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Thursday, 8 March 2012

The first anniversary of the Tohoku Earthquake in Japan.

This sad event is coming up. I'd like to share some thoughts I've had since this terrible tragedy.

3.11.11 The day Japan shook, and in an instant 15,000 were gone, 3800 were never found.
Now I remember my grandmother telling me bad things happen in threes. She was right. A 9.0 quake, a 30 meter high tsunami, then a nuclear power plant meltdown.
If this had been a Hollywood script, it would be a blockbuster. For us, it’s life.
Watching TV only to feel the floor begin to shake, watching my wife trying to hold up the TV, diving under the table as the whole house began to shake, not knowing how bad it was going to be. First it starts side to side, then up down, then a circling motion, all the while my wife begins to whimper Daddy, Daddy, referring to me, holding her tight, wondering how many of my children are going to make it. Earthquakes are usually over very quick. This one wasn’t stopping but just kept getting stronger!
Everything stops, I jump up, grab my sweater, flak jacket and bush hat, jumping into my car and driving off down the street honking the horn so the people in the street would move. All the while, I’m listening to the US Forces radio as it’s the only English source of news that I can get.
 Getting to my children’s daycare.
Silence, the only time I have ever heard Japanese children be silent. Seeing the fear in their eyes wondering when their mummies and daddies would come.
I spoke with their teacher and in swift movements, the teachers and my kids get their gear and move.  We then ran out to my car, holding my Leena who was shaking with fear, holding Ian’s hand as we ran to get in before the aftershock hits again..
Then it started. This time, I was shielding my daughter’s body while a cook was shielding my son. As he begins to cry and scream I’m scared daddy, I vowed that I would take his hand. By this time both children were crying. And what goes through my mind is, when I tell them it will be ok, am I lying?
We jumped in the car, drive home, and then turned on BBC World, and holding my kids with each aftershock.
As I watch the footage my mind flashes back to when I was in Iwate in the summer of 2000. The beach I went to with my students and friends in Iwate, those lush evergreens, crystal clear water, clean sand…
All gone.
As I watched the news , we got to see live, the Tsunami coming in, and taking out what was there. As you watch, you know that the people in the cars, homes, buildings and fields must have been in terror. You know that they were going to die, and there was nothing they could do to stop it. The strange sight of seeing a whole town on fire being carried by tsunami.
Water, the giver of life, became the taker as well.
Ian then dragged out his blanket, spread it on the floor, tossed his toy cars on it, tossed his lego blocks on it, then using his foot to push the “tsunami”. He began his commentary. “This is the tsunami, this is the water coming in pushing the cars, buildings and people. So sad, all those people are gone.”
6 years old, and he could comprehend. With each aftershock came his plea, “I want to go to Canada.”
After 5 hours he then said, Daddy, can I watch cartoons. So, I changed the channel. Anything to give him hope that his world would be alright.
Now with each rainfall, we wonder how much radiation we get exposed to.
Each aftershock, we wonder if the shaking is going to start again. Our smartphones have an Earthquake Alert function. When the nearest monitors get sensing that a quake is going to start, they go off. 24/7. You get to hate hearing the thing go off at and nothing happens. A year on, the shakes are not so bad, my kids don’t ask me when we are going to Nova Scotia so much now. I’m still putting emergency kit together. Ian and I have emergency bags packed with clothes to last 3 days. My family still has water, tea and sport drinks to last us about 3 days.
A year on, and they are still looking for the missing. My co-worker volunteers his time to go up and help those who lost everything. In the days following the earthquake, life was really strange. It has been the only time in Japan where bread, canned food and any drinkable liquid was sold out. For a few months afterwards, when you went to a supermarket or convience store, they were actually rationing bottled water to only 1 per customer. Due to the fact that the power supply was cut, the commuter trains that are so much a part of daily life for millions were not running. In order to get to my job site, 30 km away, I had to first walk 5km to a station which was still on a train line that was running. On the way home, I was amazed as several hundred people were quietly waiting for the station to open and allow passengers to board trains. Everyone was silent, which was usual, but it was all the more erie as everyone was tense about another quake hitting us, or the power giving out as we would be trapped inside a train for god knew how long.
Life has gone on, as normally as it can here in Japan. But now, scientists are warning that the Tokyo region could be hit by a massive quake within the next 4 years. Now everyone pays attention to the earthquake drills. Next pay day, I should stock up on some boil in the bag curry.

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