Green waves sand

It has been 155 weeks since the Great East Japan Earthquake ravaged the Tohoku region. The time was 14:46.  Over a period of six minutes, the earth convulsed and trembled with a moment magnitude scale of 9.0.  Within thirty minutes of this earthquake, tsunami waves of an ocean depth of thirty kilometers that reached up to almost forty kilometers in height flooded 561 kilometers square of North Eastern Japan , creating what The World Bank estimated as having been the costliest natural disaster in the world.   Approximately 20,000 people lost their lives, mostly by drowning, while approximately 6,000 individuals were injured and over 5,000 people went missing, with thousands still unaccounted for today.  Three nuclear reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant complex were destroyed as a result of this tsunami, which prompted the USA to recommend that its citizens who were living in Japan at the time to evacuate up to eighty kilometers of the plant.  The United Kingdom and Australia advised its people to leave Tokyo.  France sent several planes to evacuate its citizens out of Japan, as did China.  For those who remained, the aftershocks following the earthquake went on for days, for weeks, then continued for months after.  If you ask many of us, where we  were at 14:46 on March 11th, 2011, we will always know.

Individuals, families, communities, if they still remain, mark their lives with a ‘Before’ and an ‘After’ March 11th, 2011. What happens during a natural disaster may be fate, an ‘Act of God’, destiny, or nature taking its course, depending on your view of the world.  The calamity becomes a fact, nonetheless, over which human beings had no say.  The injuries, the death toll, no say either.  What occurs after a catastrophe, however, is a matter of choice.  And, when choice meets circumstances that enable action, then we have outcomes over which we exerted control, that might turn out to be our destiny, after all.

This week, to commemorate the third anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, I share with you conversations I had with members of the community in Tokyo who lived through the earthquake and who, in the aftermath, decided to take action and help rebuild what had been destroyed.  Three years after, they still continue to volunteer their time, energy and skills to restore normality and hope to the lives of children, families and communities in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Moon in blue sky

Thursday 6th March, 2014.

Today, 1090 days after the tsunami, I talk to Joji Hiratsuka.

Joji Hiratsuka is Canadian and loves hockey.  Not only is he into playing hockey and watching hockey, he also goes to tournaments around the world to discuss hockey, eat hockey, drink hockey, breathe hockey and sleep hockey.  And it was also hockey that got him a two-ton truck to drive into Tohoku after March 2011 accompanied, of course, by members of his hockey team.  Read more…

Joji & Hockey Team

Tokyo Canadians Hockey Team

Friday 7th March, 2014.

On the 1091st day after the tsunami, I speak to Laureline Gatellier.

Had you told Laureline during her first visit to Japan as an exchange student when she was eighteen years old that she’d fall in love, she might have laughed it off, raised her eyebrows and express her doubts.  But fall in love she did, with the country and the people, enough to return with a scholarship to further her studies.  Had you remotely suggested to Laureline that she’d still be studying after completing her PhD in science, for an MBA of all things, while raising a baby and working in a Belgian pharmaceutical company married to a Japanese guy, she’d think you were slightly insane.  Please go and get your head examined!  Had you even hinted to Laureline that a decade into the twenty first century, after riding in a car strewn about with underwear and nappies, she’d be waking up in a love hotel with two guys and three girls, she’d say you had the wrong girl!  And, if you implied that she’d want to do it again, especially with the morning after wading through mud, gunk and excrement to survey a land razed to the ground by a violent earthquake and an unforgiving tsunami, with the stench of rot and death up her nose, she’d tell you to stop reading so much science fiction!  And yet, this became Laureline’s journey.  Read more…

Laureline in Tohoku, May 2011

Laureline in Tohoku, May 2011

Saturday 8th March, 2014.

1092 days after the Great East Japan Earthquake, I speak with Kosuke Hasegawa.

If you know Koss, as Kosuke Hasegawa is known to his family, friends, colleagues and fellow volunteers, you might know that sometimes he can be slightly fanatic about things. Things involving clubs, as in golf clubs; things involving belts, as in second-degree black belts in judo; and things involving running, as in running marathons, here, there and everywhere around Japan and the USA.  Koss will go to the golf range and hit the putt all weekend every weekend, that is after he’s run 42.5 kilometers back and forth, around and around the castle park where the Emperor and Empress of Japan live.  If he’s going to be kicked and punched, it’ll have to be on the judo mat where he’ll not only earn a black belt, but a second-degree black belt!  All these belts and clubs and this constant running takes time and energy, and zeal and commitment.  Since the tsunami and the earthquake, however, it seems like Koss has channeled his zeal and commitment beyond himself and embraced the mud, the slime, the grime and the endless bus rides for the benefit of the community in Tohoku.  With such a shift in vision and in commitment, even a stranger in a crowded Tokyo train seems to have benefited from just one individual’s new awareness, as Koss will tell you in his own words.  If one person can do so much, imagine what two people can achieve then multiply that by sixty to eighty people in one bus ride over numerous weekends throughout the past 155 weeks.  Read more…

Kosuke leading an 'omikoshi' parade, Ishinomaki 2014

Kosuke leading an ‘omikoshi’ parade, Ishinomaki 2014

Monday 10th March, 2014

On the 1094th day after the earthquake, I speak to Cara Phillips.

Ask Cara about rodeo nights in Texas and she’ll tell you about how her grandmother used to bake these delicious berry pies, then she’ll bake you the same pie, carry it on the train for almost two hours just to sit with you and feed you.  Ask her about the rising sea in the Republic of Kiribati and she’ll fill your afternoon with tales about living in a hut on the ocean front, bartering for food and living off the care packages that her mom used to send.  Ask Cara about Namibia and she’ll bake biscuits and bring coins and souvenirs for your class and teach your students about remote communities doing what they can to survive and prove it with photos of kids thriving, learning, playing, laughing despite poverty and illness encroaching on their lives.  Here, I ask Cara about Japan and Tohoku, read more and see what she says…

Cara Tohoku 2012

Cara standing in the ruins of a building, Oshika Peninsula 2012

Tuesday 11th March, 2014.

Today is exactly 1095 days after the calamity of the Great East Japan Earthquake unfolded. 

Three years on, 267,419 people are still living as evacuees, with numbers particularly high in Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, as reported by the Reconstruction Agency and Japan News.  In the three most affected prefectures, 241 children were orphaned as a result of the tsunami.  Ninety percent of these children have been living with relatives since then.  Families are still grieving and these relatives who have emerged as foster parents are “showing signs of fatigue”.  The road to recovery for individuals, families and communities after a catastrophe of this magnitude remains a long, steep, arduous journey.  Read more…

Sunlight through clouds

Do you remember where you were on March 11th, 2011?

bird blue sky




BBC News. 18 March 2011. Japan Earthquake: Foreign Evacuation Increase. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-pacific-12775329

Japan Meteorological Agency. October 2013. Lessons learned from the tsunami disaster caused by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.  http://www.seisvol.kishou.go.jp/eq/eng/tsunami/LessonsLearned_Improvements_brochure.pdf

Live Science. August 2013. Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011: Facts and Information.  http://www.livescience.com/39110-japan-2011-earthquake-tsunami-facts.html

Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport & Tourism (MLIT). As of 10:00 March 3, 2014. The Great East Japan Earthquake (126th Report): Outline. https://www.mlit.go.jp/common/000138154.pdf

The Japan News by the Yomiuri Shimbun, Tuesday March 11, 2014, Disaster orphans’ foster parents struggle with age, inexperience. page 1.

U.S. Geological Survey. 2011. Magnitude of 9.0 Near the East Coast Honshu of Japan.  http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/eqinthenews/2011/usc0001xgp/

World Bank. 2012.  The Great East Japan Earthquake: Learning from Megadisasters: Knowledge Notes – Executive Summary. http://wbi.worldbank.org/wbi/Data/wbi/wbicms/files/drupal-acquia/wbi/drm_exsum_english.pdf


Photo source:

1. Tokyo Canadians Hockey Club: Joji Hiratsuka

2. Laureline in Tohoku: Laureline Gatellier

3. Kosuke at omikoshi parade: Cara Phillips

4. Cara in the ruins of NTT building: Cara Phillips


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