Do you remember what you did on March 11, 2011? A look ten years back into another disaster

In Japan, everybody knows. That day, disaster struck Japan threefold and the nation stood still.

I also remember that day.

When I heard about the earthquake in the radio in the morning, the most powerful ever recorded in Japan, I switched on the television. By this time the resulting tsunami had already reached the shore and the news showed pictures of cars and houses adrift in brackish, dirty water. It was said that the nuclear reactors had shut down correctly and I felt a little bit relieved. For a magnitude 9 earthquake, this could have been much, much worse, I thought.

Later, in my office, a reporter called me up. She had searched for local people with an experience of having lived in Japan and, strangely enough, via our dōjō homepage she had gotten hold of my number. She wanted to know, how I judged the situation. “If I ‘give’ you a magnitude 9 earthquake right into your hand and you have three seconds to decide what you do with it, what will you choose?” I asked her. “Through it as far way as you can, into the Pacific.” was my suggestion since the question dumbfounded her. And I had to explain “Take the energy away from the people and their cities, have as much advance warning as possible of the inevitable tsunami to evacuate. That’s why, given the very extreme geological circumstances and with the reactors having shut down as designed to, this is the best that could have happened.”

Little did we all know at the time that a third disaster was still in the process of unfolding. In the weeks to come, we followed the news on the gradually deteriorating situation of the reactors. They had shut down correctly indeed, but enormous tidal wave had taken out the back-up generators for the cooling system needed to tame the vast amount of heat energy remaining and still being created in the three reactor cores. Apprehension became the rule for the following weeks, while piece by piece the disaster of the three nuclear meltdowns developed.

But I also was much relieved to find out that my friends in southern Hokkaidō and in eastern Honshū, were I had lived with a host family and was guest at a friend’s wedding respectively, were safe. The lower lying regions of Sendai were devastated by the tsunami, but my friends fortunately lived in the higher-lying parts of the city.

Obviously, these events stunned the world and even more so the international Naginata community, since mentally many of us were mentally prepared to travel to Japan that very year since it in 2011 the World Naginata Championships were scheduled to be held in Japan, in beautiful Himeji. In the light of the bigger human tragedy and loss, this seemed now a minor point. However, the event was still to took place. With Himeji being located far away, I think this was a justifiable decision to take from an organizer’s point of view. Different participants and federations dealt with it differently and some would choose to better take no risks.

From Germany, we were two people to fly in and a third person was already being in country. The fare has played perhaps an equal role in this number as has the question of safety. Judging by the repetition cycle, participating in a World Championship in Japan may be a once in a lifetime opportunity and gave me personally also very fond memories of 2011. Participants at the upcoming Tōkyō Olympics, postponed by one year and to be conducted without spectators from abroad, may well feel the same way today.

Japan of course gave the impression of a wounded country in 2011. Aftershocks were still numerous and strong even in the Kantō region and electricity consumption was curtailed.

When I stood at the airport ten years ago, I wished the country well, knowing that I would return to a safe place. When I stood at the airport in January 2020, a new respiratory disease from China was just starting to spread and again I wished the country well, thinking that I would return to a safer place. As it turned out, just flying away was not enough. Japan has coped better with the recent pandemic than Germany. Geography may have played a major positive role this time. With the great Tōhoku earthquake being memorized this month, we tend to focus on the nuclear side of it in Germany. However it is important to realize that it was the tsunami that caused much a greater death toll in Japan and, to put it into a recent perspective, about twice as many people were taken by the sea than perished due to the new Corona virus.

To put a face to the tragedy, I give you a name to look up: Endō Miki. She was a kendō practitioner. Due to the proximity of the disciplines, I consider her on of us.

Andreas Nicol

Benkei Naginata Kyōshitsu

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