Do you remember what you were doing a year ago from today? I do. Like it was yesterday. It was my last day of work before a one week ski holiday in Austria. Packed with a huge bag, I took the bus to the train station as usual. I took the train to the city I work in as usual. I met my workmate at the station as usual. I had to get some money, so we took a detour to the bank on the way to the office. I remember how I thought what a nice early spring day it was when I stepped out of the bank. My workmate was checking the news on his phone. He looked at me and said: “There’s been an earthquake in Japan.” I knew that an earthquake isn’t unusual in Japan at all. It’s a part of everyday life. Something you get used to. You have no choice. But from the look on his face I knew it wasn’t just an earthquake. It was bad. Really bad. Just how bad, we couldn’t imagine at the time.
I quickly scanned the article on the phone. I felt like someone was pushing a knife right into my heart. Over and over again. I couldn’t breathe. What about all my friends in Japan? The people I’ve worked and shared my life with for months? I had to get to the office as fast as I could. I had to know if everybody was ok. So we ran. Instead of having my usual coffee and nutella bread, I went straight on Facebook. A lot of people had already posted updates. And they were all ok. Thank God! I was so relieved, I almost had to cry. I also checked with my friend in Paris who had worked with me at the cafe in Tokyo. She had heard from the staff and they were all ok as well.
The relief didn’t last too long, though. I spent the next hours reading through everything I could find on the topic. I watched disturbing footage from the earthquake and the following tsunami. I saw skyscrapers swaying like grass in the wind. I saw people running from the water in panic. I saw houses and trucks being swept away by the flood like toys. It was all surreal. It couldn’t be true. How could the country that I loved so much, that had been my home away from home, that I dreamt about so often be put into so much suffering? I couldn’t concentrate on work that day. I felt confused and nauseous. And above all, I didn’t feel like going on a holiday. Of course, I went, but I felt bad enjoying my life while a catastrophe bigger than we could ever imagine was unfolding. When I wasn’t out on the slopes, I was sitting in front of the TV or the computer following the news that were more and more disturbing everday. Every morning I was scared of the news that were awaiting me.
I was a kid when the Chernobyl incident happened. Even though we were living more than 1000 km away from the atomic plant, the sand in our sandbox had to be exchanged. We didn’t eat mushrooms or wild animals that were shot in the forests around us for many years. So I couldn’t help but feel that something was going very wrong in Japan. But I don’t want to get political here. Today I want to express my admiration for the strength the Japanese people showed to the world over the past year. I want to pay respect to the selfless volunteers who risked their lives, who helped rebuild the areas that were devastated by the earthquake and the tsunami, who gave hope to all the people that had lost their loved ones and their homes. We should never forget about the thousands of people who lost their lives in this tragedy – unlike the media who seems to have turned this into a mere political topic. I hope the Japanese people will keep on fighting and that the rest of the world will keep on supporting them in their healing process. And most of all I’m hoping they will never ever have to face something like this ever again. Ganbatte Nihon!
Feel free to share your thoughts on this in the comments!
In the city of Mainz (where I’m living) some people founded a Charity to help the victims of the disaster. They’re organizing a photo exhibition to remember this sad anniversary and to raise donations for those still affected by the aftermath. If you’re living in the area, please come and visit. You can learn more about it here.
And if you can spare some money, please donate! There are plenty of charities supporting the cause.