Six Years After the Great East Japan Earthquake – in Tsukuba
By Avi Landau
Six years ago…. but I remember it like it was yesterday It was just before 3 in the afternoon, and I was sitting on the floor reading in one of the aisles at the Tsukuba Central Library. There was a deep rumbling, and with my butt on the floor, I soon felt the slight vibration, which along with that distinctive sound, signals the onset of a tremor.
I , as well as all the other studious library users around me, had experienced such sensations thousands of times before, nearly everyday, and at that moment, none of us gave it a second thought. In a few seconds though, we had all stopped reading and were looking edgilly around us, as the library, the books, the shelves, the walls, ceiling and windows all seemed to have COME TO LIFE, throbbing and rattling, like a well shaken OMIKOSHI ( portable shrine) at a Japanese Festival.
The vibrations ( and the rumble) grew more intense, With the high panes of window glass and the concrete ceiling high above seemingly about to explode, all of us instintively started to head for the exit. We didnt run, we walked- briskly. We picked up the pace as the books started to shoot out of their shelves- as we neared the outer door, glass began to shatter. This was it. What we had all long dreaded, but knew would one day come (though not necessarilly in our lifetime)- THE BIG ONE.
And it was, in fact, much more terrifying than we had imagined the big one would be – because not only were those seismic waves followed by an even greater ocean wave, a mighty and devastating Tsunami that wiped out entire communities along the Pacific Coast of Northeastern Japan (killing about 16,000 people!) - but that very same wall of seawater, travelling at terrific speeds bulldozed into a nuclear power plant – resulting in serious radiation leaks… uncertainty, fear, panic, evacuations…flights from the country…
Though what we experienced here in Tsukuba at that time CANNOT be compared to the horror and total devastation that took place further to the north, we did sustain casualties and damage, and suffer hardship - and our community was affected in other ways as well. Especially by an influx of evacuees from around the damaged nuclear power plant, around 500 hundred of whom remain living with us today (five years later).
Only 3 people were officially killed by the earthquake here in Tsukuba and about 21 were injured in the Tsukuba-Tsuchiura area. 558 homes were declared uninhabitable in the same area (with thousands of homes suffering lesser degrees of damage). And while most (though not all) the structural damage has been cleaned up and repaired around here, the nuclear accidents has led to certain restrictions in this area that remain in place to this day (on certain forestry and fishery product- mushrooms, bamboo-shoots, catfish and wild-boar) - along with the hundreds of evacuees who used to live near the reactor.
I must repeat that this is really NOTHING when compared with what happened and is STILL going on in the tsunami devastated areas – where many are still haunted by the nightmare that struck five years, where thousands still live in temporary, prefab homes, where suffering is still ignored by the government (Prime Minister would much rather talk about and spend money on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, than he would about the devasted northeast coast).
One amazing result of the disaster (and a very good one, in my opinion) was the fact that for almost five years, all nuclear power plant ceased their operations. Now, despite numerous gliches, they are starting to fire them up again.
Tsukubans have been very vocal on this issue (another good effect of the disaster – more activism!) and there was another anti-nuclear power demonstration held today at the Chuo-koen Park on March 11th 2017 – though I must admit that only a few dozen people attended on this cold, uncomfortable day (which reminded me of THAT day)
So you see, while we did not suffer very much here in Tsukuba, we still are living with March 11th 2011, though I`m not sure we are are any better prepared or really truly graso the fact that ANYTHING can happen – at ANY TIME.