【Essay】 9 years has passed after the 3.11 Earthquake -Sorrow, like snow melts little by little




“It has been 9 years since the 3.11 Earthquake”. We often hear such expression in this time of the year in Japan. It may seem to be relatively a long period of life, but for each can be felt different. You cannot objectively measure the actual length of time when it comes to the way it passes inside of people who needs to face an unforgettable event.

Rikuzentakata city on March 2011. I couldn’t find any life there.

What does it mean, “reconstruction“? I have never stopped thinking about the question since the day when everything changed. It doesn’t mean only “rebuilt” everything which has been destroyed and lost by the disaster. If it was possible, then no other way could be better. However, already in reality, there are things that you can never rebuild. Those who died cannot be back to life. Is it even possible, when the blank space of the spirit reminds you of the eternal absence of the dead, to substitute it with something else?

The mountains were cut down, the lands have been elevated, and the brand-new roads spreads in front of you. There are newly constructed houses and commercial places. If you only focus on that part, it might give you the impression that the city is now fully prepared and things are proceeding forward.

“Emptiness” of losing someone is, however, neither visible nor audible. If “reconstruction“ is the thing that gives people hope so that they can look forward for tomorrow, what is necessary is not any substitution for the emptiness, but the creation of the warmth of society which allows people to cherish their emptiness in their daily life.

Rikuzentakata city, devastated by tsunami on 11th March 2011. the toll of dead and missing was 1759. Still a large-scale civil engineering work is ongoing (Photo: 11th March 2020).

The main coastline is surrounded by 12.5 meters seawalls.

On that day, 2011 March 11th, large tsunami crushed all over the towns along the coast side. It was in a much larger scale than my expectation. My mother who lived in the city of Rikuzentakata, a month later was found just under mad and rubbles that was 9 km upper along the river. It was, of course, a heavy depression to be apart from her forever, but what was more difficult for me, was to see my father feeling depressed and weakened day by day. He himself was not able to work properly because of the trauma although he wanted to contribute to the reconstruction as a doctor. He moved to another prefecture where our relatives live and stayed in silence, closing his heart, as if it was too much for him to hear, “Do your best!”, the voices sending from all over Japan.

My father took these photos just when the tsunami swallowed him.

“I do not feel the taste whatever I eat, I am not moved whatever movies I watch”, once he told me. People probably instinctively shut their heart when they face such unendurable sorrow. Doing so, they are able to soften the pain of the sorrow inside, but at the same time, become less passionate and are not at the state of feeling joy of life. “Why do I live even I don’t feel anything?” “How can I find a reason to live, if a life could be deprived of all of a sudden?” Those questions might have been around my father’s head, after he lost his beloved. 4 years later, one day in the morning, he passed away without waking up from his usual sleep. On his face, I did not see any struggle he had before. There existed just a calm facial expression as if he was in his dream.

I took his photo that tells you his grief. At the same time, however, I felt his deep love towards my mother from his heart.

Thinking about the meaning of death is to think about why we live. To me, to lose my parents one after another after the earthquake, was such event that I deeply thought of the meaning of life.

When my father passed away, something unexplainable happened. On that day, I immediately had to deal with all the stuff and there was no time to feel my own sorrow. In the evening, I got a phone call from my grandmother, mother of my mother. I was too occupied to contact with her before she made it to me. She told me, “I received a message from your father”. What happened was this. My grandfather, who was in care house and not able to wake up from bed because of having dementia, suddenly became conscious and told her, “Toshimichi-san(author’s father) came to me just now and said that there he spends time in harmony with Junko(author’s mother) and would visit me time to time to see how I am.” It is not rare to see someone passed away in a dream, and I had similar experience when I lost one who was close to me. However, those are somewhere between dream and reality. My grandfather went back to be unconscious again and to sleep after that event.

If it really happened so, the purpose of visit is understandable for me. Because my father had been deeply regretting that his wife died because she moved from her hometown to Iwate prefecture(where Rikuzentakata city is) to marry him. Especially he felt sorry for her parents. Thus I believe it is really his seriousness and politeness that made this: to visit in rush and greet his father-in-law first, not me. Needless to say, I cannot prove this event objectively, but the picture of my parents standing happily side by side somewhere not here clearly came to my mind when I heard the story. Realizing that the grief and the apathy of my father during the period until his death had shown how deeply he had loved his partner, I was able to accept those years he was in tears, as something meaningful.

Begin to spend more time thinking about the meaning of life, the scenery of the world totally changed. We have a miracle of life everyday, and life and death eternally continue.

Through such experience, my spirit slowly reopened its door to the world, and the things around me regained their color and warmth. I realized the miracle that I live and that I am lived by all the coincidences and it let the clock inside of me move forward again.

Tadashi Nakahora, who helped me while I was writing my book, “Milk of Happiness”, is the chairman of the Nakahora Farm, once told me the things below.

“This is a region with heavy snow, so we have a lot every year. It seems to be hard to live, but actually, snow functions as a ‘natural blanket for the earth’. For example, some amount of water can be provided by rain, but most of them just runs the surface and does not reach any deeper. However, snow is different. Do you know from where the snow melts: surface or the other side that touches the earth? The latter. It gradually melts by the heat from the underground. Without the heat from the sun, it still can melt and provide water little by little. Winter is not the lifeless season, but it rather helps life growing, which we simply do not recognize”.

Probably, our spirits are the same. Days of sorrow let us realize our love and the miracle of life. It may be a time when we are watered. The speed of the clock inside is different for each. Now after 9 years, some people have already had enough water to feel the warm spring, and others are still in the long winter and keep holding their feeling towards beloveds.

White clover suddenly sprout in the devastated area where rubble has disappeared. It was as if the new life permeated the emptiness of the aftermath of the disaster.

Pray upon all the victims and people left in grief from any cause, including the 3.11 Earthquake.

(Photos and text: Kei Sato/ Translation support: Chie Takahashi)

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