Saturday, September 10, 2011

Six Months Later

I remember exactly where I was on September 11th, 2001 when the planes hit the twin towers in New York. I was in our apartment in Tsunashima (we lived in Yokohama then) watching TV in bed (the 9 o'clock evening news was almost finished). We saw the second plane hit on live TV, and we guessed that this was no accident while the reporters were still scrambling, before they even figured out what was going on. We were glued to the TV, and were horrified as we watched the towers collapse. The world changed on that day, and it has never completely recovered. Understandably, today, many people in the US and elsewhere are remembering that day ten years ago, and remembering the 3000 people whose lives were taken so cruelly.

Today also marks exactly six months since the huge earthquake and tsunami devastated large parts of northern Japan. I will always remember where I was at 2:46 PM on March 11th, 2011 as well. I was here in our apartment, this time in the eastern suburbs of Tokyo. I will remember how when the earthquake started at first I kept sitting at my desk thinking it would be over soon. You get used to having little earthquakes happen on a fairly regular basis when you live in Japan. But I will remember how it didn't stop. How it kept getting stronger. How the whole apartment was swaying dramatically from side to side. I will remember how I wondered if this might be it. The Big One. And whether the building might collapse around me. (It was a big one, but not The Big One, as far as Tokyo was concerned, as we soon found out). And then when the earthquake did finally subside, I will remember how I, a little bit shakily, went back to my desk and was glued to Twitter for news and updates. I will remember watching on TV the utter horror of incredible waves of water inundating entire towns along the northern coast.

I will remember thinking that I was glad to have been at home when it happened because practically the entire train network in the Tokyo area stopped, and H had to walk home from work. He only had to walk an hour but in this city where many people commute long distances to work, some people walked all night to get home, while others were stranded. I will remember the panicky feeling that wouldn't go away, and the difficulty falling asleep that night as we waited for aftershocks.

In the days that followed, I will remember the shortage of food, toilet paper, and other essentials as people began hoarding food and supplies. I will remember checking radiation readings online every day, and watching as the situation at the Fukushima Nuclear Plant got worse and worse. Twitter and the Internet were truly invaluable resources in getting up to date information. And most of all I will remember thinking that we were lucky. In Tokyo, we were lucky. Everything was so much much worse in Tohoku. Approximately 16,000 people have been confirmed dead, with over 4000 still missing. Entire communities have been wiped out, and the entire Tohoku region faces a very long road to rebuild. Every time I see photos of the area that were destroyed by the tsunami I'm reminded of the photos of Hiroshima levelled from the atomic bombs of WWII.

2011 Tsunami Miyagi
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons and ChiefHira

Yesterday on Twitter, @stujallen asked me how my life has been affected by the tsunami. Well, for the first few days, and weeks, after the tsunami, it was very hard to relax, or think of anything else. Everyone was a little anxious. People hesitated to stray far from home. But as the weeks have turned to months, and now six months on, our lives have mostly returned to as they were before, except for some small, constant reminders. Tokyo still has a power shortage but thanks to the conservation efforts by businesses and residents alike, we didn't have any blackouts, even during the intense summer heat. Our electricity bills have actually gone down over the last few months as we make sure to turn off lights and appliances when we're not using them. And everywhere we go is a little darker but I kind of like it. Tokyo was too neon bright before. Now it looks more like other cities I've been to.

The stores are again well-stocked, but because of a couple cases of possibly radiation contaminated food slipping into the supply, I pay more attention to where everything comes from. I have an emergency bag ready to go at all times. Whenever I leave the house, I make sure that there is extra cat food and water, in case something happens and we can't get home right away. And every time I take an elevator, I hope that an earthquake doesn't trap me inside. I've also stopped watching the news religiously. The entire country is in a debate about the future of nuclear power in Japan, and they discuss is All. The. Time. I could happily never hear the words radiation, or nuclear, ever again. So most of the time I go about my life: teaching, cleaning, cooking, sleeping, reading. But in the back of my mind is always a niggling worry, and a feeling of grief. I didn't personally know anyone directly affected by the disaster, but every time I see images of the worst hit areas, I'm saddened again by the terrible loss.

Today is a day to remember all the lives that have been lost either through natural or man-made disaster. We must never forget, but life goes on as well, and like the stoic Japanese, we must carry on. I think the most important thing I've learned from this is that anything can happen, any time. Earthquakes, tsunamis, nuclear meltdowns, typhoons, hurricanes, tornadoes, terrorism, illness, or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. We need to treasure our loved ones, and enjoy our lives while we can.


  1. What a beautiful post. Your last few sentences were especially powerful. I'll spend the day remembering all those who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

  2. Earthquakes, tsunamis, nuclear meltdowns, typhoons, hurricanes, tornadoes, terrorism, illness, or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. We need to treasure our loved ones, and enjoy our lives while we can.

    So true, Nat. So true. Thank you for your beautiful and moving post.

  3. Owl 59 from Aichi, Japan.

    I second farmlanebooks's comment!

  4. Gorgeous, insightful, full of sadness and hope. It's painful how many people died in that tsunami...

    Yes, our loved ones are our greatest treasure. Never part angry & express your love often.

  5. Wonderful post Nat. I can't believe it has been 6 months already, and 10 years since 9/11.

  6. It's so true. You never know when something will happen so you have to live every minute. That was a beautiful post.

  7. Thanks for a beautiful and interesting post, Nat.

  8. Living

    The fire in leaf and grass
    so green it seems
    each summer the last summer

    The wind blowing, the leaves
    shivering in the sun,
    each day the last day.

    A red salamander
    so cold and so
    easy to catch, dreamily

    moves his delicate feet
    and long tail, I hold
    my hand open for him to go.

    Each minute the last minute

    Denise Levertov

  9. Beautiful post. Thanks so much, Nat.

  10. what a beautiful post! It's touching to think of the two tragedies together. And it's so sad that so many have died in Japan. So many more than in the twin towers. What a great reminder to treasure those we love.


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