Today is a day of remembrance and reflection. The destruction endured by this great country two years ago was immense, the loss of life unfathomable. I don't even have the words to explain it. As with others, I have been heartened to see so many messages of love and support from around the world being shared through social networks today.
I have also seen many pictorials comparing the scene then and now, as a testament to the work of locals and volunteers. It is undeniable that an amazing amount of work has been put into the clean-up to date. To every person who gave their time, money and energy to assist in this effort, we thank you.
In taking nothing away from the instrumental efforts of volunteers, what alarms me is the distorted impression these images convey, and the fact that they almost counter what we are trying to get the world to understand.
Sure, roads have been cleared and debris moved. But debris like that doesn't just vanish. It's still there, believe me, massive mountains of it. Moved to temporary dumping sites all around the region where it sits waiting. Waiting to be disposed of, somewhere, somehow, some day. The problem with tsunami debris is that even burnable items can no longer simply be burned. It's now toxic. And because of that, most prefectures don't want to share any of the burden of processing it. Then of course there are other materials that require other considerations – the plastics, the metals – all in mountains of refrigerators, mounds of washing machines, rows of vehicles. Turn that camera lens in a different direction and you'll see this picture too. This is not even to mention the situation in the Fukushima exclusion zone. With only 2-5% of the area decontaminated, the clean-up hasn't even started. A whole area now a rotting nuclear wasteland.
My second concern with these comparison posts is that showing pictures with nothing much there at all is somehow meant to illustrate that the job is done? Clearing these main areas of debris was necessary and vital, and the job huge. Yet now that many major areas have been cleared, what now? These communities are not starting from zero, they are starting from well into the negatives. Without homes, businesses, schools and industry, what hope do these towns have to survive? Where do you even begin to rebuild? Do you rebuild there at all? This is just the beginning of a complex web of decision-making that will take years, decades. Most don't even have a blueprint.
Thirdly, and one that is perhaps most concerning, is the emotional toll of the disaster. Today we talk a lot about those who died, as we should, but sometimes we don't think as much about those who survived, the “lucky” ones. It's not so easy to have survived when others didn't, when there is nothing left, when the future seems bleak. There's a lot to worry about. A lot of things to make you feel helpless, hopeless.
Today is a day of remembrance, it is also a call for action. You may be wondering what you can do? Here are four things you can do to make a difference.
There's still a lot to be done, but the constant pressure of funding makes it difficult for community-based organizations to carry out the measures needed to assist recovering communities.
Two organizations who are working at the local level and whose activities we have personally witnessed and been a part of are:
It's Not Just Mud – a non-profit volunteer organization based in Ishinomaki that provides disaster relief and grass-roots support to those affected by the 3.11 disasters.
Playground of Hope – a “social fabric” project building playgrounds for disaster-affected communities to give children a safe place to play again, and as a means of bringing displaced communities together.
If you are in Japan or planning a trip here, we recommend getting up to Tohoku to see the situation for yourself, and playing a part in the re-building and recovery process. We guarantee you'll be glad you did.
See It's Not Just Mud's website for details of volunteer openings.
3. Buy local
Especially if you are in Japan, an easy way that we can support Tohoku is by choosing to buy local products.
The first anyone can do, the next three are for those in the Tokyo area. If you know of other ways people can support local Tohoku business in Tokyo, Japan or anywhere in the world, please share them in the comments section below.
Support an Ishinomaki local by picking up a copy of Hashimoto's Tohoku Recipes. More than a cookbook, this is an inspirational story of a woman and her husband who used their life savings to cook thousands of hot meals for volunteers following the disaster. Click here for more and to learn how you can win a signed copy on our blog!
b) Coco Miyagi, Ikebukuro, Tokyo
A revival store selling delicious food products, as well as other items, from Miyagi prefecture. Grab some local sake (Japanese rice wine) and a copy of Hashimoto mama's excellent recipe book while you're there.
c) Ishinomaki Fukko Marche, Nakano-ku, Tokyo
They sell local products from Ishinomaki and hold an event every Saturday. They are looking for volunteers to help support their weekly events. Some of the volunteers speak English so even if you can't speak Japanese, you can get involved!
The first harvest of oysters from Kobuchihama since the tsunami are now awaiting your taste buds at Tamuro restaurant in Kuhonbutsu, Tokyo. Support the fishermen and their families by enjoying an amazing course dinner. Click here to read about our personal experiences assisting the fishermen from this bay to cultivate them.
4) Think global
Have you volunteered? Write about it on your blog, email your friends, submit your writing to media outlets.
Found a good resource, watched an interesting documentary, heard about an upcoming seminar on issues related to the disasters? Share these updates with your friends.
Together we can keep Tohoku in people's minds!
We shouldn't look at Japan's situation as something that has passed. Unfortunately, this will not be the last natural/man-made disaster we will see. Ultimately, what can we learn from what happened in Japan? How can we better address needs in the wake of a major disaster? What questions have been raised, particularly in the area of our nuclear future? A nuclear problem anywhere, is a nuclear problem everywhere. Have you thought about your feelings on nuclear energy? Perhaps your country has since started to re-evaluate its own stance on the topic since Fukushima. Whatever your feelings about any of it, be informed, comment and engage. Be a global citizen.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post. Please stop to remember today, but going forward, let's not forget what still has to be done.
If you are in the Tokyo area, please consider joining us for our next fundraising photo walk event in support of It's Not Just Mud on Wednesday, 20 March 2013, at Ueno Zoo.
あの日から2年。希望と絆と共にいつまでも日本を応援しています。Two years on, standing with you in hope and solidarity, Japan.