Note: I'm now a regular monthly columnist for Discover Nikkei, the multilingual project of the Japanese American National Museum. For years they've repurposed my blog posts, but now the tables will be turned: I'll write something for DN first, then post them afterwards here. This is the first column I wrote for them.
Consul General of Japan at Denver Makoto...
It's almost a year since the 9.0-level Great East Japan Earthquake, as the disaster is now officially called, and the subsequent tsunami devastated a huge swath of the Tohoku region along the country's northeast coast. With the anniversary looming, many communities in the U.S are planning commemorative events, and many people are remembering how they learned of the disaster.
The initial news of the earthquake, which struck at 2:46 PM local time on March 11, 2011, were horrific: I got an email alert and tuned in CNN late at night Denver time on March 10, and saw the tsunami devour entire towns, outracing cars of residents trying to escape its path. The total toll as of February was over 15,000 confirmed dead with over 3,000 still missing. The tsunami that wreaked most of the havoc after the earthquake was as high as 40.5 meters, or 133 feet -- that's 13 stories high -- and washed as far as 10 kilometers, or six miles, inland. Entire towns were erased in one terrible wave. And with the added terror of nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai Ichi nuclear plant, a town and its entire surrounding shave become toxic and closed off for decades, with lives interrupted, homes abandoned.
The reaction to the disaster on both sides of the Pacific was swift and supportive. Nationally, JACL announced a partnership with Direct Relief International, which has now given more than $2.4 million in donations to eight organizations in Japan -- 100% of all donations went to recovery efforts, with no administrative fees taken out. The American Red Cross takes out a portion of all donaions to pay for administative fees, but it's the best-known relief organization in times of crisis, and by the end of summer the Red Cross announced it had given $260 million to tsunami relief in Japan.
Beyond such high-profile efforts, there were dozens of fundraising events and benefit concerts across the U.S including in Denver, where a number of fundraising events were held to channel money to recovery efforts. The Red Cross in Colorado raised $3 million for Japan. The Japan America Society of Colorado raised more than $126,000 over the few months and hand-delivered a check directly to aid agencies on the ground in the affected part of Japan at he end of the summer. (Full disclosure: I'm a board member of JASC, although I wasn't involved in the fundraising efforts.)
The Asian Pacific Development Center's "Power of Solidarity" concert, which was held just weeks after the quake, raised over $30,000. There were other concerts organized on the fly to raise money for disaster relief and recovery efforts.
All of the expressions of goodwill and condolences -- and donations, and volunteer aid workers -- from around the world were much appreciated by the Japanese government. In the run-up to the March 11 first anniversary of the disaster, the Japanese government has been sending out groups of diplomatic emissaries to thank communities for their help.
A couple of weeks ago, Yoshio Onodera, the Director of Risk Management for Miyagi Prefecture, the state most affected by the tsunami, visited Denver with a delegation to show his government's appreciation.
There are going to be lots of stories, videos and commemorations of last year's earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan in the coming weeks. The first anniversary of the disaster is March 11. I've seen photos compiled by the Consulate General's office and the recovery efforts have been remarkable, although there are still many thousands of people living like refugees...
Three local taiko drum groups, Denver Taiko, Mirai Daiko and Taiko with Toni, are hosting "Heartbeat for Japan: A Taiko Benefit," a concert to raise funds for relief efforts in Japan, on Sat March 26, 7 pm at Colorado Heights University (formerly Loretto Heights) Auditorium at 3001 S. Federal Blvd. Admission is free but donations will be accepted. This should be a terrific evening of thundering drums for a great cause.
Unless you live in California, most Americans can't imagine what it's like to be in a minor earthquake, never mind a major one. As a kid in Japan, I lived through lots of little quakes. They were no big deal. If the quake seemed serious or went on too long, we'd simply go outside and wait. But there was never a major quake when I lived in Japan.
In the 1990s, on a trip to Japan with my mother, an earthquake hit just after I checked into a hotel in Sapporo. I was hanging up shirts and jackets in the closet when they started swaying. We were on the 10th floor so I could feel the building swaying at least two or three feet. I had a flash of fear, and opened the door to the room and wedged myself in the doorway as a safety precaution (I think it's something I remembered from my childhood), but I knew if the building collapsed standing in the doorway wouldn't help. I looked out the door, and no one else seemed as concerned as me, except my mom poked her head out of her room.
As it turned out, the temblor didn't cause much damage in Sapporo, the largest city in the northern-most Japanese island of Hokkaido. But two days later when we arrived in Nemuro, my mom's hometown at the easternmost tip of Hokkaido, we saw the power of the "jishin," or earthquake. Roads were humped up in the middle and the pavement split like the top of a loaf of bread, and in the town's cemetery, my grandfather's memorial had crumbled into a pile of rubble. But life went on as normal. Luckily there were no casualties from that quake, and there was no tsunami that followed in its wake.
The Great Tohoku Kanto Earthquake, which is now what the Japanese call the March 11 disaster, is the strongest earthquake in the country's recorded history. That's saying something for a country where quakes are so common there are established rules for what you're supposed to do when they strike, like people in Kansas are taught from childhood what to do if a tornado touches down.
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