On March 11th, 2011, a "millennial" earthquake struck Japan, followed shortly by a killer tsunami (as many as 26,000 dead) that peaked at up to 9.3 meters in some places. In fact, the highest tsunami unfortunately spent its energy in the worst possible place—in Fukushima, where Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant quietly produced 4.7 gigawatts of power for Tohoku (eastern Japan). The plant went quickly off the grid, and at this writing is not expected to ever come back online. Worse, due to the incompatible electrical engineering standards in western and eastern Japan, while western Japan still has plenty of power, Tohoku is badly starved for power. I've been to Japan a couple of times since the terrible quake, and the oddity of summer in Tokyo with no air-conditioning has no cognate in Kobe, where power is available in abundance.
This blog entry, however, isn't about the quake—you've heard about it already, you've seen the terrible pictures, and I hope that you’ve donated to Red Cross to support Japan’s recovery (as I have). It's not about the displacement and destruction, which is unfortunately very obvious in my family too (we have friends and family in Japan, and in fact in Chile where a similar quake struck just a year before, on February 27th, 2010). No it's not about destruction; it's about what has happened since, and the amazing resilience of the Japanese people. Though the Kan government from the time of the quake has fallen (partially due to perceived communications failures and lack of rapidity of response of the government), Japan is bouncing back with a speed nothing short of a miracle. When I visited soon after the quake (in April), aftershocks were continuing every night (it is a little disconcerting to wake up in the middle of the night to find your bed skittering around the room during a 5.0+ aftershock, and hard not to think about being on the 19th floor while you race under a doorframe). While I didn't feel any further aftershocks during my late June trip, visiting both Tokyo and Kobe (which suffered the killer Hanshin quake 16 years before) left me with the odd juxtaposition of the dark Ginza and Tokyo tower, against Kobe's brilliantly lit night.
Kobe is a lovely city, in which normalcy reigns:
and in fact, the key theme I'd like to remind you is that normalcy reigns throughout Japan, except in a small area around the failed Fukushima plants. Life goes on, radioactivity in Tokyo is at the same background level to be found all over the planet, and despite minor cultural changes (ties became no longer de rigeur in fashion-conscious, but sweltering summer Tokyo this year) Japan is just as wondrous as always. Nearly all of the 52,000 homes destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami have been replaced already; life goes on.
So, join me in giving to the Red Cross to help those displaced by the terrible events of March 11, 2011. But also join me in marveling at the resilience of the Japanese nation, and the Japanese people.