Reflections on Japan
Japan has been on my mind a lot in the last week. It’s been exactly one week since I returned to the States, but it feels like a lifetime ago that I spent spring break in the Pacific. Only in the last couple of days, is Japan no longer the first subject in my New York Times news feed. Nuclear threat, tsunami and earthquake have slid farther down the page. I’m not sure whether this is due to the media losing interest, Libya taking its place, or that the situation in Japan is too sad right now, with so many questions remaining, that the media is leaving it alone.
I am finally able to begin writing about, and processing, this experience. Maybe it’s because I can breathe more easily as of 2:22am this morning when I received the email from Alden that started out “Home again, home again, jiggety jig.” That’s right. Alden, Pete and Chip are back in the United States, safe and sound, in Lawrence, Kansas, by way of Okinawa, Taiwan, Los Angeles and Dallas. (NBD: 36 hours of travel with a newborn and a 21-month old. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Alden, you’re my hero.)
In debriefing my time in Japan, people want to hear about the horror and moments of panic, where I saw my life flash before my eyes. The news jumps at the opportunity to capture the disturbing images and videos (most of which I still have not let myself see) of earthquake aftermath and uncontrollable waves. It’s a shame that so often we learn about other parts of the world only when something terrible happens. Most of my students didn’t know where to find Japan on a map before March 11th or that Japan uses nuclear power as a major energy source. As with Thailand in 2004, we now associate Japan with destruction, confusion and despair.
Japan is a beautiful country. I never would have imagined that I would visit Japan, let alone twice in six months. I don’t regret my trips for one minute, earthquake, tsunami and all. Yes, I have scary memories of three days of uncertainty, shaking ground, and an unimaginable fear of water, but in the forefront of my mind, I hold the beauty of this country, a beauty which still exists in many places.
The graciousness and kindness of the Japanese people is quite possibly one of the most emotional memories for me, from March 11th. A neighbor did not hesitate to invite us in her car to go to higher ground. The five of us were welcomed with open arms into the apartment of strangers in the midst of chaos. Water and food were shared with us and toys given to Chip for distraction. Even their cat put up with Chip’s fascination with an ‘indoor pet.’ As I fell asleep that night, I was scared but felt so loved. Covered in blankets and curled up with the cat, for the first time since 3:00, I finally thought everything might be alright.
We should not ignore the devastation and the struggles that this nation has faced and continues to face. Tens of thousands of lives have been lost and people remain lost. Rebuilding has not even begun, but it will, and in a very orderly, efficient way, as the Japanese always do. But while you pour over CNN and the New York Times, I hope you’ll take a minute to look at some of these images of Japan, specifically Hayama and Zushi. I don’t have photos of the people that helped us, welcomed us, comforted us, but I hope that these photos will reflect the warmth of Japan that I felt.