Today, I would like to reflect on how the Great East Japan Earthquake and the Corona disaster have affected my values.
The Great East Japan Earthquake and university life afterwards ――When the Great East Japan Earthquake happened
When the Great East Japan Earthquake happened in 2011, I was a high school student. I was living in the Kanto area in Japan, but the experiences the biggest, longest shaking of my life, and for the first time I did what I learned in the disaster drills; I hid under a desk. Some of my friends who were in the same classroom opened the windows to secure a way out.
After a while, when the situation around us calmed down, we realized that we did not have to evacuate right then. After that, there was a school announcement that students could do their club activities for the time being, so I went to the brass band club room.
Whilst I was doing my club activities, my mind was filled with worry. I tried to contact my parents and brother, but the phone line was too busy to connect to anyone. In the club activities, there was a senior student who was watching the news on her mobile phone and I remember her repeatedly saying "this is going to be really bad". I didn't really understand what was going on.
After a while, there was another school announcement and the club activities were to be stopped earlier than usual. All the students who were still in school were gathered in the gym and told to go home. I vividly remember the vice-principal saying with a serious expression on his face, "This is not a drill or practice”. Some of my friends had to stay overnight at school as the trains were stopped in some places. Fortunately, I had a way to get home, so I set off home, full of anxiety. The street lights that normally illuminated the street were not on.
When I got home and was greeted by my mother and brother, I remember feeling deeply relieved. Until then, I had no contact with them at all. After a while, my father also came back. He told us that he had to walk several stations because the train was not running in some parts.
Over the next few months
I was struck by the images on the news every day of the earthquake and tsunami, how many precious lives had been lost and how many people had been forced to flee their homes. I also learned from all the media that even those who survived the disaster have suffered a great deal of emotional trauma. I didn't have family or friends in Tohoku, so I couldn't hear directly from the people who were suffering from both physical and mental trauma.
For a while after the disaster, I still didn't know what was really going on in my country. I didn't know if it was the daily disastrous images in the news, or the stress, but my mother became very ill, and in the summer of that year we found out that she had a serious illness. She had an operation in the autumn and she got better after that, but it was definitely damaging to those of us who were not directly affected by the earthquake.
After I entered a university
After a few years of the earthquake, I began attending a university in Tokyo. As a university student, I went to Tohoku to volunteer for the first time. My older brother had volunteered many times before me, so I thought it would be a good idea for me to do something I could do as a university student. I didn't have the physical strength or stamina to help remove big rubble, so I volunteered to listen to people's voices, offer footbaths and help with simple farm work.
Some people may think that listening to people is easy because all you do is listen to them. However, I had to think deeply many times about how to interact with people who had suffered a great deal of trauma, and what I could do as a person who was not directly affected by the disaster, and I worried that I would be rejected as an outsider.
I also travelled to Tohoku as part of my university research. I spoke to people from all backgrounds and positions, and visited the damaged areas. I couldn't imagine what the town used to be like before the disaster, nothing was left. It was hard to imagine what it was like before the disaster, even when I heard people say, "There used to be XX here”. I felt that the tsunami had taken everything away.
How I think about "things”
Throughout my time as a high school and university student, I have been thinking about the disaster in my own way. Of course, I don't think that I can understand everything about the disaster or the feelings of the victims. But the fact that the victims opened their heart a little bit to me, a stranger, even though they must have been in pain, made me feel that I must make the most of what he told me about disaster prevention and disaster reduction in the future.
I also changed my way of thinking about “things” a little bit. My desire for things has decreased. But more than that, I felt that even if I had things, they could all be easily taken away from me, and I wanted to value my heart, my experiences, and my relationships with the people I love more.
Since then, I don't buy unnecessary things, and I don't buy things on impulse just because they look cute or cool. Do I really need it? Will it last? That's what I've come to focus on since then.
The coronavirus we didn't see coming――Pandemics, we thought, were a thing of the past
I've loved world history since I was a high school student, so I knew that infectious diseases had killed a lot of people in the past. But I had no idea that in the 21st century there would be a pandemic of this magnitude.
The coronavirus started less than a year after I came to the UK on a spouse visa. I was still getting used to life in the UK, and living in lockdown was really confusing. I work from home anyway, so it didn't affect me too much, and my husband can work from home, so he has been working from home since March 2020. I feel very lucky to have a job, but I still felt anxious and worried. I couldn't easily go to see my family in Japan, and I realised that this is what it means to live in a foreign country.
The importance of food
One thing I felt, not knowing what was going to happen next, was the importance of food. In the UK we had a lockdown, which meant that basically everything was closed except for hospitals and shops such as supermarkets that sold food.
It was at this point that I realised that the last thing left is food. Of course, we knew that we couldn't survive without food, but this is when I realised what is really important, and how the government makes decisions like this.
A few days before the lockdown was supposed to start, my husband and I went to a big supermarket and the scene was completely different from usual. I don't live in a very populated area, but there were still more people there than usual, some with their whole families.
People were buying tinned fish, beans, rice, pasta and other food which would keep long, and the amount of food they were buying was huge.
From now on, I'm going to have a vegetable garden at home.
Fortunately, in my area, there was no complete disappearance of foods from the supermarket shelves. However, I am still worried about the stability of the food supply in the future, especially as the UK is leaving the EU. Fortunately, I have a garden at home and I'm hoping to start growing some vegetables there.
This is the first time for me to start a real vegetable garden. When I was in Japan, I used to grow small tomatoes and cucumbers in my garden, but that was a long time ago when I was a child so I haven't grown vegetables for a while. The climate and environment in the UK is different to that of Japan, so the vegetables that are easy to grow are probably different, and I think I need to learn about that from scratch. I've always liked plants and flowers and I think I would have done some vegetable gardening even without the coronavirus pandemic, but it's definitely been a change in the last year that I've come to think that it would be nice to be self-sufficient.
It's a long post, but thank you for reading to the end!
© 2021 Yuzu