A letter from our associate, Ciara Jacques, for the 10th anniversary of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami
Ten years ago today, Japan experienced the strongest earthquake in its recorded history. About 80 miles east of Japan’s Tohoku region, the earthquake struck below the Pacific ocean and caused a tsunami that devastated over 200 square miles of coastal land. The result was unimaginable destruction, crippling the infrastructure of the country and leaving more than 450,000 people homeless and over 15,500 dead. More than 2,500 people are still missing. The cooling system failure at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, caused by the tsunami and resulting in a nuclear meltdown, was the final event of this triple disaster and has had lasting consequences.
At that time, I was a sophomore in high school, vaguely familiar with Japan through watching anime and reading manga. The magnitude of the disaster astonished me, and I felt strongly that this was something more people in my school community should be talking about. I wrote an article for my school newspaper covering the topic as extensively as I could, and while researching, read through a number of interviews with locals of the Tohoku region affected by the disaster. Some were community members concerned about radiation contaminating their food, others were farmers wondering how they’ll get by if they can’t sell their crops. Some lost everything they owned, or people very dear to them.
While reading these stories, I was struck by the Japanese people’s resilience and their determination to persevere. They did not dwell on the tragedy but looked ahead to the future. I like to think of my experience writing this article as the first time I saw the spirit of Japan, and came a little closer to understanding it. It has sparked a passion in me for this country and its culture, and a fascination that I have been cultivating ever since and will last the rest of my life.
I recently learned more about Japan’s ongoing recovery efforts, including the rebuilding of cities and how the nation is coping with the radiation. Following the disaster in 2011, farmers, volunteers, and officials worked together to plant over 8 million sunflowers around Fukushima. These cheerful plants are known to soak up toxins from the ground and were also used following the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. In Japan, these flowers have become a symbol of restoration and hope for a better future. They are a reminder that while nature can be an overwhelming destructive force, it is equally a force of healing, beauty, and creation.
Fukushima remains mostly deserted, but thanks to the generosity of millions of volunteers and donors from across the world, Japan has made huge strides in its recovery. Over 50 countries have contributed to relief efforts in Japan, in addition to private and corporate donations from all over the world. This example of international cooperation is a testament to the power we have to make a difference when we come together.
On this day, I hope that we can all remember the tragedy of 3/11, acknowledge the told and untold stories of its victims, respect nature’s creative and destructive power, and hold on to lessons learned. I also hope that we can look ahead to a future of continued international cooperation, unprecedented generosity, and fields of sunflowers.