It was one year ago, as I was lying on a futon, that the big one broke loose. I was sweating through a heavy bout of food poisoning that I had picked up on a flight from New Delhi; my total activity being to journey from bed to toilet and back again with no chance of discovering more of my beloved Japan. We were in Kanagawa prefecture, not far from Tokyo. So, the earthquake had the strength of a five on the Richter scale when it struck where we were. As the house shook, it was somewhat like being in an anchored yacht, that had just been sideswiped by the wake of a much larger boat; but with the difference that it didn’t subside. The room, with me inside it moved left and right, then forwards and backwards, coat hangers on a rail all swung in unison. Clunk! Clunk!
In the times I have visited Japan, there have been one or two occasions where I have experienced an earthquake of a strength around three. When this happens, the usual reaction of the locals is a nonchalant, “oh! it’s just an earthquake.” So, being not so well versed, I couldn’t differentiate so well between a three and a five, and thought to myself, “oh! it’s just an earthquake.” However, soon after the start, I heard panicked shouts from downstairs. Then I understood that this was something more serious. I pulled on my jeans, and grabbed my day-bag and tumbled down the stairs, to be greeted with frightened faces.
Out on the streets, the overhead cables, were swinging, yet everything else was moving in unison, giving the visual impression that nothing was moving, while at the same time, I had a strong physical sensation of shifting and swaying. It was unsettling. The ground we normally trust for being steady and reliable, no longer was. It had a traumatic effect that was still being felt, months later, in other lands, every night when lying in our beds.
After a while the movement came to an end. My sickbed was relocated to the floor of the living room, in case of aftershocks; and they came, again and again in the twenty-four hours after; when we would grab up our torches and mobile phones and rush outside once again. The local people hadn’t experienced a five there before in their whole lives. This had been a big one. It turned out to be THE big one.
There was a solar powered Kitty-chan in a swing, sitting above the birdcage in the living room; and to my shame I called out a couple of false alarms of aftershocks, until everybody realised why I was doing that, and with much amusement explained to me that Kitty-chan swings there even when there are no earthquakes.
Little by little, the picture of what was happening further north was broadcast on the TV; and a sickening feeling grew more and more inside us. My heart broke when I learnt that Sendai; a lovely city where I had experienced much kindness, was practically no more. Slowly, how bad the situation was, had spread around the world.
When it came time for us to leave, we experienced a Japan quite unfamiliar, a place where suddenly nothing was running smoothly; transport routes becoming near impossible to make; getting stuck in trains as the power suddenly cut out (yet everybody remaining apparently calm and quiet); taxi-drivers refusing the possiblity of high-fares because the routes were fully blocked. Throughout it all, I was struck by the peaceful way in which the Japanese handle such situations. They truly are a resilient, courageous, stoical people. My admiration grew and grew.
We missed our flight, of course, and slept a night on the floor of Narita airport. I have slept in far worse places; we were taken good care of.
Moving on one year; I heard a couple of stories, that I would like to share: Today I was shown an online photo of a man’s mobile phone screen. On the display was a text message from his girlfriend. She was working in a local government office, and was making the tsunami-warning public-address announcement as she sent the message to him. Her boyfriend is still with us. She is no more.
The other story is about people who were relocated out of the exclusion-zone around Fukushima, whom I saw interviewed on a television documentary. The thing that had upset them most, was not the discomfort or disorientation of the move; rather it was the fact that the company Tepco, owner of the power station, had not sent anybody yet, even after one year, to apologise to them. They appeared devastated by that.
I wish that this may be the last remnant of a political and corporate culture in Japan that rides roughshod over the wonderful, admirable, gentle, courageous Japanese people. I see indications that the unquestioning trust in the powers that be is waning. This may well provide hope for the future.
Bless you my dear Japanese tomodachi. My thoughts and prayers are with you!
(Here is a link for the Japanese Red Cross, who are still doing important, much needed work) http://www.jrc.or.jp/english/relief/l4/Vcms4_00002070.html