The Great East Japan Earthquake was a life changing event for millions of people. March 11, 2011, could mean different things depending on who you are and where you were at the time, but for the Tohoku region of Japan, the word sorrow comes nowhere near describing its entirety.
Having lived in Fukushima prefecture from 2008, the lifestyle and day to day routine had become a big part of my identity. Like many others in the JET Programme, it was my first experience living alone, and in a foreign country.
It was the third and final year of my JET contract teaching in Ishikawa-machi’s elementary and junior high schools. March 11, 2011, was graduation day for the third-grade junior high school students, and a thanksgiving celebration for the sixth-grade elementary school students.
But that’s not all it was.
After the graduation ceremony had ended and right in the middle of the thanksgiving celebration, at 2:46 PM, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake made a roaring interruption. Beginning with a gentle rocking at first, it almost immediately turned into a severe shaker.
The thanksgiving celebration escalated into an evacuation sequence. Teachers and adults calmly ordered students to prioritize their safety and redirected everyone to the school’s outdoor grounds.
From there, it became apparent how sizable the earthquake was as we watched the roof tiles fall off the school buildings, windows shatter, and nearby trees topple over. All this was in chorus with nearby infrastructure ー just imagine the deafening grinding and rumbling that was happening at the time. All the while, snow was falling on us. It was a cold and frightful moment.
Still in shock after a couple of hours, I didn’t even have the energy to react to the reports of the tsunami on the east coast of Fukushima, and the damage to the TEPCO nuclear power station. For me, the next couple of weeks were a blur, as I found myself living in different places around the town, just trying not to be alone or hungry.
Experiencing the earthquake and living through it with the local community, I realized their strong resilience in the face of the dire situation. It puzzled me how townspeople could have such a positive mindframe. Were they not concerned? Afraid? Angry? What was the right emotion?
Speaking with various people during this short period taught me valuable lessons that I hold on to this day.