Before the great Tohoku earthquake in Japan, I thought about earthquakes as a daily nuisance and part of our daily routine without any serious consequences and effect on our lives. We could have a few earthquakes a day and nobody really cared about them and people laughed them off as something that cannot cause any harm, disorder and trouble in Japan where the construction of houses, high-rising buildings and highways follows very strict safety rules and standards. Nobody believed that something unpredictable, chaotic and out of control can happen in well-organized and technologically advanced Japan. However, the March 11th earthquake changed the lives of so many people, my own view on life and shattered our trust that human technology can win over nature. Now even the slightest tremour makes me check web sites and news media about the degree and the extent of the earthquakes, possible damages and warnings of tsunami. Professors from University of Tokyo warn us that after the great Tohoku earthquake, the Earth crust has changed and there is a 70% posibility of a massive 7-degree eartquake in Tokyo. I have installed several earthquake warning applications on my phone that wake me, and possibly my neighbours, in the night a few seconds before an earthquake occurs. I even log to Facebook knowing that reading opinions of panicked people is not good for my peace of mind. After a recent earthquake in Shizuoka prefecture where Mount Fuji is situated, my friends warned each other on the social media that Mount Fuji, a still active volcano, is going to errupt because of the earthquake and we should prepare for evacuation. Even though we were not direct victims of the eartquake of March 11th, our lives have quickly returned to normal and we have moved forward, the painful images of the March 11th tragedy are still in the back of our minds and our lives are marked forever by the horror of the earthquake and what happened after it.
People all over the world were overwhelmed with shock and disbelief watching the news coverage of the large scale destruction of Tohoku area in Japan caused by the March 11th earthquake and the subsequent tsunami that took the lives of about 19,000 people. Everybody followed anxiously the development of the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant and the struggle and heroic endeavours of Japanese people to put the accident under control. The lives of many people who lost their friends, relatives, homes were changed forever. In a few minutes whole cities, villages, neighborhoods were englufed by water and obliterated from the face of the earth. Now, one year after the earthquake, people who lost family members, their jobs, land and birth places are trying to continue with their lives, grieving their losses. It is hard to read Japanese newspapers and watch Japanese TV describing the fate of many people affected by the eartquake, especially now, when Japan is marking one year after the disaster and memorial services are held all over Japan, without tears, sadness and at the same time admiration at the spirit, the bond, compassion and cooperation between people. Children who have lost their parents and siblings vow to excel in different areas as sports, music, science as a filial duty to their deceased parents, they want to particpate in the rebuilding of their home towns and look to the future with optimism.
Raising money for restoration of the regions, donations, reconstruction volunteer work soared to an unprecedented scale, and as a result the Chinese character for bond and connection between people 絆 (read “kizuna“) was chosen as the most important and symbolic word for Japan in 2011. The famous Japanese actor Ken Watanabe (“Last Samurai” with Tom Cruise) spoke about “kizuna” (bonds and solidarity between people) at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January. He said “People helped each other, supported each other. This happened regardless of generation, profession or rank … Japan is finding strength from kizuna.” The passion, idealism and dedication with which many young Japanese volunteers work for the restoration of their country debunks the myth of the lost generation and that Japanese people in general, living in an affluent society, have become selfish and insensitive.
Japan was able to restore Sendai airport that was totally flooded by tsunami, hundreds of kms of train tracks including the bullet train lines connecting Tokyo with the Northern part of Japan, and highways damaged by the disaster in a few weeks after the eartquake. Many areas still remain to be cleaned of earthquake debris and the ongoing Fukushima crisis has not been brought completely to an end although the nuclear plant is in a steady state of cold shutdown. If there is something positive related to the accident that is that the contamination spread to a region equal to only one eight of that in Chernobil. In Chernobil the contamination spread to an area as far as 200 kms from the nuclear plant. Scientists assure us that the contamination fromthe Fukushima nuclear power plant is contained just in the 20-30 kms non-entry zone. There are no deaths related to radiation among the workers in the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Children in the Fukushima area who were exposed to radiation have regular health checks ups. The rebuilding of Tohoku area in Japan stimulates recovery of the Japanese economy to the pre-disaster levels. The losses from the Japan’s great Tohoku earthquake are enormous, but Japanese people have shown their strong will to recover their lives and the affected region. The lessons Japan learned from the earthquake can lead to decreasing Japan’s reliance on nuclear power, using other safer sources of energy and discovering new ways for radioactive decontamination.