So, I haven’t written in a while. I’ve wanted to write something about the tragedy in northeastern Japan, but I haven’t been able to find a way to do it yet that didn’t seem self-indulgent or melodramatic. But I kind of feel like I need to write something, so this post may be both of those things and I apologize in advance if it is.
The past three weeks have been heartbreaking. Every time I turn on the news and see images of the devastation, or news about the continued problems at the Fukushima Daiichi Plant, my stomach just sinks. I don’t have a deep connection with the affected area (Ayako’s from western Japan and I lived in southern Japan), but we were there back in September, in Fukushima and Sendai. And I know people in Fukushima and I know people who were living in the cities and villages that were devastated by the tsunami. Thankfully, they are all okay.
Even so, it’s been painful to watch the follow the news and reports coming out of Tohoku. The small towns and fishing villages destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami look so much like the towns and fishing villages where I lived and taught. It could just as easily have been Tsushima. It’s too easy for me to imagine the people and places I knew so well suffering the same tragedy. And it’s been hard for Ayako, since she and her family survived the 1995 Kobe Earthquake (literally survived, their house collapsed around them) and the images on the news bring back bad memories of the disaster that hit her city.
Obviously, our heartache is nothing compared to the loss the people in those areas have faced, and the challenges they still face in trying to rebuild their communities. That task is still monumental. And make no mistake: Japan may be a rich country, but Tohoku is a poor region with little industry and an aging population. Even three weeks later, many survivors are huddled in emergency shelters with little food, water, heat, or medicine. They need help. I sincerely ask that you donate what you can (I personally recommend Mercy Corps. They’ve been really active on the ground, providing vital provisions to survivors).
In a way, I’ve been lucky to have the job I have because it’s allowed me to at least entertain the illusion of helping. It wasn’t much, but work helped alleviate that feeling of helplessness just a little bit. We fielded hundreds of calls from concerned parents and friends, from the local media, from people generously wanting to help. We helped gather what information we could about our JET Program participants in the affected areas. We compiled information on the ways people could give and help those really affected by this disaster.
Mostly, though, the job has let me see how deeply people care and how quick people are to offer help and support in the face of such a disaster. The huge show of support and generosity from people across the Midwest for the people in Tohoku has been really heartening to all of us with ties to Japan.
I’ve also been extremely proud to be an alumni and program coordinator of the JET Program after seeing stories like this one of JETs staying in their towns to help with rebuilding. The article talks to a few, but I’ve personally heard from a number of others determined to stay, or go back and help their adopted communities.
Still, the loss of life in Tohoku has been catastrophic. Recovery will take years. And again, I really hope you’ll give what you can to Mercy Corps, the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, or another aide group. It is absolutely needed.
On a more personal note, thanks to all of you who have shown support for us, for your friends and family in Japan, and for the people of Tohoku these past three weeks. It means the world.