Cork-based musicologist and opera singer, Sonya Keogh, phoned friends in the EU Japan Festival office in Toyko yesterday as soon as she heard about the earthquake.
But as they were speaking, a large aftershock struck the city and the phone went dead.
Ms Keogh spent all day trying to get through to them — without success.
“It’s alarming, seeing the pictures on the TV, and seeing how trashed some of the cities are,” Ms Keogh said.
“This is a country that is used to earthquakes and live volcanoes.
“It’s a country that respects nature and doesn’t fear it. They respect it but this is on a different scale. But they are an incredibly resilient people.”
Ms Keogh is an international cultural ambassador who first forged links with Japan after Cork’s designation as a European Capital of Culture in 2005.
She has travelled to Japan up to four times a year to work on music programmes with thousands of Japanese children across the island.
She was due to travel for this year’s St Patrick’s Day Festival but had to postpone the trip following the birth of her baby boy, Florence, eight weeks ago.
“Once upon a time, I felt that Japan was the far side of the world but now I feel they are my neighbours,” she said.
What began as cultural and artistic links have become lasting friendships over the years, she added.
Ms Keogh has started a blog on her website to allow those who have taken part in her exchanges send messages to friends in Japan.
“We are thinking of our Japanese friends and their families today,” she said.
“We wish you courage and hope that you will continue to be safe. We wait to hear from you.”