Tag Archives: Tohoku

Letter from Tokyo

Since the earthquake, Tokyo-based urbanist Christian Dimmer has written a number of excellent articles about the options for reconstruction. His latest, for the Australian Design Review, contains the same clear-sighted assessment of the problems and the future facing Northern Japan.

One of the biggest is that some residents would like to see everything restored to how it was before the disaster, while others in Tohoku are concerned that if the opportunity to remodel the region is missed it will only hasten its decline. What is at stake is not just buildings, as the article notes:

Rebuilding should be seen less as an end in itself but instead as a continuous process through which civil society develops more fully, communities can once again grow closer and the entire country can become more resilient and self-reliant.

The consequences of mistakes and mis-steps will be terrible for the famously irrepressible people of Northern Japan, as some news stories have already shown. Get it right and Tohoku can have a future to look forward to, one which offers hope to the rest of the country and beyond its shores.

It is, I believe, far too important a responsibility to leave to politicians. If we want to live in strong communities, we have to be prepared to build and maintain them.

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Seeking for the words

My good friend let off from soaking in the mortal bath long enough to send me an email and, having been moved by its words, I believe it is worth sharing. Taken from the newsletter of Ichiroya Kimono Flea Market in Osaka, it is a heartfelt reflection on the anniversary of two weeks ago.

The words of the owner of the kimono store resonate with emotions that will be familiar to anyone who has spent time in Japan in the last 12 months, as he contemplates how life has been changed by the events of 11 March. He wonders if positive messages can be of much help to the people of Tohoku in their struggle to continue. He feels sure that he wouldn’t be able to, that it must be too soon to be ‘getting over’ the losses they have suffered.

In a letter full of apposite thoughts, however, these are the words which particularly resonated with me:

There are so many charity concerts and events, but on the other hands, there are also many writers, artists, and singers who became not to write, or play music. One popular woman writer was saying in an interview the other day, she feels very responsible to express in appropriate words about this disaster but she is still seeking for the words.

I have written a lot about Japan in the last 12 months, but when it came down to it, I couldn’t write on 11 March 2012. I didn’t attend any of the formal memorial events, but chose to spend time with a book and a tea in my favourite Tokyo park, hoping that a normal Sunday – kids playing, adults relaxing, sun shining – would stand as its own memorial to the lives destroyed that day.

But the sadness was a weight on my chest that I couldn’t lift and the normality felt shocking, as if the city by continuing with its usual weekend routines had somehow forgotten what had taken place, although there can have been little else on people’s minds as the hands of the clocks moved round to 2:46.

Perhaps attending one of the memorial events in Miyagi would have helped, but I know from reading the accounts of those who did that there were other troubling thoughts to contend with. This excellent account by Kimberly Hughes and Sheila Souza, volunteers with Foreign Volunteers Japan, talks about how hard it was to avoid feeling like a voyeur, especially while surrounded by news crews. They also write of how, in the face of such destruction, encouraging people with the word ‘Gambatte!’ (do your best/hang in there) is not enough.

Perhaps a better choice of words – closer to those appropriate ones that we are seeking – is simply to say to everyone who suffers: ‘we are here’. Whether that means physically assisting with the rebuilding effort, donating cash or supplies or standing by to provide what Ruthie Iida so astutely notes as essential in her illuminating essay:

listening ears, understanding hearts, kind words, and shared grief.

Twelve months is too soon for many people, I am sure, and the anniversary for some is a beginning not an ending. There will be many more days of sadness before the pain can heal. Although words now seem weak in the face of such anguish, my hope is that we won’t be discouraged from the search for those that may eventually provide some small comfort to all those who mourn.

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After the Wave

After the Wave is a great film, a poignant, must-watch personal account of a visit to his hometown in Miyagi by Tokyo-based audio engineer Soshi Yamaguchi. In the film, Soshi’s father Ikuo says:

There’s no quick fix, that’s not the nature of this disaster. 10 years, 20 years, we need to think long term.

Offering a useful perspective on the disaster and its implications – as people featured in the film talk about returning to their destroyed hometowns, driving down roads which used to be familiar but which have become part of the sea – this is powerful yet intimate film-making and well worth watching.

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The Teas That Bind

My new book is available for download!

Surviving earthquakes, one brew at a time.

The book comprises posts written for ten minutes hate since the Great East Japan earthquake struck on 11 March 2011, along with emails, tweets and status updates sent over the last year. There are photographs – some you may have seen before and some exclusive to this book – along with plenty of new material about what happened on the day, how fundraising efforts came together for #quakebook and how I became a volunteer with It’s Not Just Mud in Tohoku.It is my attempt at answering the question ‘what was it like?’

Copies of the e-book are available from Amazon and Smashwords.

Please don’t worry if you don’t have an e-book reader – you can download a free application from Amazon to read it on any computer, or Smashwords can make it available for you as a PDF. If you really can’t do without pages to turn, then – never fear! – a print version is on its way.

My thanks to all the talented people who have helped me make The Teas That Bind look and read as well as it does. I hope you enjoy the book!

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Japan Remembers, 11 March 2012

Fishing boats in Kobuchihama, Oushika penninsular, Miyagi Prefecture

March 2012

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Cover art

image

The cover of my new book, with thanks to the amazing Barney Meeks:

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Ishinomaki – Then and Now

Recently arrived back in Tokyo from another trip North and still attempting to unravel my answers to the natural question of ‘how was it?’  Perhaps this will help.  The following is a documentary from Paul Johannessen, which interviews tsunami survivors about their lives, as well as featuring footage of Ishinomaki taken in April and November 2011.

The film is as moving as you would expect, but it is also a really accurate reflection of life in the ruined areas now that priorities are moving from short-term to long-term survival.  Big questions about the future – some connected to issues which existed before 11 March – can no longer be avoided.  Key amongst them is: where will the jobs come from?  With high unemployment causing despair and an increase in suicides, it is as critical to rebuild the economy of Tohoku as it is to repair homes and roads.

Perhaps that can happen little by little, as with the physical rebuilding, or perhaps it requires a bigger effort towards a grander vision, one which it won’t shock seasoned watchers of the Japanese government to learn does not appear to be coming from Tokyo.  Instead, groups like TEDxTohoku and Ishinomaki 2.0 are trying to bring people together to shape what needs to happen next for places like Ishinomaki to get past clinging on and start thriving again.

It won’t be an easy task, but if – as noted in the video – more people are inspired to begin ‘shaping our own place to live’, then it should not take too long for hope to return to the devastated areas of North East Japan.

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