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information about Fukushima published in English in Japanese media info publiée en anglais dans la presse japonaise

Post-disaster mourning

March 13, 2017


VOX POPULI: To relive our 3/11 experiences now and then is hard but necessary



“Aren’t you feeling lonely without me being near you?” a mother asked in a letter to her 6-year-old daughter who died in the harrowing disaster that struck Japan’s northeastern Tohoku region in March 2011. “Are you playing happily with your friends? Are you eating well?”

“I want to see you again, even if it is in a dream,” the mother writes. “I want to embrace you.”

Her letter to her deceased daughter is included in “Hiai” (sorrowful love), a collection of letters written by people who lost their loved ones in the disaster. The collection was compiled by Kiyoshi Kanebishi, a professor at Tohoku Gakuin University, as a record of personal tragedies caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake.

In another letter in the book, a widow writes about why she talks every day to the family Buddhist altar dedicated to her late husband. Otherwise, she writes, he is likely to say, “Who are you?” when she meets him again in the future as an old woman with a wrinkled face.

“When we laugh here, you also laugh with us, don’t you?” says one passage in a letter written by a woman to her deceased younger sister.

Six years since the crushing calamity, many of the people bereaved of their loved ones still continue struggling with a profound sense of loss and mourning.

Back then, the post-disaster reconstruction was compared to Japan’s postwar regeneration.

Various ideas were proposed as to how a new future should be built for the nation through a process as dramatic as Japan’s rise from the ashes after the end of World War II.

But the expectations for a new future appear to have been replaced by inertia.

Evacuees from areas affected by the nuclear disaster are still suffering from verbal abuse and prejudice.

As the landscapes of devastated cities and towns change, the initial impact of the experience inevitably weakens over time. Memories of what happened on that day become increasingly hazy and eventually die out.

That’s why we need to make efforts to relive and revisit our experience of the disaster from time to time.

A huge banner was recently hung on the side of a building in Tokyo’s Ginza district to show how high the tsunami was when it hit the city of Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture, on that day.

As I looked up at the red line on the banner indicating the maximum height at which the tsunami was observed, roughly as high as a five-story building, I felt dizzy.

It was a balmy weekend day when Ginza was bustling with shoppers.

The chilling sign made me appreciate afresh our ordinary, uneventful daily lives and also aware of how easily they could be destroyed.

--The Asahi Shimbun, March 12


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