Today marks the tenth anniversary of the Great Tohoku earthquake.
At 2.46pm, an earthquake of 9.0 magnitude originating 41 miles (66 km) east of the coast of Japan and 18 (29 km) miles down struck. The seabed was thrust upwards by about six to eight meters, creating a tsunami travelling at 500 miles (800 km) per hour that within 30 minutes of the tremor was making it’s way on land. It is estimated that the tsunami reached a height of over 40 meters at one point. The water made its way as far as six miles inland, inundating over 200 square miles (518 sq km). The tsunami also hit the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, causing a nuclear meltdown and forcing the evacuation of some 200,000 people in the vicinity.
Several weeks ago (13th February) there was a large 7.3 earthquake whose epicentre was close to that of the earthquake ten years prior. To the surprise of many, under the Japan Meteorological Agency’s rules, it was classified as an aftershock. Thankfully, there was no tsunami, but there was one fatality.
With remembrances taking place across Japan, the official death toll is currently recorded as 15,899, while the number of people registered as still missing is 2,526. Given the elapsed time it is highly unlikely that any more survivors will be found. Dozens of bodies have still to be identified, with several having been done so last year, perhaps finally bring closure to those families.
After the 12-mile (20 km) evacuation zone was put into effect after the Fukushima nuclear meltdown, some areas are now reopening for visitors, such as the town of Futoba, located two and a half miles from the plant. Seven thousand people were forced to flee but none have returned to live due to decontamination of the town still incomplete. It is hoped that enough of the town will have been decontaminated by 2022 for people to start returning. Currently, only 4% has been done so.
It is important to note that no deaths were a direct result of radiation from the Fukushima disaster itself, although one clean-up worker’s death was officially recognised in 2018.
Even after ten years, there remains a lot of work to be done; decontamination and clean up of numerous towns, reconstruction of infrastructure and homes, the decommissioning of the nuclear power plant, and the psychological trauma that affect many still, young and old alike.
Linked here are several articles which might be of interest. This video is about a man who lost his entire family, and this one about Japan’s ‘Triple Disaster’. This article is about the loss of 74 school children at a school, and this about sexual violence women faced after the earthquake.
I still remember the moment the earthquake hit; being in the training room, seeing the windows of the building opposite ripple en-mass like a droplet of water hitting a still pond, the fireball in the distance, and the physical difficulty I experienced walking towards the window to see what was going on. Having experienced countless earthquakes over the years I had lived in Japan, I was neither worried nor concerned, but the panic of the trainees (my students) started to affect me. Panic is indeed contagious.
The fact that the trainees worked for one of the largest petroleum companies in the Japan made the situation interesting. Although I called them trainees/students, they were top level managers in the company, and once their initial panic was over, they were trying to manage, organise and mobilise different sections of the company to ensure that supplies of fuel would be readily available to all parts of the country, ensure safety protocols were initiated, and find out what was happening in the rest of the company. I was sat at my desk trying to glean the latest information from the internet for myself and to pass on to the trainees, and had the TV function on my phone playing the news. I called my company over the internet as calling over the phones was near impossible, and emailed my sister to let her know I was fine and to contact our parents so that they wouldn’t panic if they saw the news.
You can see from this video I took of the first aftershock how the street signs and lamppost shake, and also how the glass in the building opposite moves by looking at the reflection. Everything was much more intense during the main quake.
It is one of those moments in history in a person’s life where the details are not easily forgotten.
That was ten years ago, and seemingly a lifetime ago.
So, what has happened in these ten years? I returned to England after intense pressure from my parents to do so. I was very reluctant to do so as most of my friends were in Japan, and I was at the peak of my profession. I got a post-grad in teaching, but failed to find any teaching work. Having trouble assimilating back into the UK, I went to Malaysia and stayed with some family, hoping to get a job either there or Singapore. That didn’t happen after five months, so I asked my parents if they were ok with me going back to Japan. With a bit of persuasion from my aunt and uncle, they relented.
Back to Japan I went. If felt slightly odd, yet very familiar after being away for several years. I found a new place to live, and managed to get a job at one of my previous companies. All was going well. I was glad to be home.
Some years later, my father passed away, followed a few years after that by my mother. Following the death of my parents I moved back to the UK and into their house, in a town I had only previously stayed in briefly. I tried to re-assimilate, but found the first few years difficult. Reverse culture shock, as I like to call it, and the fact that I had lived in Japan for most of my adult life meant that my thinking and mannerisms were still very Japanese. I found myself bowing a lot, being indirect about things, and being very modest about everything, for example. I’ve been lucky enough to make some friends, and find some work since my return a few years ago.
In 2020, Covid was the big thing. I spent the year off work as I’d torn the cartilage (meniscus) in my knees, one much worse than the other. My GP told me that he couldn’t send me to see a specialist, let alone have surgery, as everyone had been deployed to deal with Covid, and I should try again in six months if I was still in pain. Rather than risk aggravating the injury, or catching Covid, I made a concious decision to stay at home and try to heal. Twelve months on, one knee has healed while the other one still needs a lot more time. During those 12 months, I did a lot of DIY, but also ended up aggravating my bad knee several times. I found someone special, but it seems they don’t feel the same way as I do. I also put on a few kilos, but managed to get that under control and lose most of it.
What of the future? There’s still plenty of DIY to do on the house, and I’m hoping my knee will heal by the end of the year. I also hope to find a job outside of teaching, perhaps, but it’s difficult given that teaching is my profession and the large unemployment rates caused by the collapse of countless firms in the UK. Outside of DIY and gardening, I am currently volunteering on a big project. Somewhat ironically, a blog.
When I started this personal blog, I didn’t set out on a master class of journalism; rather, I wanted to show people what a wonderful place Japan was, how wonderful my life was in Japan. In the last ten years I’ve left Japan twice, this time seeming to be the final time. I’ve spent most of my adult working life in Japan and naturally miss my ‘home’ as much as I did when I first moved to Japan. I will go back to Japan in the future for holidays, but it will be strange to see how things have changed yet still seem so familiar. No doubt Shinjuku station will still be a nightmare to navigate around, and there will still be people handing out free tissues, although I suspect there might be more masks being handed out than there used to be.
Now that I’m no longer in Japan, there’s no real reason for me to update this blog, much like when I left Japan ten years ago. The entries I make now are the gentle musings of a man who feels compelled to share what is on his mind, not expecting anyone to read or really care. I may make the occasional update to this blog; I expect I will on some anniversary of the earthquake, or after a visit to Japan. So, until then, thank you for reading.