Students help family displaced by Japan earthquake

On April 14, Ayato Kaneko, his wife, their 3-year-old daughter and their 7-month-old son packed all they could fit into four suitcases and left their home in Japan.

Bound for the United States, the family hopes to start a new life following the triple catastrophe of the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear meltdown. When the earthquake first rocked Japan, the Kanekos never even thought about leaving their homeland. While supplies, including food and water, were scarce, they knew it would only be a matter of time before more aid arrived.

But with each passing day, news about the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant and the leaking radiation was getting worse. Living about 75 miles away, the Kanekos no longer felt safe.

“It was not an easy decision to make, but with two small children, I really felt like we had to leave,” Ayato Kaneko said.

Ayato’s sister, who lives in South Florida, opened her home to Ayato and his family. Now, Ayato is trying to find a job.

When Jerry Brown, a professor in the Department of Global and Sociocultural Studies in the College of Arts & Sciences, heard about Ayato and his family, he saw an opportunity to help. Enlisting the help of some of his students in his Globalization of Anthropology class, Brown is hoping to help find Ayato a job in the food and beverage industry.

Ayato was born in San Francisco and raised in Takasaki, Japan, by a Hungarian mother and Japanese father. He came to the United States when he was 15, attending the Proctor Academy in New Hampshire and later the University of New Hampshire.

His passion for the culinary business began at the Crescent City Bistro and Orchard Street Chop Shop in coastal New Hampshire, where he was instrumental in developing the characteristic cuisine and, in turn, broadening the customer base of both establishments. After four successful years in the restaurant business, he returned to Japan to become interim president of five language schools and an international school for pre-K through third grade. In this role he was responsible for curriculum and instruction, marketing, staff development and management of annual events for up to 3,000 people. In April 2010, he returned to the restaurant business as an assistant manager of 37 Steakhouse and Bar in Tokyo.

Now he’s back in the United States, he is hoping to find work in restaurant management in South Florida.

“It means so much to our family to know that these students at FIU want to help us,” Ayato Kaneko said during a recent visit to FIU’s Biscayne Bay campus to meet with the students. “We are very grateful.”


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