The Great East Japan Earthquake-5 Years Later

Japanese flag at half mast on 3/11
Japanese flag at half mast on 3/11

March 11, 2011 may not be a date that means anything to most of you. Maybe it’s a birthday or perhaps an anniversary. A day like any other. But for Japan, March 11th marks the day when families were suddenly torn apart, communities were destroyed, and life would never be the same again.

If you’re American, I would compare March 11th in Japan to September 11th in the U.S. ten years earlier. Everyone has a story, everyone can tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing on that day. Time is marked as either “before” or “after”. And while 9/11 was traumatic for so many people and began a chain of events no one had predicted, the utter destruction of the Japan earthquake and tsunami dwarfs the losses we faced in the U.S.

It is estimated that the tsunami flooded about 217 sq.miles (561 sq.kilometers) in Japan and over 15,000 people lost their lives, with about 2,500 still reported missing. The earthquake shook the country for around 6 terrifying minutes, moving the island of Honshu eastward by about 8 feet (2.4 meters), shortening the day by a millisecond, and producing a low-frequency rumble picked up by satellites.

My KitaIbaraki day trip. Map of what was washed out by the tsunami.
My KitaIbaraki day trip. Map of what was washed out by the tsunami.
Same area in 2016, rebuilt.
Same area in 2016, rebuilt.

Recovery in the northeast is ongoing but not proceeding as quickly as most people would like. And with almost 59,000 people from the hardest affected areas still in temporary housing there is a long way to go.

But from the darkness, there is always light and the strength of the Japanese people in the face of disaster never ceases to amaze me. Their ability to pull together to do what needs to be done is incredible and the world can learn so much from how ordinary people reacted in the aftermath of this disaster.

When I first arrived in Japan and started work, without even asking, I was told the stories of my coworkers experiences. This city is on the eastern coast of Japan, not untouched by either the earthquake or the tsunami. I saw the cracks in the walls in the school hallway, the buildings still standing at a slant, the debris and boats halfway up the cliff-sides at the beach. I hear the kids talk about the nightmares a few of them still have, the favorite vacation spot that’s no longer there, and the teachers who were responsible for keeping their students safe even as they were scared for their families. I have so much respect for all of them.

Breakwaters added to the Seaside Park near me.
Breakwaters added to the Seaside Park near me.

But time passes and scientists do their work and new breakwaters and seawalls are built. In the past few years I’ve been here, there has been a lot of work done to save the beaches and surrounding areas from future events. The buildings still stand at a slant and the boats remain on the cliff and people never forget, but they do keep going.

Every March 11th at 2:46pm a moment of silence is held. The kids stop studying and their club activities pause so they can remember what happened, honoring all the people that were lost. But when the two minutes are up, the soccer balls start flying and the textbooks are reopened. The Earth keeps on turning and though different from “before”, life goes on.

To help the affected areas check out the Nozomi Project. Women are hired and trained to create beautiful jewelry from shards of ceramics destroyed by the tsunami. Buy something and help them out! They do good work.

(NOTE: I don’t get anything from this, I just really like their work and think it’s a cool idea!)

For more information on the 2011 Japan Earthquake and Tsunami:

Japan Quake Map: Time Lapse of earthquakes on March 11, 2011 (SO COOL!)- You can also check other dates.

Live Science: Japan EQ and Tsunami Facts and Information

Google Map: GeoLocated Videos of Earthquake and Tsunami

NHK World: EQ and Tsunami Recovery Efforts (Stories and News)

New York Times: Cleaning Up Fukushima-5 Years Later

Live Science: Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Timeline

Japan Times: Survivor Stories

Japan Times: Survivor Stories, Book Recommendation

YouTube: 15 mins. Earthquake and Tsunami footage

YouTube: 1 hour Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Documentary

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