[Remembering 3.11] Lessons for a lifetime

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Accompanying story:

Japan Racing Association

#20 Real Problems, Real Voices, Real Japan Podcast – [Remembering 3.11] 11 years after the Great East Japan Earthquake

The Great East Japan Earthquake was a life-changing event for millions of people. March 11, 2011 can mean different things depending on who you are and where you were at the time, but for the Tohoku region of Japan, the word sadness is far from describing its entirety.

Having lived in Fukushima Prefecture since 2008, the lifestyle and daily routine had become a big part of my identity. Like many others in the JET program, this was my first experience of living alone and in a foreign country.

This was the third and final year of my JET contract teaching primary and secondary schools in Ishikawa-machi. March 11, 2011 was graduation day for junior high school third-year students and a celebration of thanksgiving for elementary school sixth-year students.

But that was not all.

After the end of the graduation ceremony and right in the middle of the Thanksgiving celebration, at 2:46 p.m., a 9.0 magnitude earthquake caused a roaring interruption. Beginning with a light sway at first, it almost immediately turned into a severe shaker.

The Thanksgiving celebration turned into an evacuation sequence. Teachers and adults calmly ordered students to put their safety first and redirected everyone to the school’s outdoor grounds.

From there, it became apparent just how big the earthquake was as we watched tiles fall off school buildings, windows shatter and nearby trees topple over. All of this was in chorus with nearby infrastructure ー just imagine the deafening creak and rumble that was happening back then. All the while, snow was falling on us. It was a cold and scary moment.

Still in shock after a few hours, I didn’t even have the strength to react to the news about the tsunami on the east coast of Fukushima and the damage to TEPCO’s nuclear power plant. For me, the next two weeks were a blur, as I found myself living in different parts of town, just trying not to be alone or hungry.

Experiencing the earthquake and experiencing it with the local community, I realized their strong resilience in the face of the dire situation. It amazed me how city dwellers could have such a positive mindset. Weren’t they concerned? Afraid? Angry? What was the right emotion?

Talking with various people during this short period taught me valuable lessons that I still remember today.

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