Japan, Reflection

#あれから10年

Today – 11th March 2021 – is the 10th Anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami.

The 9.1 Magnitude earthquake struck at 14:46 JST and was the most powerful earthquake recorded in Japan. Honshu, the main island, moved east by 2.4m and the earth shifted on its axis by 10-25cm. The tsunami that followed reached up to 40m in height and travelled at 700km/h.

The tsunami caused the meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Over 150,000 residents within a 20km radius were evacuated. Many will be unable to ever return with estimates that it will be 40 years before radiation levels have fallen to safe levels again.

Over 120,000 buildings totally collapsed, over 280,000 partially collapsed and 700,000 buildings were damaged. 4.4 million households in northern Japan were left without electricity, 1.5 million households without water.

100,000 children were uprooted from their homes. 1,580 children in Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima Prefectures lost either one or both parents. 378 school students lost their lives, 158 disappeared without a trace.

15,899 people died. 2,525 people went missing and have still not been found.

Japanese TV has had a full schedule of programmes today from formal ceremonies taking place across the country through to individual tales of loss. Every life is precious but the stories of children who were literally swept away by the sea are heartbreaking and even a decade on the grieving process continues. As a parent myself, I cannot or more accurately do not want to dare to imagine the pain of mothers and fathers whose children’s lives were snatched prematurely on that fateful day. The hours of waiting before finding out if their son or daughter was safe must have been unbearable and for those who faced the unthinkable news, I am genuinely lost for words.

On this day each year, I make sure that I find the time to pause for a moment to reflect. This year, I have been thinking mostly about those poor children and hope that their physical lives, whilst short, were happy ones and that their spirits have found a peaceful place of rest.

あの日から10年ですが、忘れない。

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Japan, Motivation, Nature

How short, this life?

Around this time of the year people all over Japan are on the lookout for the sakura cherry blossom which comes into full bloom between the end of March and the very beginning of May, depending on where you live*. The celebration, called hanami written using the characters for “flower” (花) and “watch” (見) involves groups of family, friends and colleagues gathering together under their favourite tree to enjoy meticulously prepared food and (more than) a few drinks.

What surprised me the first time I experienced  the cherry blossom in Japan was how soon after coming into full bloom did the petals of these delicate flowers come fluttering to the ground like confetti at a wedding. It is for this reason that hanami is so hard-wired into the psyche of the Japanese; it marks not only the beginning of the new year for schools and companies but also serves as a reminder of the fragility and fleeting nature of life itself.

There has been plenty put out there about how much time over the course of a typical life we spend working, sleeping, eating, washing up, cleaning or even on the toilet.  However, I came across a graphic on a website called WaitButWhy which represents a 90-year life as a series of weekly blocks. There’s not that many of them – 4,680 to be precise.

I have had times in my life when I have been looking forward to something in the future or longing to get over something unpleasant in the present. The weeks have disappeared, sometimes turning into months.  How often have you said to yourself “I wish this week would pass more quickly” or “I’ll just get this month out of the way and then I’ll…” or something similar?

As I finished the first paragraph of today’s post, I received a telephone call from the son of a dear friend of ours who has been in hospital recently. It was not good news; he had passed away after 92 years on this planet, that’s 4,784 blocks. Listening to some of his stories, he made the most of his life and the time he was given. None of us really knows how many blocks we will be blessed with, so make each one count.

I know that I’m going to.

*****

*You can plot the progress of the sakurazensen cherry blossom front on the Japan National Tourism Organization website

 

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