Two Years on, Japan Remembers

tsunami

This Monday, people in Japan and around the world will take time to pause to reflect on one of the most shocking natural disasters  in recent memory, the Great East Japan Earthquake.

It is impossible to encapsulate the full  impact and effects of the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011 in Japan. It is even harder when you include the subsequent nuclear crisis that was a direct result of those events. The 2011 quake and tsunami are considered to be the most powerful to hit Japan in modern times, leaving almost 16,000 dead, over 6,000 injured, and many others missing.

Along with the tremendous amount of buildings and other structures that were completely destroyed, perhaps the most frightening and far reaching impact is the nuclear contamination that occurred in the disaster zone, which has turned some areas into ghost towns reminiscent of Chernobyl. Its still unknown what the long-term impact will be for the population exposed to radiation, but some estimate that significant numbers are now at greater risk of certain cancers.

The 2011 quake and tsunami are considered to be the most powerful to hit Japan in modern times, leaving almost 16,000 dead, over 6,000 injured, and many others missing.

Although the original quake only lasted for six minutes, ultimately, it has been called the most expensive natural disaster in world history in terms of economic impact.

Since the initial earthquake, what has improved and what has not? First of all, we must reluctantly face the negative. There is still some trepidation over the safety of visiting the Tohoku region, particularly Fukushima, which is where the affected nuclear plants are located. Tourism has taken a hit due to concerns over radioactive contamination with hotel bookings in northeastern Japan down at least 20% in 2012 according to the Japan Tourism Agency. Additionally, export produce from the region is still not accepted in some parts of Japan as well as many other countries.

Although reconstruction efforts have been ongoing, they have been slow and arduous, mainly due to the massive amounts of debris to be cleared which has hampered the recovery. This has also meant many survivors have had to remain in temporary shelters while they wait for more permanent housing to be built.

Lastly, there has been some controversy over what to do with Japan’s remaining nuclear power plants and this issue is not likely to be resolved anytime soon. The government had been criticized by protesters for its lack of resolve in this regard, but a new Prime Minister (Shinzo Abe) was recently elected who actually supports nuclear power.

Mental health care is also in the spotlight due to PTSD-like symptoms experienced by some quake and tsunami victims.

On the positive side of things, many lessons were learned from the events of March 11. More sophisticated tsunami warning systems have been put in place; not just in Japan, but in other sensitive areas like Hawaii and the west coast of North America. Post-quake, even those in Japan’s capital were forced to adjust their working hours to minimize energy use, and as a result, there is also a growing awareness in Japan  about the importance of energy conservation.

Young people,  not just Tohoku but all areas of Japan,  have expressed greater interest in doing something positive for society, with a reported 25% increase in the number of high school students who want to do volunteer work since 3.11.11. Mental health care is also in the spotlight due to PTSD-like symptoms experienced by some quake and tsunami victims.

Cultural exchanges have increased, particularly between Japanese children who survived the disaster and students from schools around the world. Many of those who were orphaned following the quake and tsunami have traveled to places as far afield as the UK and the United States to share their stories, supported by innumerable charity funds that continue to receive donations.

By Tim Holm

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