I haven't talked about the Tohoku earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster (東日本だ震災）in a while. Since I live in an area where a big disaster is very likely to hit in the next 50 years, I think I ought to be doing a bit more to learn from what happened in Tohoku. I also feel like I kind of owe it to my friends in Fukushima to keep talking about it.
1. When I went back to Fukushima in May this year (2016), I found out that my town, which is 65 km away from the Dai-ichi power plant, has actually replaced the topsoil in the town in order to lessen the radioactivity.
2. On the same trip, I met my friend who moved away from Fukushima to Hokkaido in the wake of the earthquake because her adult son had strange red marks on his neck and was possibly getting sick due from the radiation. She's part of a group that is trying to get compensation from the Japanese government for having to leave the area; they believe that the 20km exclusion zone wasn't big enough, and that people in a larger radius from the reactors should have received aid. My other former students think she is crazy and don't talk to her anymore. (On a perhaps not-unrelated note, it's really sad, but my former students' English club only has two people in it now...and it's a group that had studied and travelled together for maybe 10 years? Some of them have just moved on to other interests, and they still talk with one another outside the club, but it saddens me.)
3. I don't think my student who moved to Hokkaido is wrong, and I don't think my students who stayed behind are wrong either.
4. There are people still living in temporary housing. If you look at Western media, it's pretty bleak. If you watch Japanese TV (I don't read Japanese papers because it's too hard), it looks a lot better. Same as during the earthquake itself.
5. Japan's ability to respond to natural disasters is still miles above any other country I know of.
6. There are way too many earthquakes still happening. There was the big one in Kumamoto this year, of course, but plenty of other smaller ones seemingly constantly.
7. Today I watched a pretty interesting episode of a Japanese show called "From Tohoku: Lectures for the Future." The fact that such a show exists shows that Japan is crazy good at learning from natural disasters and making sure the knowledge is passed down. The episode I watched focused on a coastal village called Fudai
(普代村）in Iwate Prefecture, which, despite being hit by the tsunami, damage was minimal and no deaths occurred due to the massive seawalls + floodgates built to protect the town. One of the old mayors, Wamura
（和村), had long ago convinced the village council to build those walls despite the enormous cost--$30 million USD in today's money. I'd heard about this "miracle" town before, but the episode of "From Tohoku: Lectures for the Future" went into more depth about the lessons we can learn from Fudai. Here's what the lecturers, about three of them from different fields, had to say:
(a) The intersection of science and history here was important. Wamura was so insistent about building those walls because he lived through another tsunami as a child. He said we needed to learn from that experience.
(b) It took a buttload of work and hardheadedness for the walls to happen. Wamura's family showed his old daytimer books, which they had carefully collected in a box; Wamura wrote notes to himself that he had to convince people on the village council one by one. He was apparently a very persuasive person.
(c) It was a combination of "hard" and "soft" measures that saved the town. The "hard" measures were the walls; the "soft" measures were drills and mental preparation. The people of Fudai were told that the walls did not guarantee their safety, and they did indeed run for safety when the tsunami came. In fact, they were told this: "The fact that we need such big walls should tell you how precarious our situation could be if a tsunami hits."
(d) Unfortunately, according to one of the lecturers, most outsiders have taken away the wrong message from Fudai: "hard" measures--"if we build a wall then we don't need to worry about tsunamis!" The "hard" measures only.
p.s. I don't want to imply that I regularly keep up on the news in Japan or that I'm fluent, because no.
...So what can I, personally, take away from this? Well, here in Vancouver, where we are woefully unprepared for the Big One...we don't have a Wamura. And I don't think any politician would be able to rise to power around here on that platform. (Right now, the hot topic is tell our Prime Minister where to stuff his oil pipelines.) We just don't have a recent enough disaster in our history to impel anyone to do anything much to prepare. And we kind of suck at organizing. Hell, I was supposed to get some free emergency preparation package from the Canadian Red Cross and I never did. Welp, I will try to help my own family and workplace try to be prepared at the very least. I'm pretty lazy myself, but I'll keep reminding myself...which is why I'm recording my thoughts here.