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