March 11 – A Solemn Anniversary

It’s 2:46 p.m. in Tokyo on March 11, 2013. Exactly two years ago, a massive 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Miyagi Prefecture in Northeastern Japan, triggering an unbelievably destructive tsunami that swept away buildings, cars, and lives. It was a natural disaster of a scale that Japan had not seen for 140 years. But it wasn’t simply a natural disaster; the earthquake and tsunami combined to compromise the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, causing a crisis that continues to this day.

Tens of thousands lost their lives, and too many of those left behind are still living in temporary housing two years later. Radiation from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors forced evacuations, and health concerns about the effects of radiation – especially with children – weigh heavily in the minds of local residents.

The recovery process is a learning process, which is why Japanese officials visited the Ocean Breeze section of Staten Island in early March. The task force studied Staten Island’s evacuation and emergency procedures during Hurricane Sandy so that it can implement them in Japan.

As these before-and-after photos in The Atlantic reveal, progress has been and continues to be made. There is still much to be done, and it may be a decade before substantial recovery is achieved.

Since March 11, 2011, New Yorkers have been moved to help.

Japan Society established its Japan Earthquake Relief Fund in response to the aftermath, which has collected more than $13 million from generous donors around the world. Last week Japan Society announced seven more grant recipients who will use the funding to revitalize Tohoku and continue their relief efforts. Other organizations such as the Japanese American Association of New York, the New York Japanese-American Lions Club, and American Dream Japanese Network (JaNet) have done more than their fair share to rebuild the devastated areas.

However, the most impressive showing of support has come from the grassroots efforts of concerned New Yorkers – Japanese, half-Japanese, and non-Japanese alike. Fundraisers, concerts, art exhibitions, film festivals, and anti-nuke protests carry 3/11-related themes. These events raise money, but they also raise awareness in an effort to keep 3/11 issues at the forefront, not only on the anniversary of the tragedy, but throughout the year. As a result, the Japanese American community in New York is involved, engaged, and stronger than ever.

Sometimes it takes a disaster to create a community. Ganbarou Nihon.