In 2011, with a renewed sense of community solidarity in the air following the March 11 tsunami in Tohoku, the character for the word kizuna (bonds) was selected as Japan's kanji of the year. But it would be a mistake to say that, just because "kizuna" is a Japanese word, it must refer parochially to bonds formed inside the Japanese national community.

I'm inclined to think that "kizuna" takes on deeper meaning when it is used to describe bonds formed across communities and nations, even in conditions of adversity. This brings me to the stories of two student volunteer leaders and the groups they have led in the service of the people of Tohoku since 3/11.

One group, based at Tokyo's Meiji University, is called Kizuna International; the other, at Kyoto University, is Kizuna From Kyoto. The coincidences do not end there: Both groups' leaders share the same surname (spelled differently in English) and both are ethnic Koreans. The experiences of Yeonho Seo and Tonghwi Soh illustrate those deeper bonds I mentioned above.