Thursday, April 2, 2015

TSUNAMI SCARS: THE STORY OF SENDAI


A group made up of  senior journalists,  news editors and  heads  of media organizations stand in front of a marble memorial  in a  primary school  at the edge of Sendai City, in the Miyagi Prefecture in Japan.
Carved  into the stone memorial are the words that echo the grief of the loss suffered by the people here  when an  8  meter high  tsunami  destroyed this place killing  over 500 men women and children.

             It is a chilly 8 degrees Celsius  and a steady breeze blows in from the shores of this once bustling residential area.   Members of the group unused to the cold stand shivering  yet are gripped  by the very personal stories being told by the  Japanese guide, Noriko and  her translator from Japan’s national broadcaster, NHK.

“The tsunami sirens did not sound as they should have,” says  Noriko. “The earlier earthquake damaged their mechanism  so there was no warning.
 “My son has never talked about that day. Only after  three years  has he spoken about his experiences.”
            Noriko’s son, Yuya  was 14 at the time of the  2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami and he still bears the emotional and psychological scars of that day.   His friend died  when the tsunami hit.  
In a society that values service  and sacrifice,   many of the children who lived and died  remained true to those values.
Fours years after the tsunami,  Yuya  told of how, his  friend had opted to stay back at home to care for his elderly, wheelchair bound  aunt instead of going to the shops with his friend.  Had he done, he would have lived and his aunt would have died alone.
On March 11, 2011,  a magnitude 9 earthquake, shook  North East  Japan.  The quake unleashed  the  massive  tsunami   that swept nearly everything it is path.
We were then taken to a manmade 6 meter high manmade hill  built in the 1920s by fishermen to  keep a look out on the weather.   Our guilds show the scars on a pine tree. The tsunami buried this hill two meters under when it came.
Everywhere, there are memorials.  Memorials not just for the present but for those who will come in the future.
The resilience of the Japanese  is nothing short of amazing.  Even with the immense grief   and loss that  shattered this once thriving fishing village,  the people are slowly rebuilding their lives.
The part of Sendai hit by the tsunami was home to a large elderly population as is the case in many Japanese cities.    Resettlement has been harder for them.   Noriko explains  that for that reason, whole communities have had to be resettled together   on temporary sites  so that the elderly maintain  the close  knit  relationships  that existed before the tsunami.
The Japanese Government has funded the reconstruction of  tsunami stricken site.  An additional four meters of earth is being  put on  the vast landscape.  Only by   2020 will the land will finally be ready for resettlement.
“Human beings  want things to go back to normal. So when the earthquake ended,  we  picked up our things and tried to continue doing what we were doing.  That is  when the water came.”
Today,  Noriko and her  people do what they have done for generations in this disaster prone  nation -  they pick up the pieces, learn the lessons   and  live again.

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