One Year on – Remembering the events of March 11th

Exactly a year has passed by since the North-Eastern coast of Japan was left shattered by one of the most powerful and destructive tsunamis the modern world has even seen. Over 15000 people lost their lives,  around 4000 are to this day still missing and unaccounted for, and in total over 110000 buildings were completely destroyed.

A testament to the times and modern construction was that the earthquake itself at a magnitude of 9.0, shook the country but left it standing.  However, it was the towering 50ft wall of water (up to 60ft in some places) racing through just minutes later that did the damage, crushing almost everything in it’s path and leaving many, without even the chance to turn and run.  So many people lost loved ones, the stories from those left behind are heart-wrenching. The the video footage now and will forever, send a cold shudder running down our spines.

Like the events of 9/11,  people will always remember where they were and what they doing  on March 11th at 2:46, on a sunny Friday’s afternoon in 2011, and never forget how the events unfolded.

I personally remember translating Japanese news in commentary form to those in other countries, eager to know if friends and family in Japan were in danger.  In Tokyo, people walked all night to get home after the entire train network was shut down.  In other parts of the country, people stayed glued to the television in disbelief, watching repeated footage of entire towns being swept away. People felt helpless, all they could do was watch and wait.

A minute silence was observed around the country today at exactly the same time the earthquake struck a year ago. Flags flew at half-mast and some trains even stopped running for a short period in respect and remembrance.

Japan has moved forward in great strides in the one year that has passed.  Media coverage waxed and waned but volunteer efforts continued steadily throughout the year.  Bus droves of volunteers from all over Japan departed daily to affected areas. The way the people of Japan showed their support was heart-moving.  The foreign community in Japan too was commendable to say the very least.  Everything people could do, they did although it seemed at times simply not enough.  In Nagoya efforts were organised through the Hilton hotel to send truck loads of desperately needed supplies. There was a sense of unity in Japan, never felt before.

Recovery hasn’t been smooth and problems are still left unsolved. Over 100000 people were forced to flee their homes after the meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power following damage caused to the cooling unit by the tsunami.  The government is expected to review the 20km exclusion zone at the end of March and declare some areas uninhabitable for decades to come. In total, over 300000 remain in temporary housing awaiting reconstruction plans to be finalised for the towns they once lived in.  For those and many others, the future is bleak and prospects not good. Jobless and with little hope of ever returning to a life they once lived, a sense of complete loss will be felt for many years to come.

Tourism however is said to have picked up after it dropped over 90% in the first  month directly after the earthquake. By August there were still over 60% less tourists in Japan compared to the previous year, but figures have steadily climbed, now just 10% fewer than average.  The panic that followed news of the nuclear explosions caused foreigners in Japan to flee in droves and most who planned to visit, cancelled or were advised not to make the trip.  There were issues with how news was filtered to those outside of Japan, the Japanese government  not helping the country’s cause by being unclear and unspecific with facts on more than one occasion.

Japan is back on it’s feet and looking back over the year it’s not hard to see how far the country has come.  Still, it’s only too easy to forget that even though the rubble has been cleared, there is a tremendous amount of rebuilding and readjusting ahead.  If as much progress can be made this coming year as was last, there is certainly a chance many can regain some kind of normality and stability in their lives. Some never will and that is why this is so important for us all to reflect and remember how lucky we are.