Extract of SAKURA, SAKURA (from page 23 to page 24)
The Land of the Rising Sun and the Power of Nature
Two days later, on September 6th at 3:08 am. As if the typhoon was not enough, tonight I am woken by an earthquake. “Wow, what’s happening this time?” I say to myself. It’s a long one. It feels like forever, but it lasts only seconds rather than minutes. Then another one! “My goodness!” Then nothing, only the Village Office announcing that there is no risk of tsunami over the town’s broadcasting system. So, I fall asleep again. The children haven’t moved. They must be deeply asleep. This earthquake, the most disruptive during my stay in Japan, left 5.3 million residents without power, 41 deaths and nearly 700 injured. Its magnitude was 6.6 on the Richter scale and its epicentre was at a depth of 35 km, near Tomakomai, in Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan. This earthquake was not only felt in Hokkaido and in our prefecture, Aomori-ken, but as far as 1000 km away in the Kantō region, where Tokyo is located.
After this incident, Itsuko-san shared with me her experience of the Great East Japan Earthquake, off the Pacific coast in Tōhoku, in 2011. I had seen it on TV, like everyone else around the world, but having it explained by someone who was there and had experienced it, is something unforgettable. The earthquake had a magnitude of 9, the most powerful since records began in Japan, and it triggered powerful tsunami waves, which started at 700 km/h in deep water and travelled for up to 10 km inland, reaching an altitude of 40 metres. The people of Sendai had only a ten-minutes warning to evacuate before the tsunami hit the shore. More than 19,000 didn’t make it and were killed.
Itsuko-san, who was living south of Sendai, in Ibaraki Prefecture, at the time told me that as soon as it happened, the power went off and remained off for three days. Water was unavailable for two or three weeks, supermarkets were closed. Because the roads were so badly damaged, petrol could not be delivered. Without light, it was dangerous to be walking at night. The drivers were not careful. Itsuko-san remembers, “The good thing about all that is that the community worked together, everyone helping each other out during a tough time. Of course, there were exceptions, not everyone did, but overall, the event brought everyone closer together.”
I think of this as a part of the Japanese way of life. Typhoons and earthquakes become normal. But still, these two cases being as aggressive as they were, were both exceptions. Such extreme events occur only sporadically and luckily when they do, we are very well informed. Everyone has an application on their phone, warning about all sorts of natural incidents such as typhoons, earthquakes or tsunamis. What I find extraordinary is that these two large events occurred in such close proximity, just one day after each other. The experience helped me come to better understand Japanese people’s approach to life. A more practical, down to earth approach where they enjoy the simple things in life. I guess living in such a place makes people see life in a different, more ephemeral, way. Something that can be lost at any time. The lesson to be learnt is that life is worth being lived, not feared.