Mar 23

Reflections on an earthquake


The world is watching Japan, grieving for her loss of life,  livelihood,  and communities.  The uncertainty of the nuclear reactors melting down looms for Japan and the world.  Already we are seeing an increase in radiation levels here on the BC coast.  Everyone is tense and distrusting of news reports which tell us “there’s no problem here”.  We’re all on edge.

This disaster has brought back so many memories for me.  I moved to Japan in the fall of 1994 and experienced the Great Hanshin Kobe earthquake in January 1995  from the 26th floor of a highrise in Nagoya.  I was staying with a friend who had a spacious aparto with two bedrooms,  a rarity for single occupants.  We woke suddenly to a violent shaking.  We were sleeping Japanese style, futon on tatami mats, and really felt the movement.  I asked my friend what was happening.  She replied “earthquake”; only one word, uttered very softly.  The shaking stopped ; a minute later, the building began swaying in a circular motion.  I couldn’t speak;  my heart was racing.  After it stopped, I asked “what are you doing?”; she replied, “hanging onto the china buffet”. It was too ridiculous; we both laughed, long and hard, more to release tension than anything else.

We made a pot of tea with a splash of rum,  turned on the television and watched the news.  The epicenter was off shore near Kobe. No television cameras showed the damage; nothing.  After awhile we went back to bed, expecting aftershocks and the possibility we’d need to evacuate.

Over the next week the seriousness of the earthquake continued to be downplayed by the government.  Soon, however, reports on the ground shared a different story.  Kobe was flattened;  freeways toppled, lying helplessly on their sides;  fires burned out of control for days.  It took years to recover some sense of normalcy in Kobe.  Everyone in the foreign community knew someone who lived there.  But, like the Tohoku region post-earthquake, Kobe phones were down; no internet service; food and water shortages commonplace.  It was days before we heard any news from other teachers.  Some of it was good; some not.

These seaside communities are no more. Thousands are now reported dead;  thousands more missing.  We’ll continue to see those numbers rise,  just as they did in Kobe.  Perhaps underestimating the numbers at the start works to help the living adjust to the enormity day by day.  To know the real number of fatalities at the outset would be overwhelming.  So many elderly couldn’t escape; families now need to find them in order to honour their lives through proper ceremony and burial.  And then there’s the animals. The news clip shows two dogs, one clearly injured with his buddy who won’t leave him.  Loyalty.  Dogs have this down pat.

It’s the children who tug at my heart this time around. In the fall of 2009 I was able to realize a long-held dream….publishing a book.  Writing for children was accidental…or perhaps it wasn’t.  Fly Catcher Boy is based on real characters and incidents.  It captures the essence of Japan and allows the reader to explore another country’s language and culture while learning to speak some Japanese words that are sprinkled throughout the English text.

During this type of disaster children suffer in a way that adults do not. They are totally dependent on others and unable to make their own decisions. So they wait for someone else to act.  A recent broadcast tells the story of thirty children who are still waiting at their school for their parents to arrive and take them home. The tsunami roared through the villages right about the time school let out.  Their parents would have been driving to pick them up .  They probably didn’t survive.  These children lost their home, their parents, maybe grandparents, perhaps all their extended family, their possessions; they have nothing.

Yes, they are getting food and water but life is about more than those basics.  Thanks to SCBWI Japan (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators),  a call has gone out to the global writing/illustrating community to send picture books…and send them quickly.  My donations are on the way;  I’m sure many other authors worldwide will respond.

Every day I think about the children who will get my books.  Will they smile when someone gives them a book?  Will there be laughter as each page is turned?  Will they fall asleep clutching their book?  I think so. I believe that each child who receives a book will feel so blessed.  Years from now they will tell their own children about a stranger from across the water who sent books as gifts to children in the earthquake area to help lift their spirits during one of Japan’s darkest hours.

I hold onto this vision and try not to watch too much television reporting.  I spent six years living and working in and with Japanese.  I know them in a way I never thought I could know another culture.  I understand the bow, the stoic attitude, the burst of emotion, the “ganbaru” (above all else, persevere; do your best) part of the Japanese DNA.  Takeshi says I am more Japanese than he is!  I take it as a compliment.  I want to remind Tohoku area people about Kobe, to encourage them that they, too, will rise from the ashes.

I am honoured to have so many people I care about respond to my e mail:  “Rebecca-san, we are safe.  Please pray for Japan.”

visit http://www.kodomiru.com/event/tohoku/html to learn more about sending books to Japan

1 comment

  1. Jann Kelley

    I think this is Great, It looks good. To know that a family member is a Published Writer, is just COOL!!! I think you have and will do wonderful.

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