12 March, 2017

Six years ago yesterday: a disaster

I can't let yesterday pass without a mention of the anniversary of the disaster six years ago. But I also can't use hyperbole about our experience of that event. 

We were in Tokyo, Japan, but we were barely affected in terms of anything vital to daily life. Nothing fell down, nothing broke. Electricity, water, and gas kept working, our jobs didn't change hugely. We didn't move or evacuate. We only saw the disaster at a distance. Groceries were temporarily difficult to get, mostly, I remember, things like toilet paper, yoghurt, orange juice, and milk.
I bought these recently from Megumi Project.
Earrings made from up-cycled kimonos. What
makes the Project significant is that the artisans
employed by it are all women directly impacted
by the 2011 disaster. They have some great
products, go and have a look! Nozomi Project
is a sister organisation that makes jewellery out
of damaged pottery

The disaster brought a lot of stress with it, in terms of multiple times per day we experienced after-shocks (which, at any other time would be called earthquakes in their own rights). This brought exhaustion as it disturbed our sleep. 

But we had ample food and everything else we needed to sustain life. The distress it brought was knowing how many people just 'down the road' were in much greater pain. That tens of thousands were missing and many more were homeless was a heavy burden to bear. However, we didn't personally lose anyone or know anyone who was lost or homeless.

We did have the question of nuclear disaster hanging over our heads and as a result many of our friends and colleagues rapidly evacuated without time to say goodbye. That was emotionally traumatising for me. But mostly a temporary thing. We did have to consider evacuation ourselves, on a daily basis for a while. Not knowing if you've made the right decision and questioning that every time you'd heard of another trustworthy friend who'd chosen differently was stressful.

The question of evacuation for me came down to several factors but the biggest question was, Does it matter if lose my life now? Growing up in the relative safety of rural Australia, this is not a question I'd had to seriously consider. It was a great comfort to know that I had eternal security. But it was not comforting to know that the vast majority who were missing at that time, or who would die if the nuclear disaster had been more severe, did not have faith in Christ and weren't safe. That, among other things, made me determined to stay (and that was meaningful to the Japanese people who watched, for example, we were given an embarrassing round of applause at church one day).

But again, our lives remained very stable (even more so, because we didn't evacuate). School was cancelled for a few weeks, so we had schedule upheavals. My job got turned on its head when I discovered that instead of being a beginning assistant editor, I got to be the managing editor/art director for the next issue of the magazine.

Many around us were regularly volunteering in the disaster zone. But we never did. In fact we never visited the disaster area until at least a year later. Instead we focused on doing the jobs we had in Tokyo to the best of our abilities: parents, teacher, magazine editor etc.

So I can't really say that the disaster was life changing. It is a day I'll never forget, but I can't say that it was an epoch moment for us personally.

It remains to be seen whether it was an epoch moment for the church in Japan.

I know that a lot more attention has been directed to what had been previously a neglected area. Many more missions have moved into an area that had previously just been a vacation zone for many (but where our mission was already working at the time).

Post-disaster was a time of amazing cooperation between organisation, churches, and denominations. It was also a time when the whole world focused their eyes on a Japan they'd barely contemplated in recent times: a Japan in distress and need.

One of the consequences of having the tsunami take out
the nuclear reactor that provided electricity for parts of
Japan, electricity cuts were common in some places.
Not in our area, but energy saving measures were in place for
many months, including the shut-down of escalators at our
local station.
I know that it was an epoch moment for many Christians inside and outside of Japan. We've seen a spike in people coming to Japan, and I think some of that is because of the 2011 disaster throwing Japan on people's radars.
What's my point of writing this today?

I don't want to forget that more than 20,000 people died on March 11, 2011, and that many are still displaced and will never have the same lives again. But at the same time I don't want others to forget that many more have died in Japan since that day (about 1.3 million each year).

That day in 2011 was shocking, in its unexpectedness and severity. But the reality is that we live among an ongoing disaster in this land with less than 1% of Japanese people knowing Christ. Because it's not ensconced in a disaster it isn't so shocking, certainly not newsworthy to most. But indeed a disaster.

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