Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few days, you know that there was a horrific earthquake and tsunami in Japan just a few days ago. Over 3500 people are confirmed dead (though the total estimate is over 10,000), and that number could rise, given that millions of people in the northern regions have no water, food, or electricity, and thousands more are unaccounted for. Aid is coming, but, sadly, it will surely be too late for some. As if that wasn’t enough, it seems like every hour or two another nuclear reactor is threatening to melt down.
I used to have a minor obsession with Japan, back towards my last year of high school and first year of college. I learned everything I could about the culture and even tried to self-study the language. After my first year of college-level Japanese, I realized that learning the language was not going to happen any time soon, and would require much more time and effort than I was putting in if it was going to happen at all. Given that I had work and school and other priorities, it’s hardly a surprise that my interest faded.
Anyway, what I learned was that even though their language and their culture was wayyyyy different from us Americans, we were virtually the same. We had the same standard of living, the same technology (it could be argued that theirs is actually better), and enjoyed the same recreational activities. The younger generations are starting to become more Westernized, so even the cultural gap is getting a little smaller.
I think this former interest is what has made the disaster a bit more personal for me. Yes, the tsunami in southeast Asia in 2004 was horrible (understatement of the decade), and the death toll (227,898) was much higher than this one will be, but that tragedy seemed more remote to me, probably because I didn’t really identify with the victims. We were all human beings, of course, but I didn’t know hardly anything about their lives or their culture, so, while I donated and followed the news like a good global citizen should, I kept it pretty much at arms’ length as far as feeling any emotional connection. Same with the Haiti quake.
This one is different. I know some of the language. I understand the culture. I love their history. People in Tokyo are just like people in NY. People in Miyagi prefecture (where most of the damage happened) are the same as those of us who live in the burbs here. I keep trying to imagine what it must have felt like to have your whole world turned upside down, and I’m sure what I’m imagining is not even close. It also drives home the fact that no matter how advanced your society is, no matter how high your standard of living is, mother nature can always bring you down.
The story that resonated with me the most involved a missing bullet train in northern Japan. Officials think it was swept off the tracks, with hundreds of people inside. Just thinking about it makes me shudder. What a terrifying death that would be, trapped inside of a train with nowhere to go and no hope of survival.
I sincerely hope that the death count is not as high as some officials fear, and I hope with all my heart that aid gets to those who need it in time. I’ve donated to the Red Cross to help the relief effort (text redcross to 90999 to donate $10), but I hate that there’s nothing else I can do right now but sit back and think about how fortunate I am and all the things we all take for granted every day.