A Report from Sendai (April 2011)
Earthquake Report from “Michinoku” (Sendai Area)
By Rev. Nozomu Konishi, Sendai Kita Church
I am writing this report 23 days after the great earthquake and tsunami in eastern Japan on March 11, 2011. One of the members of my church is still unaccounted for, and I am still very busy dealing with the aftermath of this devastating event. There are many reports on the internet that give information about the situation, and many of our churches have posted reports. In this brief report, I would like to communicate to you some of the situations I’ve dealt with and the feelings I have felt.
First, I want to relate the experience a friend of mine had in the city of Ishinomaki, which was destroyed by the tsunami. After the sun set, everything went pitch black, because there was no electricity, and he could hear people crying for help in the distance. They were apparently holding on to floating cars and roofs, but because it was so dark, there was nothing he could do to help them. Many of these lives were lost, and the survivors have to live with the sounds of those voices still ringing in their ears. So, what can we do in this situation?
On the 4th day after the quake, I led a delegation from the Kyodan to visit the Kyodan churches in the disaster zones. We saw that the churches there are doing their utmost in responding to the needs of their communities in spite of the fact that they themselves experienced considerable damage. As we were leaving one particular church, a member of that church asked us if we could take a person to Sendai. It seems that this man had been on company business in the area when the tsunami hit, and he had to ditch his car and climb up on the roof of a building to escape. He spent the night on the roof and then began to walk back towards Sendai. The church member, whose own home was flooded on the ground floor, took this stranger in to care for him. This was an example of victims reaching out to other victims to help each other. When we delivered this fellow to his company, we witnessed him being hugged by his fellow employees in a joyous reunion.
The Tohoku District was able to set up a victim support center by the 5th day and began giving direct support to constituents of each local church. In the early days, relief efforts centered around getting supplies to the people, and now the effort is shifting more towards providing work teams of volunteers, particularly of young people who are helping in the clean-up efforts. The next step is the establishing of the “Committee on Support and Rebuilding of Tohoku District Churches.” This effort will be a long-term effort to help churches to rebuild and to support the victims of this disaster. The Ou District is likewise following essentially the same plan.
The disaster response has also resulted in considerable ecumenical cooperation. The “Sendai Federation of Christian Churches” set up a “Victim Relief Network” to share information and to cooperate in practical ways. Each week more than 50 representatives from various denominations gather, and several have commented that the breadth of fellowship and cooperation is beyond anything they have witnessed before. Likewise, there is cooperation between Christian pastors and Buddhist priests in mass memorial services and grief counseling.
I must also touch on the nuclear reactor accident. The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Facility is owned and operated by Tokyo Power Company for the purpose of supplying electric power to the Tokyo metropolitan area. Tokyo governor Ishihara Shintaro even went so far as to state that the tsunami was divine judgment, though he later retracted his ill-conceived words. He certainly doesn’t show any understanding of the issues the “Michinoku” district faces and why there are 10 nuclear reactors and a nuclear fuel processing plant in this district just to provide electric power to the Tokyo metropolitan area. The Ou District has also released a statement of protest concerning this. Both the agricultural and fishing industries have been severely affected, and the prospects are that this situation will last quite a long time. From the time Japan began to modernize, there was a discriminatory expression about this area of Japan to the effect that it was a backward land of little value, and the present situation indicates that such attitudes are still an issue. A local newspaper, the “Kahoku Shinpo,” took its name from that expression in order to show the rest of Japan that this despised land of Michinoku could “cause the flower of civilization to bloom.” It is with that same thought in mind that we want to respond to this natural disaster. Likewise, we all need to be reminded that having discriminatory attitudes is an issue that faces all of us, and so we must also deal with that.