Entries in Tohoku earthquake (10)


Chodo Kono Takasa

    Six years ago, Tōhoku was hit by a massive earthquake which triggered tsunami up to 40.5 meters in height. To give people an idea of how high the seismic sea waves were, Yahoo! Japan had the above memorial banner hung on the Sony Building in Tōkyō's Ginza district. The red line, which reads chōdo kono takasa (ちょうどこの高さ, "exactly this height"), gives a powerful reminder of how high the destructive tsunami was.


God's Orphans

   Sunday marked the one-year anniversary of the Tôhoku earthquake and tsunami which claimed 15,854 lives. 3,155 people, including many children, are to this date still missing; their remains may never be recovered.

   As was to be expected, there were a number of specials on TV in remembrance of the disaster and as I watched them I found it hard to keep the tears from falling.

   A few days later, I was talking to a student of mine, a rather somber but kind-hearted psychiatrist, about the tsunami. He asked an age-old question: why does God let bad things happen to good people.

   “That question assumes a number of things,” I replied. “One, that there is a god, whatever that means; two, that he, she, or, it actually cares about us humans; and, three, that he, she, or it has the power to prevent things like tsunami.”

   Personally, I’ve never seen evidence for any of those things. People often claim this or that miracle happened, but what they are in effect saying is that something highly improbable occurred. A patient suffering from a rare and deadly form of cancer survives; a man trapped in his car without food or water for over two months lives to tell the tale; an infant is found unharmed among the wreckage of a commercial jet that has crash landed, killing every other passengers. All true, all highly improbable, but miracles? I doubt it.

   Incidentally, one thing I do find worthy of the word “miraculous” is life itself. I was a biochem major in university, and the diversity, majesty and complexity of nature awes me. (It always strikes me as odd that people who consider themselves good Christians—I’m thinking here of Republicans back in the States—have so much contempt for the environment.) I don’t know what the odds are that a species could evolve to become as intelligent and sophisticated as humans—I would argue that most of us still have plenty of room for improvement—but I do know that mankind has only been on this planet for 0.00348%, or a mere 1/28,750’s of earth’s 4.6 billion years. Seems Mother Nature has had quite a bit of time to slowly tinker with life.

   No, I find it better to assume the worst and hope for the best. The worst being that this is all there is: there is no Heaven, no Hell—aside from the lives so many of us are forced to eek out day-in and day-out on this planet—no Purgatory, and no God who cares for all of our suffering and anxiety. Once you've assumed that, you can start treating your fellow humans with more respect, and you can start behaving morally without needing a carrot or stick to motivate you. You’ll also begin to accept that bad things happen to good people because that, unfortunately, is the fickle nature of luck.

   As for the best? That we might be completely wrong; that when we die, all of us, God’s orphans to a man, will be taken into the bosom of Heaven. And at the Final Judgment, it will be God himself who is judged; and that the remorse he shows for having abandoned us will be sincere enough to comfort even his greatest victims.


Lights out, Fukuoka

   Following the Fukushima nuclear accident, concerned citizens throughout Japan have demanded that the nation's nuclear power plants be shut down until the safety of the reactors can be determined. In Kyûshû, where some thirty percent of electricity production comes from nuclear power, this has meant residents, businesses, and governmental bodies have been asked to conserve energy by 15% during the summer months when demand for electricity peaks.

   Efforts to lower demand can be seen everywhere. Public offices have raised the thermostats on their air conditioners to 28℃ (82.4°F), and turned off the air conditioning completely in half of the city's subway stations. Interior lights on trains (pictured above) and university hallways have also been turned off.

   In a country where an abundance of illuminated billboards and flashing neon lights ensures that it is bright enough for a person to read a newspaper outside in the middle of the night, this new darkness will take some getting used to. 



Beacon 2

The Beacon of Rebirth Poster project (復興の狼煙、Fukkô no Noroshi), offering messages of hope, inspiration and determination to the victims of the Tôhoku earthquake and tsunami.



   As I was riding the elevator up to my favorite Sri Lankan restaurant I couldn't help but notice a poster that had been taped to the wall. It showed two young men, dressed in work clothes and standing on a muddy road with piles of debris stretching as far as the eye could see into the background. At the bottom of the poster was a resolute promise: mae-yori ii machi ni shiteyaru (We'll make this town even better than it was).

   More than three months have passed since the Tôhoku earthquake and tsunami which claimed more than fifteen thousand lives and destroyed the homes and livelihoods of countless others. Nearly eight thousand people remain missing.

   It's easy to turn the TV off, to close your eyes to the news, and lose yourself in quotidian struggles. But while we grapple with mundanity, there are people who are facing once-in-a-century challenges with admirable courage. We should never allow ourselves to put them out of our mind. And, as the posters say, we shouldn't feel sorry for the people affected by the natural disaster, we should do everything in our ability to help them move forward.

   For more information on the Beacon of Rebirth Poster Project, please visit their homepage. 



Yesterday the incident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant was raised to a level seven - the maximum - on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES), putting the accident on a par with Chernobyl. Earlier in the day, the government expanded the evacuation area around the crippled nukes and created a two-kilometer zone that is off-limits to all but those engaged in disaster relief. All grim news, indeed, but how serious is it? While the Fukushima accident is now rated at the same level as the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, in which 64 people were confirmed to have died, in terms of casualties and effects on the environment, this accident is far less significant. So far. The Economist posted the following of nuclear incidents.


A week and a half ago, the AFP and Air Photo Service released a dozen photos, bird's eye shots of the crippled Fukushima power plants, taken by an unmanned drone that show the extent of the damage to the nuclear reactors.


 Photos by AFP/Air Photo Service