Anna Fung is a JET ALT in Iwate who departed from the Bay Area last year. Pacific Bridge recently asked Anna to write a piece about living in the devastated region, as well as how the Japanese people around her are recovering.
More than half a year has passed since I arrived in Japan. I’m still a little green since I make plenty of verbal mistakes and perform a lot of gestures to make myself understood, but life is gradually getting easier. I’ve also had the pleasure of making many friends from Japan and around the world.
Many Japanese people are curious as to why I decided to come to Iwate, even after the huge earthquake. Before arriving, I was worried. There was the ongoing cleanup at the coast, as well as radiation problems in Sendai. Despite these lingering doubts, Japan was like another home to me because I have lived here before and befriended many wonderful people.
Being an ALT aboard the JET Program, I work with some teachers whose hometowns were located near the coast and were devastated. One teacher’s house was flooded with water, and the first floor was pretty much destroyed. The house was fixed, but her elementary and junior high schools were wiped out. Inland cities were also affected by the earthquake. One teacher lives in an apartment where her family had power outage when the quake occurred, causing both electricity and water to stop. They were very worried whether they had enough water for their newborn baby. Luckily, electricity was restored after a few days.
After the quake, people in Japan, especially in Tohoku, have become more conscious of their surroundings. There have been numerous instances in which I have experienced tremors in the teachers’ room. Everyone would stop doing their work and wait, and someone would say, “Jishin da.” (“It’s an earthquake.”) A teacher would even rush to the doorway in case there was a need to go to the students. Time froze, yet I would feel tension rising in the air. After a while, the moment would pass, and everyone would resume work.
Moreover, people of Iwate have become more prepared for natural disasters. They carry cell phones that alert them to earthquakes, store clean water in their houses, and have emergency bags packed and ready. They also have learned the importance of natural resources and what is most valuable to them. People realize that the present is important because they do not know what will happen in the future. They focus on the present and do what they can.
When I went to volunteer in Kamaishi-shi in January, I could still see traces of the damage caused by the tsunami. There were broken windows, piles of clutters, emptied spaces on the first floor of buildings, and vacant lots. At the same time, however, the city was slowly recovering. New buildings, such as a 7-Eleven, have popped up and opened since the quake.
One time, my group of volunteers helped a family move from the first floor of an apartment to the fifth floor of a different complex. The first floor was worn down by sea water, so there were stains and mold on the walls and floors. We carried boxes, furniture, appliances, and even bags of clothing and dishes between buildings by lining up and walking up and down the stairs. With a force of 20, we quickly finished within an hour.
Next was the kindergarten. The building was in total disarray. The side facing the sea was bare, the first floor was covered in mud, walls were broken, and there was metal and wood sticking out from the ceiling. What was once a colorful kindergarten turned into a gloomy, broken-down building. We spent the rest of the day shoveling mud in the building into bags. I scooped up an object covered in mud, but I could tell it was a child’s shoe. I stopped for a second but quickly resumed work. My friends found a photo album that had many well-maintained pictures not ruined from salt water. It was a joyous moment, but they soon went back to work because there was still plenty of clean-up to be done. We ended in the early afternoon, but I still felt like we could keep going. There was still plenty of mud on the ground, and it wasn’t even dark yet, but once we started our three-hour drive home, I quickly fell asleep.
To those in America, and even around the world, I’d like you to know that the people in Japan are doing fine.People are still recovering, and life continues to move forward. We go to work, eat, watch TV, meet up with friends, and sleep. There’s still plenty of restoration to be done along the coast, but everyone is moving forward. If you have the chance, please come visit and support Tohoku! Ganbarou Tohoku!
Anna Fung, Iwate, current JET