One Year

March 11th has come around so quickly. At 2:46pm a year ago, Japan was shaken. An earthquake of magnitude 9.0, which is now referred to as the Great East Japan Earthquake, or the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, occurred approximately 70 kilometres east of the Oshika Peninsula of Tohoku. The earthquake, which is the most powerful known earthquake to ever hit Japan, triggered tsunami waves that reached heights of up to 40.5 metres in Miyako in Tohoku’s Iwate Prefecture, and which, in the Sendai area, travelled up to 10km inland.

I expect all of you reading this blog already know about the earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent nuclear fears which Japan has had to deal with in the last year. Most of you will also know that it wasn’t just the one earthquake – there have been over 1,000 aftershocks, some reaching over magnitude 6.0. You’ll also know that the effects of what happened a year ago are still being dealt with, and that the end isn’t in sight yet.

If you were a reader of this blog last year, you might remember that I was living in Shizuoka at the time so, I was in Japan, but not in the area that was directly affected. I was at work when the first earthquake struck and, although we felt it, we didn’t realise the scale of what was happening at the time. On March 11th, as soon as I could get to my phone, I wrote a hasty blog post (probably around 3pm/4pm, during my break). I wrote, “According to the BBC, the earthquake was 8.9 in magnitude and hit north Japan, around Sendai. There was also a tsunami. I can’t find out if anyone was hurt yet. I just hope everyone is ok.” I had no idea that this disaster was going to result in nearly 16,000 deaths and leave over 3,000 missing. I added, “My prayers are with everyone in the affected area. I’m feeling a little freaked out but glad it wasn’t worse here.

Many blog posts followed that one. A lot of my time was spent reassuring people that Shizuoka was far enough away from Tohoku for me to be safe (although I was worried that this giant earthquake would trigger “the big one” that is due to hit the Tokai region). A lot of foreigners, so-called “flyjin”, left Japan as soon as they could. It was sad that people chose to leave, but I respect their decisions. Leaving was the last thing I wanted to do. However, my flight was unfortunately already booked for April 22nd, and had been since the previous December. All the wheels were in motion for my return to the UK, and it simply wasn’t possible to change my mind.

I always knew that leaving Japan was going to be hard, but leaving at a time when I wanted so badly to stay and help was even harder.

Although I’m enjoying life in London, Japan is never far from my mind – especially the people of Tohoku. I’ve been able to get involved in a couple of fundraising activities here in London, but I still feel this aching desire to actually go to Tohoku and contribute something directly. I don’t have a definite plan yet, but I have begun to think about my Tohoku trip. I will either go there and volunteer for a week if there is something I can usefully do, or I will go to the less affected parts of Tohoku as a tourist and research the area so I can share information with everyone about why Tohoku is worth visiting. Ideally, I will be able to do both. My one hurdle is money. I can’t afford a trip to Japan right now, but I’m going to do everything in my power to try to raise the money.

If you want to help Tohoku there are a number of things you can do.

  • Donations are still being accepted by lots of different charities. One example in the UK is the Japan Society Tohoku Earthquake Relief Fund.
  • Find a local charity and help. I’ve been volunteering with Seven Beach Aid, and we’ll be having a charity event in North London today.
  • Promote Japanese culture. Wherever you are, do whatever you can to promote Japanese culture, as this will help people to see what a great country Japan still is.
  • Visit Japan. If you’re got money to spend as a tourist, spend it in Japan! You don’t have to go to Tohoku if you don’t want to – all of Japan needs an economic boost right now.
Finally, the most important thing you can do today is to simply remember Japan. If you’re a church-goer, then please say a prayer or light a candle for Japan. If not, then please just take a moment to remember everything that happened, and think about the people who are, slowly by surely, rebuilding their lives in Tohoku, and those who are helping them.

Sakura in North London, reminding me of Japan

This post is also an entry for the March J-Festa on “The 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake Anniversary”.

9 thoughts on “One Year

  1. Great Post! It is hard to believe it has been a year already since the terrible disaster. The Japanese spirit always amazes me and it is fantastic to see how quickly they have recovered and how courageous they have been in rebuilding their country. Yes, they do need tourists to help them heal and 2012 is a great time to visit Japan 🙂

    Japan Australia

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  2. Hi, it was a strange atmosphere in Tokyo today. A beautiful sunny spring day. I went to the Peace on Earth event in Hibiya Park where a mini two day festival was being held – a mixture of live music, various speakers, campaigning groups and booths selling natural products and hand-made crafts. There was a real mix of people and ages with tiny new born babies through to the very elderly. I guess this reflects how the tragedy and its continued aftermath effects everyone regardless of sge or social class. The minute silence was a bit much for me and a very kindly gentleman lent me a hanky. But it was lovely to share that moment and feel such solidarity with a country and a people that have been so good to me and that I care so much about.

    Japan does need tourists and Tohoku especially. The region was struggling economically anyway but the tsunami and nuclear crisis that followed have led to widespread depopulation of many areas. Families have moved away to find work and without the support of visitors from within Japan and from overseas communities will simply fade away. Tohoku is extraordinarily beautiful and I can highly recommend spending time travelling there. People are extremely kind and it is impossible to come away without feeling a deep connection to the region and those who live there.

    So that was 11th March 2012 and a whole year has passed since the great east Japan earthquake. One theme of today’s commemoration was don’t ever forget and I can only echo that.

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  3. Hi Haikugirl, have just watched a tv programme aired here in Australia to highlight the 1st anniversary of the tsunami in Japan. It was a very moving insight into how the children of the affected area are dealing with life after the tsunami. Their thoughts on what has happened, their experiences, their loss, their displacement, their fears and also their hopes and dreams for the future. It also touched on the grief of parents whose children were lost to them in the devastation, some still remain missing and their parents vigilantly keep searching. A reminder that for a lot of people, this is a long way from over.

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    • Sounds like an interesting programme, and sounds similar to one I watched here in England. It is a long way from over, but with the world’s support, Japan will recover.

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  4. Great post. Its so difficult feeling so helpless and wanting so badly to volunteer your time for Tohoku. Many charity organizations in Japan are turning away volunteers because they have been inundated. I wish there was more I could do. Perhaps just being here and working in Japan is helping contribute to the economy and vicariously the recovery. I definitely want to do some sight-seeing to boost tourism in Tohoku once the area is declared safe.

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  5. Pingback: The 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake Anniversary | japingu

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