<editorsnote> Nerds, meet my buddy Heather. She’s a nerd who is currently living in Japan by way of Chicago. Yep, talk about a culture shock. She’s here today to talk about her life, love (which she is currently balancing long distance) and all things nerd. I only have one more thing left to say … HIT IT HEATHER!!!</editorsnote>
As all of you are probably aware, this Sunday marked the one year anniversary of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck the Tohoku region.
I got a chance to go to Sendai to visit my friend last weekend and while there saw one of the disaster zones. This was not a part of our plans but after our day of fun with my friend and her Japanese friend, Kazuto, he asked us what we wanted to do next as he was our chauffeur and guide. We didn’t know. He hesitated for a moment and told us that he would like us to see one of the hardest hit areas in Sendai-shi from the tsunami. We both agreed. Now, much of the debris form the houses has been cleared away so the landscape is pretty much just flat ground but those few standing houses are a large testament to some of the damage done. Our friend pointed out details like the trees and the old gas station. We started driving closer to the coast and passed by a school. My friend and I both gasped as there were piles of debris in the school yard. I immediately thought it was children’s school things still left unclaimed. Catching on to this, he slowed down and showed us that they were actually cars and motorcycles that had been tossed into the school or the surrounding area. There is nowhere to properly dispose of these things so they just sit in the school yard.
We pulled up to the shore to a memorial built for the people who died or are still missing in this area. I followed my friend and we said a prayer to pay our respects. Now, something to understand about this experience. We were with our Japanese friend who lived in Sendai at the time. Japanese people generally do not outwardly display too much emotion in public. I knew that I would be upset by this trip so I kind of removed myself from it a bit. It was almost like I wasn’t in my mind and wasn’t processing what I was absorbing. I didn’t want to get too upset or “create a scene” for Kazuto who would not know how to handle that kind of response. True to form he himself was very removed and almost stoic the whole time.
When we first got up to the shrine, though, I almost lost it. In Japan, people will leave offerings for the dead: their favorite drink or food generally. Lying at the foot of the shrine were packs of special mochi, rice cakes, given to little girls for Girls Day. I knew that meant that these sweet treats were meant for young girls about ages 3-8 and it saddened me so much to see those offerings for some little girls who never made it home that day.
After we had some time to compose ourselves, we continued walking through the area just surveying what was left which wasn’t much. All you could see for miles was small raises in the ground where the foundations of houses are located.
Even processing it now, it feels like a dream that I was actually there. It made me want to help with the reconstruction so badly. I was so relieved that I’m going to do some volunteer work in the area soon. Otherwise, I think I may have walked away from this with a feeling of helplessness and distress. I have really come to love this country and to see this kind of destruction and suffering was painful. It gave me so much admiration though for the people of Tohoku who are just picking up the pieces and moving forward. They are all unsung heroes. I can’t even imagine the strength that takes. There is a lot of work to be done here but I know that the people will keep moving forward as best as they can. Please continue to hope, pray, and give for Japan.
Here’s some additional video and photos from my visit to the disaster zone.
On the actual day of the anniversary, I made a trek out to Kamakura to go to Kencho-ji, one of the most sacred Zen Buddhist temples in Japan and the most sacred in Kamakura. I had seen a flyer for an interfaith prayer service to be held at the temple at the exact time of the earthquake 2:46 PM. I got there at 2:20 and there was a large line to get in.
|I easily made it in in 5 minutes though since they were not charging the entrance fee as they normally do. I followed the mass of people and got there just in time to see the procession. It started with the Shinto priests, then came the Christians, and then the Buddhist monks.|
After the procession, one of the sacred bells was rung and a moment of silence was observed at the exact moment of the earthquake and another at the impact of the tsunami. Then the service started. Each religion had its chance to offer up a prayer. It was so beautiful to see everyone together praying for one cause. It felt wonderful to be so connected in that moment. Even though the service was two hours long, everyone remained prayerful and respectful while all religious figures were speaking. One of the things that struck me though was that the Christian ministers were the only one that actively involved the crowed with prayers and songs. Although it was super interesting to hear some Buddhist chants by the monks while we all prayed and meditated.
This was the most emotional I have ever seen or felt Japanese people before. Older women shielded their faces as they wept. Men stood silently as they allowed one or two tears to slip out. Younger women, like myself, took out hand towels and dabbed at our eyes when we just couldn’t hold it in any longer. Yet, there was no wailing or hugging just this silent display of grief and pain for the people in their country who have suffered so much. Words cannot describe how beautiful and emotional this service was for all involved. Even if I didn’t understand the prayers, I felt like a part of the spiritual whole and it was amazing.