21 January, 2017
Eight years ago today, March 11, 2011, a 9.1 magnitude earthquake shook northeastern Japan. On that day, we were temporarily staying at our friend’s place in Sydney, preparing our move from Australia to Thailand.
Marcin yelled out from upstairs, “Apparently a big earthquake hit Japan.” I switched on TV and what we saw was unreal. The visual was from a helicopter broadcasting above a coastline somewhere in the Tohoku region, some 371 northeast of Tokyo. Massive, long tsunami waves were fast approaching the coast, and we could see cars running all sorts of directions.
TV stations were reporting that Tokyo and Yokohama experienced magnitude 5. We were able to contact one of our close friends on Skype, and she was working on the high floor of Roppongi Hills at that time, one of the tower building in the heart of Tokyo. She wrote:
“The building is still swinging. I’m so scared…”
Still, all of our friends in Tokyo were safe. As all public transport was immediately cancelled on that day, they had to walk home from their workplace, or some of them were invited to stay at their friends’ homes close from their offices.
At the time, none of us knew that it was in fact the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Japan since the recording started in 1901, and the fourth most powerful in the world. It caused 15,896 deaths and 6,157 injured. Eight years later in 2019, 2,537 people are still missing.
Immediately following the earthquake, I received a call from my Japanese friend. She was a university lecturer and her colleagues across Australia were organising a charity event for victims of the 3.11 earthquake. The event was to be held at her university after we had left for Bangkok, so we postponed our departure and joined the event.
Since then, however, I’ve done very little to help the reconstruction of the affected areas. All these years I’ve felt guilty about it, particularly when I see volunteers going to the region on TV. A friend of mine even moved from Malaysia to Fukushima to teach at a local school.
I asked her if she was not concerned about the effect of radiation from the damaged Fukushima Nuclear plant. She said, “I’ve got nothing to lose.” She lost her long term partner to a suicide some years prior and for her, the rest of her life without him is just a bonus, and she wants to spend it on contributing to others. She understands the pain of losing loved ones.
I’ve never been a disaster victim or lost a friend or a family member to a natural disaster. But if I’m to live for the next 50 years, I could be one day or lose someone, very suddenly, like millions of people did in Tohoku. Recently I saw the Sandwichman, Japan’s currently most popular comedian duo, on YouTube. They were filming a TV show in Miyagi Prefecture at that time of 3/11. Like my teacher friend, they pledge that they’ll dedicate their career to promoting their affected home prefecture.
“If you want to be a volunteer or donate, that’s great, but there is many other things you can do, like, just come to Miyagi to eat ox tongue! Oysters are waiting for you in Sendai, too!”
I love ox tongue and oysters. Sendai is six hours from Tokyo by a highway bus and the return ticket is 5,800 yen. I have 137,577 Rakuten points today and sakura is predicted to start blooming in Sendai on April 5 this year.
If I can deal with my 8-year-long guilty conscious by eating and seeing what I love, Sendai, here we come.