A Year After the Earthquake

I`m skipping ahead a few months in order to write about the 11th of March.  A year has passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake, the tsunami it caused, and the nuclear meltdown that followed.

This year the annual Noto Marathon in my prefecture was held on the 11th of March which a few of my friends were running in, and myself and some others went along to support them.  For some, this was their first race and they were quite nervous about it, as it had been difficult to train during the winter months.

The night before the race, we stayed at our friend`s house, and as well as the usual banter that takes place on such occasions, our thoughts turned to last year`s disaster.  Several of my friends had been here last year when the earthquake happened.  Some of them felt it, some of them didn`t.  Each of them had stories though.  One girl had an enkai (work party) scheduled for that evening, which the teachers went ahead with anyway, even with the news of the earthquake.  She had a friend in Miyagi who hadn`t been heard from on the day of the earthquake and so was nonplussed by her coworker`s decision.  Luckily her friend was fine.

Someone else had a story about a friend in that area whose girlfriend was over visiting him for her spring break and who happened to be at his school with him when the earthquake hit.  If she had stayed at home on that day she mightn`t have been able to get out.

We talked about the volunteer efforts in the damaged areas, and how last summer a group of them had organised an eight-car caravan with a month`s worth of supplies to go and help out, but at the last minute, they had been called and told not to come.  They would have only been in the way of volunteers who actually had skills that could help.  The damage was so widespread that even several months after, there was probably much more than just debris removal to be dealt with.  We could only laugh sheepishly at our uselessness in being English teachers when something like this happens.

There is still a lot to be done in that area though, and some people are planning on volunteering this summer to help with the unskilled task of clearing debris and sorting through wreckage.  It`s uncomfortably easy for me to forget that this disaster happened in the country where I`m living as I`ve seen no damage first-hand, and the rest of Japan that was not struck by the disasters has carried on as normal.  I had the same experience when I was living in Italy with the 2009 L`Aquila earthquake.  When I was in Australia an Irish man asked me how Japan was after the disasters and I replied that for the most part it seemed to be doing fine and that most of Japan was unaffected by them.  He then expressed regret that he had donated money if Japan was doing so well, and I had to hurriedly reassure him that the affected areas were almost completely destroyed and that his donation was worthwhile.  I think it`s to be admired that Japan hasn`t been crippled by this and that it has been able to deal so well with three closely consecutive disasters.

This is a video of an art installation in Paris by Japanese artist Tadashi Kawamata, which highlights the fact that much of the urban fabric of the Tohoku coast was ripped off and is now floating in the Pacific.  This gives an indicator of the gravity of the damage.

On the morning of the race, everyone was worried about their performance and joking about their fears of not being able to finish.  But one girl told us that she had been worrying about that too in the morning, as she had caught a cold in the past couple of days and wasn`t feeling the best, and then she had a thought that put things into perspective.  This day last year, people had been running for their lives.  So she pulled herself together and got on with it.  It was a sobering thought for us.

Before the races began there was a minute’s silence for last year’s victims.  Aside from this though, there was a general air of festivity to the races, which I don`t think was disrespectful to the memory of those that died.  I think this was a good way to mark the occasion, by giving people from all over Japan (there were over 6,000 participants in the races) a reason to come together and achieve something – whether it`s their first 10k run, their 20th time running a marathon, or an opportunity to run 1.4k with their child.  I think in the face of our helplessness against the power of natural disasters (however much we might think we are prepared for them), it`s important to celebrate what we can achieve with our feeble bodies.

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