New Emissary

Japan: A Sombre Anniversary

One month after the earthquake and tsunami devastated parts of the country, moods remain sombre. Rightfully so?

It’s been a month since the 9.0 earthquake and resulting tsunami struck Japan’s north-eastern coast and caused so much destruction and loss for the communities there.

In some ways it was a surreal series of events that for some are inevitably fading into a past many want to forget.

Yet, even today it’s being reported that the Japanese government will soon officially declare the 20-km evacuation zone surrounding the damaged Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant legally off-limits where according to The Japan Times, despite the dangers, ‘desperate residents have been braving radiation fears for quick return trips to pick up essential belongings.’ These facts serve to remind us that thousands are still suffering from great losses, having lost homes, loved ones, their livelihoods—that will take years, not months, to recover from.

Not to be forgotten also are the tireless workers who continue to risk their lives daily at the troubled Fukushima plant; a situation that remains at best, still uncertain. Yesterday, government special advisor Goshi Hosono publicly announced that to the press that the threat posed by possible radiation leaks will take much longer than originally expected to resolve. ‘While we have to resolve that problem as quickly as possible, it will likely take several months to achieve that goal,’ he told reporters. Meanwhile, at Koenji station in Tokyo, thousands of protestors, mainly in their 20s and 30s, held a peaceful protest against nuclear power. ‘Stop polluting the air and water,’ and ‘Don't trust the government’ were just some of the messages being expressed there, a kind of disenchantment and unhappiness rarely openly expressed by young Japanese—especially toward their leadership. Perhaps the crisis has stirred a new vigor in the country’s future generations.

Indeed, despite wanting to leave such large-scale tragedy behind, in reality, it’s hard and simply not appropriate to try and forget March 11, 2011.

Over the weekend, as I walked through several Tokyo neighborhoods usually packed with people for cherry blossom viewing parties, or hanami, I noticed that they were much, much less crowded than usual. The soft pink cherry blossoms characteristic of the season however, were out in full-force, and a beautiful but sombre sight—at least from my perspective. In one park I passed through, two young women initially appeared to be drinking cocktails and celebrating hanami on a mat spread out on a small footbridge overlooked by cherry blossom trees. However, they were sitting there with a makeshift box, collecting money for victims up north.

There are many dedicated groups and individuals helping with fundraising and relief for those affected by the Japan earthquake and tsunami, and we will continue mentioning some of these as they come up over the coming weeks, and months.