Ten Years of Crises

Ten years ago today, at 2:46pm local time, one of the biggest earthquakes in recent history hit the northeastern coast of Japan and shook the country so hard it could be felt almost a thousand kilometres away. A few hours later a massive tsunami rushed to shore along a massive amount of that same coast to subsume the buildings, objects, and people who could not — or would not — get to higher land. Entire townships were swept into the ocean as the waters receded, leaving scarred land littered with ruined equipment, debris, and death. More than 10,000 aftershocks have been recorded in the decade that has passed since The Great Tohoku Earthquake, and more take place every day. However, despite the depth and severity of this wound, the people of Tohoku — and the rest of Japan — have persevered, rebuilt, and carried on.

Five Years later, at 01:25am on April 16, 2016, Kumamoto was delivered a similar disaster. Just like the one in Tohoku, buildings were toppled, infrastructure destroyed, and entire villages cut-off from resupply for weeks. Because this one struck in the middle of the night, many of the casualties that took place were the result of falling objects and furniture. The quake was followed by hundreds of aftershocks and heavy rains, making rescue and repair operations far more difficult. However, despite the depth and severity of this wound, the people of Kumamoto — and the rest of Japan — have persevered, rebuilt, and carried on.

Aside from these two large earthquakes, the country has seen an incredible amount of destruction and pain brought on by smaller quakes, increasingly powerful typhoons, floods, and — recently — fires. Every six months there is another disaster in the news. However, despite these wounds, people have persevered, rebuilt, and carried on.

Very rarely have natural disasters affected the people I know personally. Reiko and I were living just outside of Tokyo when the big one hit ten years ago, and the resulting chaos1 made a return to the Tokai area a priority. Nozomi was so terrified by the constant shaking of the ground that she stopped eating for almost a year, requiring us to force-feed her so that she'd have something in her stomach. We were lucky, though. We managed to get through the challenges, find a new home, rebuild, and carry on. Many others — particularly domesticated animals — did not have the same opportunity.

Disasters are generally things that we try to forget. Who wants to remember pain? But after getting through 3/11 "inconvenienced but unscathed", I've approached the annual commemorations a little differently. The anniversaries are often presented as a way to remember those who lost their lives, their loved ones, their homes, and their livelihoods. While this is all very true, this is also a good time to remember the people who are still here with us. The people who went to the aid of others. The people who offered a stranger a brief bit of normalcy in the confusion2. It's important to remember those who left before us, but it's just as important to remember the ones who were there … and still here.

  1. To be fair, chaos in Japan generally means "empty store shelves and long lines everywhere".

  2. After the stores started opening up after 3/11, Reiko and I went to a grocery store to collect some supplies. There wasn't any running water anywhere and there was none to be purchased for any price. Nozomi refused to stay home alone out of fear of another quake, so I had to hold her in my arms just about every minute of the day. As dogs are not permitted in grocery stores even during the best of times, I stayed outside the shop while Reiko went in. There were two men in their 50s sitting on a bench and consuming a 6-pack of beer at a remarkable pace despite being well before noon. Nozomi and I sat next to them and we chatted about a bunch of things while people scurried around us in an attempt to secure resources. They offered me a can, which I accepted, and for a brief period of time we sat in our own bubble of normalcy despite the chaos around us. Reiko eventually emerged from the grocery store with a 2-litre bottle of water — no idea how she managed to get one — and some zero-prep food that could be had at anytime without water or electricity.