Japan Tsunami Appeal poster

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The tsunami that hit Japan on March 11th 2011 was one of the biggest on record. It was caused by an earthquake measuring 9 - 9.1 on the Richter Scale. The earthquake’s epicentre was 45 miles (72 kilometres) east of Tohoku, which is the north-east area of the island of Honshu. It was the biggest earthquake ever recorded in Japan, resulting in tsunami waves of up to 133 feet (40 metres) in height. The tsunami caused utter devastation in eastern Japanese coastal areas and up to six miles inland: according to the Japanese government, more than 120,000 buildings were destroyed and over a million damaged. The financial cost of these events was estimated to be nearly $200 billion dollars (about 17 trillion yen). There were over 15,000 deaths, and 2,500 people are still recorded as missing. In addition, the tsunami caused a cooling system failure at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, resulting in a level-7 nuclear meltdown and release of dangerous radioactive materials. The Japanese Red Cross responded immediately, deploying 62 response teams in the first 24 hours of the emergency. International help was also forthcoming; for example, the American Red Cross raised $312 million.

The British Red Cross also initiated fundraising activities to support their Japanese counterparts. Financial help became the main priority: due to previous earthquakes, Japan already had nationwide response plans, and dedicated teams of specially trained emergency workers.

I was drawn to this particular image by its striking, stark nature. The monochrome photo depicts a landscape drained of colour and vitality by an overwhelming force of nature. However, the image also shows human resilience in the face of trauma, as well as the bravery and sacrifices made by survivors to help others in need. It is a metaphor for the Japanese national spirit and also a reminder of the historic efforts made to rebuild Japan after other catastrophes, not least the devastation of World War Two. In addition, I recall watching these events unfold on news channels. Unlike many other natural disasters, these scenes were apocalyptic and seemed straight from a Hollywood movie. Yet a huge earthquake, followed by a tsunami, and then a nuclear meltdown seemed too far-fetched even for Hollywood. Lastly, the effects of events in 2011 are still with us, not just in the human tragedy of so many lives lost, but in other unusual reminders that occasionally appear in news items. For example, the tsunami carried an estimated 5-20 million tons of debris out to sea. Japanese boats, containers, and tons of household items, have been carried across the Pacific by ocean currents to arrive on the western coastal shores of North America. In 2012, for example, the U.S. Coast Guard spotted a derelict Japanese boat named Ryou-Un Maru in the Gulf of Alaska. The ship started its journey in Hokkaido the year before. As it was a danger to shipping, the Coast Guard sank it with gunfire. A similar occurrence took place in April that year when a shipping container was found on the coast of Graham Island in British Columbia. Inside was a Harley Davidson motorcycle with a Japanese number plate. Subsequent enquiries revealed that the container had been at sea for over a year and had travelled over 4,000 miles. The bike’s owner was traced in Japan, Mr Ikuo Yokoyama. He declined an offer from Harley Davidson to restore the bike or to replace it with a new model. It is now on display at the Harley Davidson Museum in Milwaukee.

Audio recording by Brian Ireland/Adrian McLoughlin (Volunteer), Cardiff.
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