Earthquakes are not unusual in Yokohama, Japan or in Tokyo. If fact, a big one has been predicted for years and people in the area have been living with the knowledge that a very big one could hit the area anytime. All Japanese are aware of that, including myself, but who would have thought that we’d experience it?
Rocking my world
It happened when I was visiting my mother in Yokohama on Friday afternoon. She lives in an assisted living community near my sister’s home and her room is on the 5th floor. We were talking, then we felt the tremor.
Everything started squeaking and rattling, the building shaking and swaying. Drawers came out. Things started falling down. It was truly terrifying. There were many more aftershocks, some of them big enough to scare us. The next few nights were restless and sleepless because of aftershocks.
Fortunately, all my family was safe and escaped any serious damage.
One foot in front of the other
Then, when the March 11 earthquake hit, we watched unfolding images of the tsunami devastating coastal towns and villages with horror, feeling helpless. It was almost unreal, beyond comprehension. In the face of the full force of nature, we humans are nothing.
Many people abroad were impressed by the calmness and orderliness of the Japanese during this catastrophe. But what can we do? So many lives were lost, so many people missing, so many people displaced. Many brave workers at the nuclear power plant are risking their own lives making every effort to stabilize it. We are fortunate to survive, let’s stay calm and stand behind the victims and carry on one day at a time.
On Sunday afternoon in Yokohama, we heard a loudspeaker going around the area saying,
The third reactor exploded not too long ago. Please go inside the house. Close the doors and windows. Don’t let children go outside, and if you don’t have any reason, please stay home.
The radiation threat was already very real, and it now appears that the crisis is far from over and the situation is rather discouraging. The frightening reality of radiation threat is not only for human beings, produce, and livestock, but also the contamination of soil, water, sea and air. I’m afraid the impact on our environment can’t be reversed. One organic farmer killed himself in desperation. He said: my land is finished.
We humans arrogantly thought we could harness nature; we could prevent disasters; we have all the safety measures for emergencies; YES, we are very well prepared. We were wrong.
Satellite communication systems, fortress-like tsunami barriers, designated shelters, local governments’ buildings, fire stations and police stations–everything was washed away and destroyed.
Shared vulnerabilities, shared suffering
Our emergency measures and back up systems are heavily depended on electricity, fuel and telephone communication. When everything is wiped out and infrastructure is gone, these are useless. This security depends on such thin thread.
More demand for energy created nuclear power plants without real solutions for spent fuels. Isn’t it time for us to think about how we live? Isn’t it time for us to think more about conserving energy, or more mindful ways to use energy or our resources? Isn’t it time for us to stop and think about safety and protection for us, for fellow creatures, for the whole creation? Can we ever be overzealous about the protection of our environment, this planet earth?
A prominent Japanese politician made an absurd, inappropriate comment; “This is Tenbatsu– a divine punishment.”
Where was God? The Lord was not in the wind,…. not in the earthquake,…. not in the fire. (1 Kings 19: 11-12)
Thou art with me
Where is God? Where is He…..?
A safely evacuated family in a shelter adopted a high-school student who was separated from his family. The matriarch of this family said, “It’s a pity for him to be alone during this time, so we adopted him. He is one of us for now.”
A lot of foreigners living in Japan already have evacuated, but there are quite a few of them volunteering in shelters or joining rescue efforts. They say they want to do something to help, because they have been welcomed warmly and kindly by Japanese.
Mr. Katagiri is a hair stylist. He was working in the beauty salon when the earthquake hit. After he helped his customers to evacuate safely, he ran to higher ground. The area where his pregnant wife worked was almost completely destroyed. He frantically searched for her in shelters, and finally found her in the morgue. He couldn’t sleep for a week because he couldn’t protect his wife and baby, he says. But after learning that his fellow hair stylist started volunteering, he retrieved his scissors from his ruined beauty parlor. He joined his friend and gives free hair cuts to the evacuees. He says he wants them to feel happy and wants to see smiles on their faces. He jokes with them, and encourages them.
A young mother gave birth to a healthy baby boy in a dark hospital with candlelight, encouraged by doctors, nurses, and midwives.
It was a life altering experience. I was completely thrown out of my comfort zone and security into uncertainty, anxiety. What we thought solid and firm was no longer solid or firm, and suddenly it became very fragile and unstable. What we can rely on is no longer something you can see and solid, but perhaps something we can’t see-bonds between people, love, compassion, goodwill toward people beyond borders. I’m so grateful that people all over the world are praying for Japan at this moment, not just at my church, not just at Trinity Episcopal Church in Staunton, Virginia. But everywhere.
The boundless size of love
It was a soul-searching moment in my life. Where is my home? In Japan with my family? Or in Staunton with my chosen family?
When I wasn’t sure if I could leave Japan or not, I really realized that my home is here in Staunton where my husbandRobert is, and where my extended family in Christ is, and the community where caring and loving friends wait for me to come home. At the same time I feel very much torn to be away from my own family who are facing uncertainty during this crisis. I’m concerned about their safety.
I feel very much torn to be away from my struggling country.
The promise in Christ
As I waited for Easter morning I developed hopes that I hope for still, that will sustain me in the time of rebuilding ahead.
I shall wait for the new beginning, rebirth and rebuilding in Japan. I will hope for the renewed commitment for safe and cleaner energy not only in Japan, but in the world. I will hope that the world will be more connected with love and compassion. I will hope that the international community will cooperate for the common good. I will hope that harmony and peace are restored to the environment. I will hope for the best outcome of this catastrophe not only for Japan, but also for the world.
I shall hope that the light – like the light of Christ, which penetrated even the darkest darkness of death—will shine in the hearts of people whose lives were disrupted so violently.
I shall hope for the day when we can say
Death be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so,…. One short sleep past, we wake eternally, And death shall be no more, Death thou shalt die.” (Divine Meditations 10, John Donne)
–Misa Kobayashi Stuart for Transition Voice