Sunday, March 11, 2012

One year has passed since 3/11/2011

These are my thoughts and memories of what happened on March 11th 2011…

I’d be lying if I said it feels like it just happened yesterday but I can say that the images and events that happened on March 11th, 2011 still fill my head from time to time.

I was wrapping up my 4th consecutive year of teaching English at a public school in Yamanashi just like any other early spring day. Nothing could have prepared me for what I felt or experienced that day. I got to leave a little earlier than usual because there was some kind of early student release day planned that day. So I was just sitting down on my sofa when the earthquake started.

I was born and raised in southern California so I was very familiar with earthquakes. Whenever a quake would hit whether it was back home in the US or in Japan, I always shrugged them off as if it was nothing. I even admit sleeping through a couple of them back when I lived in a rickety old apartment a few years back. The set of quakes that went through northern of Japan were like nothing I had ever felt before. I no longer can sleep through the slightest tremor anymore.

At first, it came in really slow and easy. It was as if I was just feeling a little dizzy from a hard run or something. Then it got much worse, the floor beneath me felt as if I were on some kind of boat at first as everything rocked smoothly. Eventually things got pretty rough and I had a hard time bracing myself in a nearby doorway. Nothing in my apartment at that time was big enough for a 6 foot tall adult male to brace himself under so I just held on to an open doorway and hoped for the best.

During all the shaking all I could think was when this would all end and if my 15 year old apartment could really handle the magnitude of quake I was experiencing at that moment. Lucky for me and my neighbors our apartment came out unscathed as did nearly all the other homes nearby.

I tried calling my wife and messaging her but all the phone lines were tied. I was unable to contact her till after she got home much later that evening. The cellular phone lines and mail traffic were way too tied up to get anything through. It was a long time waiting to find out if she was ok.

But I am getting a little ahead of myself here. After I felt the worst was over , I decided to drive out to a clear park near my home where the fewest amount power lines and other dangerous structures were nearby. There wasn’t any power at my apartment so I had no idea what was going on around me when I parked. I had no idea that there was something much worse coming Japan’s way from the Pacific.

Thanks to my rarely used 1seg cellular phone TV and a full battery, I saw an unbelievable sight live on national TV as large black waves enveloped parts of northern Japan. It just didn’t seem real at all.

I spent the rest of that evening without power, heat, or running water. Luckily we got to have a quiet dinner with my parent in laws who were in the next city over that still had electricity. We’d end up visiting there a lot more often as the planned rolling blackouts were carried out in the following months.

The hardest reality for me to cope with had yet to come. A few days later Fukushima Daiichi failed catastrophically and well, the rest is now history. If anything, it just complicated restoration and uprooted even more families from their homelands that were still in tact. It’s a real shame and its going to one of the longest lasting scars to remain form that fateful earthquake and tsunami that struck northern Japan on March 11th 2011.

Even with all the crazy stuff that happened not only in Japan, but all over the world in 2011, there was one good thing that I could take from 2011. On December 2nd 2011 my son was born in a local hotel right here in Japan. Hopefully he’ll be able to see a better, brighter Japan in his future.

For now, restoring northern Japan is not going to be easy, especially for the areas near Fukushima Daiichi and other places that were exposed to immediately irreversible man made radiation. Many dislocated families will have to wait for a half-life’s worth of time for some patches of northern Japan to become safe for human habitation once again. For me, that extra 30 years will make me a gray old man. That’s the biggest thing that tears my heart apart. The fact that the one disaster that could have been prevented will complicate restoration even further than it had to be.


I am sure that areas that were leveled from the tsunami and untouched by the fallout from Fukushima Daiichi will also continue struggle for some time to clear debris and rebuild lost cities if they are ever allowed to do so. Eventually things will start to be rebuilt and restored as the years pass by but I doubt its going to be as quick as the rebuilding after the great Hanshin quake of 1995.

My heart goes out to all the refugees and the lost from the 3/11 disaster. I hope one day an even more beautiful and safer northern Japan rises in the future from all of this and that no one else has to experience such a horrible set of disasters like Japan had to experience ever again.

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