“Now all we can do is look forward. We only have one life, after all.”
Takashige Kowata, Fukushima evacuee.
I know a lot of people are thinking about America today, what with it being ten years since 9/11. But for me (and for many people), it’s a different anniversary. Today marks six months since the March 11th Tohoku earthquake and tsunami disaster – now commonly known as 3/11.
I was very fortunate in March. I was in Japan, but far enough away that I only got a little shaken up. I’ll always remember watching the news in my apartment, though. I was unable to turn it off, I just kept watching that huge black wave, washing away lives and homes. It was terrifying from the safety of my TV in Hamamatsu. I can’t imagine how it would have been up close.
15,774 deaths have been confirmed, and over 4,000 people remain missing – perhaps never to be found. Those are numbers which I don’t think I will ever get my head around.
Naturally, the British media are focussing on Japan again at the moment (although I think America is getting a larger slice of the limelight). I thought the Guardian’s “Japan disaster: Fukushima residents return to visit their homes” article was well written, and the video showing Fukushima residents returning to their homes to briefly collect treasured items was touching. They could only collect a small number of items, among them were ancestral votive tablets, rescued from broken Buddhist alters in their homes.
Mr Kowata, a Fukushima evacuee featured in the video, is right – we have to look forward and not dwell too much on the past. As soon as the disaster happened on March 11th it was clear that the general attitude in Japan was one of がんばろう – let’s try our best!
Japan appeared as one community – the whole country seeming to unite and help each other. That “rebuilding” spirit has continued for the last six months, and will continue far into the future. The Guardian’s before and after pictures show how reconstruction efforts are progressing, but there’s still a lot of work to do. Thousands of people were left homeless, forced to live in evacuation centres. It’s early yet, but eventually homes will need to be rebuilt. (Habitat for Humanity is a good place to register an interest in helping with such a project.)
There are various ways in which we can all help the people in Tohoku. Some people choose to donate money (one option for donations is the Japan Society Tohoku Earthquake Relief Fund), others want to go to Tohoku and volunteer. Perhaps the easiest way to help Japan is simply to visit. Visiting any part of Japan will help to boost tourism, and of course there are many areas in Tohoku which are waiting with open arms to accept visitors again.
There are good deals on flights to Japan at the moment and, if you’re not sure what to do in Japan, you could consider booking a tour. There are many travel agencies to choose from, but if you’re in the UK I would recommend checking out InsideJapan Tours. They can help you out with everything from small group tours, to self-guided adventures, to fully tailored trips!
If you’re thinking about visiting Japan, now really is a good time. There are fewer tourists around than usual, so tourist attractions will be less crowded. Plus, there are some great deals on flights, tours and hotels, as well as discounts to be found at tourist attractions in the country. Japan is a very welcoming country, but now even more so. If you have any apprehensions, why not visit the Japan Matsuri in London on Sunday 18th September? Once you’ve eaten some delicious takoyaki and heard the call of the taiko drums, you’ll be calling up the travel agent to book your flight to Japan!