Village Festival, the event runs from 1 to 4 p.m. and will include tea ceremonies, photo ops in kimonos, dogsled rides, an origami school and a silent auction.

People in the Yukon have already been very generous, said Torigai.

Ozeki was touched by the outpouring of support and phone calls from concerned friends.

“Even when people just hug me – that helps a lot,” she said.

For more information about the Japanese association and its fundraiser email

Contact Genesee Keevil at

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