I was still awake when news of the disaster broke. I stumbled across initial reports of the earthquake on Google News by mere chance, around 1 a.m. on the night of March 10.
Even though I spent half of my childhood in Japan and the other half in southern California, both known for their frequent earthquakes, I saw the words “7.9-magnitude” in the headline and knew this was no ordinary occurrence. Making matters worse, the articles indicated the epicenter was close to Sendai, where my grandmother, uncle and aunt reside. Already, I felt queasy.
I hurriedly called my mom in Kyoto. She assured me that she had already gotten in touch with our relatives and that they had safely evacuated, their 9-week-old golden retriever in tow. Even after hearing my family was safe, I still felt uneasy, but there was little I could do. I texted friends from high school to make sure their families were OK, then lay in bed, staring at the ceiling for hours.
In the morning, the situation had become much worse. The ensuing tsunami ravaged much of the eastern half of the Tohoku region. My mom called again. This time, she told me that she had lost contact with my relatives since the waves had struck.
It was four full days before my parents heard from my relatives again. Thankfully, they were battered but more or less unharmed, managing to ride it out at home despite having no electricity, gas or water.
It was the first time I had felt such despair and uncertainty over my family’s fate, compounded by the horrific toll the tsunami had taken on Japan as a whole. It was also the first time I realized how frustrating it is to see scenarios and predictions like “death toll could be in hundreds” based entirely on guesswork casually tossed around in the press when your loved ones’ lives are at stake. As a journalism major, it finally hit home.
Of all the emotions I’ve felt in the past week and a half, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t angered and saddened by the insensitive, hurtful and downright ignorant remarks made by a select few, who suggested that the disaster somehow constituted “karma” or “divine punishment” for events that took place over a half-century ago.
All in all, however, the response- both within Japan and internationally- has been overwhelmingly sympathetic and supportive. Over 140 countries and international organizations have already pledged their assistance. I found myself touched by the messages of condolence, both those I received personally and those I came across online.
The death toll is already reported to be more than 8,600, with another 12,900 still missing. While it’s unfortunate that it seems to take disasters of such calamitous proportions to bring a world together, there is no doubt it will take all of our combined efforts to restore what once was in the country. To everyone that has contributed in the slightest way, monetary or otherwise, I thank you, as a citizen of Japan, from the bottom of my heart.
Iku Kawachi is a junior majoring in journalism and geography. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.