At the edge of the horizon

At the edge of the horizon
At the edge of Japan

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Remembering the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake

I've been silent for a while and there is a good reason as to why.  As I mentioned in the last post, I've been working on producing the SHINSAI:  THEATERS FOR JAPAN project to benefit the Japan Playwrights Associations' funds to help theater artists rebuild and revive theater in the Tohoku region.  We have a week to go before the performances and I'm very excited about what we're doing.  It's been such a wonderful experience so far.  I love how live performance stimulates people and contributes to a sense of community, even amount people who may not know each other well.  I couldn't have put this together myself, so I have to thank many individuals who have enabled it to happen (and I am very thankful that they saw the possibilities and need for it to happen). It's such a great experience to be able to do this while also knowing it will help communities who have been through such a traumatic experience.  It also, in many ways, is helping us think about last year's tragedy and address the social and political issues that the earthquake raised. It also gives us a chance to open up about our feelings -- our empathy for and connection to those affected by it and our own fears regarding what happened last year.

Our production is going to be staged in both Japanese and English (3 plays in English, 2 in Japanese) and we're hoping a large number of both Japanese and non-Japanese people show up.  

The plays are written by Oriza Hirata, Kumiko Shinohara, Yoji Sakate and Suzan-Lori Parks.

I also wrote a play that we are staging about two students who are dealing with the trauma from the earthquake/tsunami and the loss of their entire family.  When I wrote this, I was thinking about the students at the schools I've worked at here and how they aren't unlike those who were directly affected by the disaster.  I was also thinking about the ALTs in the Tohoku region who experienced the earthquake and how I could have easily been one of them.  I could have been placed in Tohoku instead of Okinawa.    My play has been translated and will be performed in Japanese.

The earthquake last year has been on everyone's minds lately.   We are approaching one year since it occurred.  How can we not think about it?

I remember exactly where I was when it happened.  I was on Kohama island teaching at Kohama combined  school (Elementary/JHS).  I had finished lunch and chatted with several of the students -- one who was just about to graduate and head to Tohoku for a baseball training program at a school in that region.  I remember they were so hopeful and excited about graduation. Afterwards, I was waiting around in the staff room until someone could drive me to the port so I could return to Ishigaki.  I remember someone had asked me if I wanted to take the 3:30 or 4:30 boat and I had opted for the earlier one this time.  I also remember looking at the clock around 2:45pm and wondering if I should just walk.  That was around the time the earthquake in Tohoku occurred. By the time I arrived at the port around 3:20, the television was on and there were images of the tsunami.  I knew something was wrong and I thought a nuclear reactor had a major meltdown because of the color codes flashing on the map of Japan on the screen.  I asked someone standing next to me what had happened and she said jishin -- earthquake.  I didn't know what to think about it.  I didn't know that the tsunami had already started to engulf parts of Tohoku, taking with it approximately 19,000 lives so suddenly.  J. called me while I was on the ferry but I had dozed and missed the call.  As I got to Ishigaki, I tried to return his call but found it was busy.  Eventually he called me and asked me where I was and if I knew what had happened.  At that point I wasn't aware of the enormity and danger of the situation in Tohoku and he had worried that we were going to end up with a huge tsunami.  We were very lucky that the waves went the opposite way instead of coming to Okinawa.  But there were so many that were not as fortunate as we were.  It could easily have been us.

I am hoping this project will help contribute ways in which we can discuss and remember what happened.  While most of those of us living in Okinawa prefecture were not directly affected by the earthquake last year, we still are living in a country that has had to deal with this horrible disaster, and deal with it as fast as it can, and we see how its affected people.  And yet, we were not directly affected by this so it's easy to let all of what happened become a memory...a traumatic collective memory.  How do we remember it and those individuals who were lost without becoming hypersensitive to it or desensitizing ourselves altogether?  

I just recently watched this BBC documentary "Japan's Children of the Tsunami".  It's about an hour long.  It's heartbreaking to watch, but important for people to understand what happened and how Japan is still suffering from this natural disaster.  My heart goes out to these individuals, especially the children and parents of those who lost their family members and friends so suddenly and also to those dealing with the loss of their home towns due to the radiation from the nuclear meltdown.

The least we can do is to try to help these communities and the individuals living there in whatever way we can.

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