Photo/IllutrationNicaraguan baseball players lie on the floor at Narita Airport after their flight home was canceled on Sept. 9. (Provided by the Nicaraguan Embassy)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

When his embassy in Tokyo received an urgent phone call for help, Nicaraguan Ambassador to Japan Rodrigo Coronel and his secretary jumped into his official car.

There were 27 Nicaraguans stranded at Narita Airport, with their flight home canceled and few transportation services available for them to leave the airport.

It was 5 p.m. on Sept. 9, hours after powerful Typhoon No. 15 had barreled through Tokyo and Chiba Prefecture, causing widespread power outages and snarling transportation.

Expressways were all jammed with traffic in the Tokyo metropolitan area. Train services to and from the airport by East Japan Railway Co., a railway operator that has an extensive network, had been canceled due to the typhoon.

The ambassador, 43, and secretary Maria Viviana Shojima had to make their way to the airport after switching to trains by another railway operator from their car.

When they finally arrived at Narita, it was 8:30 p.m.

What they saw there was a sight they had never seen before. Japan’s key gateway was paralyzed with waiting travelers, many lying on the floor in exhaustion.

Among those on the floor were the 27 Nicaraguans--baseball players and coaches who were on their way back home after playing in the U-18 Baseball World Cup in South Korea.

By that time, the Nicaraguans had already spent nearly 12 hours at the airport as their flight was canceled. To add to their plight, all the food had been bought up from convenience stores and soft drinks from vending machines were sold out.

Hotels near the airport were all fully booked.

Coronel called the Foreign Ministry and the government-affiliated Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) for assistance in finding the team accommodations and transportation, but to no avail.

The ambassador was at the end of his tether. Then Shojima, 62, suggested that they contact officials in Kanra for assistance.

Kanra is a mountainous town with a population of 13,000 in southwestern Gunma Prefecture. Nicaraguan officials visited Kanra in the spring for the first time.

The town offered to host the Nicaraguan team for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. Ties between Kanra and Nicaragua were formed when 18 Nicaraguans participated in an agricultural training program offered by a nonprofit based in the town through JICA.

Shojima, who speaks some Japanese, called Masanori Tamura’s smartphone shortly before 9 p.m. Tamura, the chief of the town hall’s planning section, was sipping coffee after dinner at his home at the time, while watching TV news on the damage caused by Typhoon No. 15.

Shojima explained that among the people who were affected by the storm were Nicaraguans stuck at Narita.

Tamura, grasping the urgency of the situation, quickly promised that Kanra would do all it could do to help.

Tamura, 55, has met with embassy staff twice over the town’s plan to host Nicaraguan Olympians.

As soon as he finished the conversation, he called the only hotel in the town, Kanra Furusato Kan.

After he booked two nights for 27 people there, Tamura then called Kanra's mayor, Shoichi Shigehara, about the embassy’s request for assistance.

Shigehara, 72, was about to go to bed. When the mayor asked him if Kanra Furusato Kan was available, Tamura told him that he had already booked it.

“When people are in trouble, we should help them out,” the mayor told him. “I would like you to arrange a bus and head to the airport tomorrow morning to pick them up.”

About 20 minutes after Shojima had called him, Tamura called her back with the good news that Kanra was now ready to take in the Nicaraguans.

“Thank you very much for asking us to help you,” he added.

At the end of the other side of the phone, Shojima, touched by the town’s swift response, sobbed.

A minibus and a van left the town hall for the airport at 5 a.m. the following morning. The vehicles arrived at the hotel around 3:30 p.m. that day, after traveling 400 kilometers round trip.

During their three-day stay, Nicaraguan players trained with local boys playing baseball. Nicaragua had acquitted itself well in the 12-team U-18 Baseball World Cup, finishing 10th among the world's top young teams.

The night before their departure, the mayor threw a barbecue party for their guests to send them off.

When the leader of the baseball team gave a speech at the request of Tamura, who served as the master of the event, the Nicaraguan said he was immensely moved by the town’s hospitality and gesture.

“All of Nicaraguans back in my country are grateful for the town’s kindness as they learned of it through Ambassador Coronel,” the leader said in Spanish through an interpreter. “We will never forget this.”

Huge applause erupted when he finished his speech.