Reviewing the Great East Japan Earthquake (What are the thoughts of the staff?)

Aftermath of the Earthquake – The Case of Iwate Prefecture

Mr. S., who was the head of the Iwate Branch Youth Department of the Japan Epilepsy Association, died with his parents on the day of the tsunami. The association held a Rehabilitation Summer Camp every year at the Prefectural Outdoor Activity Center in Rikuzentakata City.  Mr. S. was preparing for the camp and was looking forward to welcoming members from the prefecture and the Tohoku region as well, before his untimely death.

In the early morning, we took a walk in the pine forests and along the sandy beaches by the seashore. At noon we went swimming and had a barbecue, and at night we enjoyed a campfire with fireworks. It was Mr. S. who prepared and welcomed us to that camp every year. His wife was Thai and their son was born there the December before the disaster.

After the earthquake, Iwate Prefecture established the “Iwate Learning Hope Fund” to provide scholarships to students from elementary school through university, that were affected by the disaster. This project is in the spirit of Mr. Inazo Nitobe, a professor at Sapporo Agricultural College, who more than 100 years ago established the Enyu Night School, offering free education to children who could not attend school for various reasons.

After confirming that Mr. S’s son was eligible for a scholarship from the “Iwate Learning Hope Fund,” we asked the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs to locate his wife and son there. Fortunately, we were able to meet the family in Bangkok, but due to communication issues, we needed to rely on many people to finalize the eligibility details regarding the scholarship. We pray that his father in heaven may be at peace.

Kyoko Yahaba, Director, Iwate Branch, Japan Epilepsy Association

We are living in history, as well.

Many people may wonder why patient groups repeatedly visit the areas affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake. And in actual fact, there is only so much we can physically do in the affected areas. Moreover, our words of encouragement and comfort may further upset the feelings of those who have been affected by the disaster. However, those of us who have experienced intractable diseases know this better than anyone else. Therefore, as we visited the affected areas several times, we realized that there are common troubles, sufferings and difficulties caused by calamity whether it is a natural disaster or an intractable disease.

What we can do, when we visit these areas, is to convey to as many people as possible the reality of the disaster area as seen through our “objective” eyes. This is also the driving force behind the Fukushima tours. People can be prejudiced and discriminatory about what they do not know or understand. A correct understanding is the first step to dispel such negativities and I think we can achieve that.

The accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant has had a major impact on global energy policy. While the objective is to reduce emissions of oxygen dioxide, which is believed to be a cause of global warming, natural energy sources such as solar power have become significantly more prevalent over the past decade. The significant drop in the unit cost of electricity generation, which was considered a challenge, also spurred renewable energy.

Finally, I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to have been involved with the Great East Japan Earthquake for nearly a decade through the JPA’s Fukushima tour and as a member of the editorial board for the collection of records published this time.

Masaru Fujiwara

Reflecting on the Great East Japan Earthquake

I first visited the affected areas in 2017, six years after the disaster. Until then, most of the information about the affected areas had come from TV and other media. I felt that what was possible before the earthquake was becoming possible again one after another, as infrastructure such as railroads was improved and events resumed in various areas, and when I actually went there, I could see clear changes, such as roads that were impassable year after year becoming passable and new buildings being constructed. However, while there are areas where such clear changes can be seen every year, there are also areas where time seems to have stood still since the day of the earthquake 10 years ago. Half-destroyed houses, rusted and dusty private cars, closed elementary and junior high school buildings… My heart aches every time I recall the scenes of people who lived and went to school here before the earthquake, and how even their normal daily lives were taken away from them.

Of course, just because I visited the affected areas three times through the tour and made fixed-point observations and saw aspects that had not been visible before, it does not mean that I understand everything or that I am able to do anything more. However, as one who has seen the reality of the situation and has come into contact with the people in the affected areas and knows their thoughts and feelings, I would like to continue to be mindful of them.

Keita Ohtsubo, JPA Secretariat

Thinking at the time of the corona disaster, the great earthquake of 3.11

A politician once compared the corona disaster to war, which makes sense from the perspective that the weak are the first to suffer. It is children, women, etc. With a single word from the prime minister, schools across the country have been closed, but no one has listened to the voices of the parties involved and implemented the policy. Originally, according to Article 29 of the School Education Law Enforcement Order, school holidays are to be determined by the local board of education, so the prime minister’s words were only a request. During the school holidays, I volunteered at a private children’s home, but I could hardly believe that the children’s voices were being heard by the prime minister. Similarly, the establishment and operation of evacuation centers and disaster public housing in the affected areas do not seem to be listening to the voices of users.

One of the most impressive changes over the past nine years has been the disappearance of piles of rubble. I remember going from Ishinomaki to Onagawa, weaving my way through the debris on both sides. The 2013 tour showed a disposal plant and a pile of debris. That pile of debris and the disposal plant are gone. In 2012, there was a pile of burned cars in front of Sendai Airport, but by 2013, it was gone. I wondered how many years it would take to dispose of that much “debris,” but by 2014 it had almost disappeared from sight. Debris” in the off-limit area in Fukushima is not included in the Reconstruction Agency’s FY2018 statistics.

The second is the giant seawall, which began to appear around 2016. I recall that in Yamada Town, Iwate Prefecture, it was so thin when viewed from the top of the town hall that I wondered if it would work. More than that, as I approached the seawall, I was surprised at how high it was, and I felt uneasy because I could not see the sea at all. Between Minamisoma and Sendai Port, there is a series of high seawalls like the Great Wall of China, so the sea is still out of sight. The seawall at the fishing port of Himon, Kesennuma, will not be built too quickly, and through exchanging opinions with local residents, it is likely to be environmentally friendly.

In 2015, we visited Mr. Sato’s home in Namie Town after residents were allowed in. I was impressed by the fact that the inside of the house remained as it was at the time of the disaster, with the calendar from March 2011 still intact. Mr. Sato does not yet live in his house in Namie. In Fukushima, the off-limit area, time has stood still since March 11, 2011.

I understand that a lot of money is being spent in the affected areas. Even in Miyagi Prefecture, new highways and bridges are being built, making it more convenient. However, I often feel that the vectors are not aligned. Is there anything that can be done? I had one pleasant experience: a sake brewery that I visited before 3.11 but was swept away is starting over again in Namie. I hope there will be more news like this.

Osamu Koseki, NPO Miyagi Patient Council

Column 1: Sutra reading at Mt. Hiwayama “Sorry for the delay. “

On March 11, 2011, when I saw a TV report of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami coming into Sendai Airport from Yuriage Beach, I was reminded of the time when I landed at Sendai Airport some 40 years ago with a two-month-old child with an incurable disease to be hospitalized at Tohoku University Hospital.

The child, who was told that he would live only six months, lived to be five years old thanks to three surgeries performed in Sendai. The day after the earthquake, I wanted to help in some way, so I made a small donation, but even though I felt a sense of comfort, I was unable to visit the disaster site.

Because after my son died, my wife died of cancer, and my second wife, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and I had been nursing her and caring for her for about 10 years before the earthquake.

I knew that this tour, organized by the JPA, had been running since 2013, but it was the sixth tour I was able to attend.

As we passed through Kawamata and Namie towns, where radiation levels are still high, and arrived at Yuriage Coast, where an endless number of reconstruction embankments have been built, we saw a cenotaph inscribed with the names of countless victims.

I went up to the nearby Mt. Hiyoriyama, where a stupa had been erected, and sincerely read the Rishu-kyo Sutra and the Heart Sutra to the many departed souls, saying, “I am sorry for the delay”.

In my mind’s eye, the screams of the lives of those who were suddenly struck by the giant tsunami and suffering in a situation that could not be overcome by any human power appeared and disappeared incessantly. As I read the sutra, I knew I should not cry as a monk, but the pain in my heart was so terrible that it overlapped with my past, in which I lost my five-year-old child and my two wives, that I could not hold back my tears.

Photos on page 47.

Yoshitsune Morita

Column 2: Participating in the Fukushima Tour

During the Fukushima tour I had the privilege of participating in March 2016, I was able to experience many of the challenges.

When I saw the huge tsunami surging on TV, I could not believe my eyes if this was really true. The first thing that has stayed with me is the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. We entered the area of Futaba Town from Tomioka Town in Fukushima Prefecture, which has become difficult to an off-limit area. As I looked at the streets where only the people were gone and time seemed to have stopped, my heart was almost crushed by the pain of those who had to leave their homes and evacuate, and by their inability to return. The safety myth that nuclear power is absolutely safe is fragile, and we are still wondering whether this is the right way to go about nuclear power plants in various regions.

It made me realize that human power is no match for the power of nature.

Next, we took a panoramic view of the JR Odaka Station area and coastal street in Minamisoma City, Fukushima Prefecture, and then headed to Hiyoriyama in Yamamoto Town, Miyagi Prefecture. There, we looked out over the flat, empty land on all sides. I heard that there used to be many houses in this area, but when I saw the quiet clearing with not even a trace of them left, I could not speak. On one side of the road, we could hear machinery moving and a large embankment was being constructed.

I thought of the many people who had been leading normal lives until then, and how quickly they were swept away by the tsunami.

We went to a place where a school bag, a piece of shoe, and a pianica were collected, the owner of which was still unknown. There was a collection of items that the owner never showed up but that were supposed to have been used just now. It may be that no one comes back for it anymore. The only sound in the quiet was the construction of a levee being built in the distance, which seemed out of place.

We were reminded that we must never forget about the Great East Japan Earthquake in the future. We must not forget that there are still people whose lives are difficult.

The whole world is in a difficult situation right now due to coviit-19. I believe that we must unite our hearts and minds to face the difficulties in the midst of a big disaster.

Mutsuko Mihara, Former Vice Representative Director, Japan Patients Association (Saga Consultation Support Center for Intractable Diseases)