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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


“Guest Column: Japan’s earthquake victims teach lesson of endurance, sacrifice”

I’m sitting on the Shinkansen, whisking across the Japanese countryside at warp speed. The hum of the high-speed engines is calming; if these things can barrel along under mountain and over bay, then I am sure those minds working tirelessly to eliminate the threat of the Fukushima nuclear power plant accidents will do their utmost to ease our fears.

I arrived in Japan in the wake of what I am calling the “”Great Tohoku Earthquake.”” Some are calling it the “”Sendai Quake”” or “”Great Eastern Japan Quake,”” but I think naming it after the region has a certain historical appeal. The Tokyo quake of 1923 is now and forever the Great Kanto Earthquake, and the Kobe quake of ’95 was aptly named the Great Hanshin Earthquake. Each of these quakes was not merely an isolated danger; they were not limited in scope, severity, or effect. They each killed thousands, displaced thousands, and literally felt hours away.

This is something amazing about Japan; in the face of disaster, the people press on. Not only by going about their business, work, classes, but also by making sacrifices. Tokyo, though not hit by the quake, has gone dark. To reroute power to the disaster zone, TEPCO instituted rolling blackouts in the outer-Tokyo area. The trains of JR, Seibu and Tokyo Metro have been reduced to save electricity. And on streets, outside train stations and next to cash registers at convenience stores, people are giving donations. Not whatever-change-you-have donations but 1,000 to 1,500 yen at a time (roughly $12-17). They are doing all they can. They are sacrificing.

I intended to visit Japan, a nice little homecoming to a city I had lived in and loved. It had been two years since I left to return home from a year abroad. I told myself two years was too long, but life is an unpredictable thing. Indeed, getting the opportunity to finally return to Japan was a great surprise, as was what I flew into.

We were an hour out of Narita when we received word of the quake. We were diverted, rerouted, and finally offloaded at a U.S. Air Force base. We made small talk. We found beer. We remained unsinkable. Our situation as stranded travelers of Delta Flight 295 was nothing compared to the poor souls in Sendai, Miyagi and Fukushima (among others), houses and loved ones swept away by the sea. I am doubly blessed; I missed the earthquake by minutes, and I have a home to return to. So many others in Japan have lost everything. We should count our blessings.

Friends and family have asked me if I will stay or go. My plan was to visit a little more than a week, visit friends, get good and drunk, see my favorite places, and visit some new ones. I wanted to return to the feeling I had while living here. A feeling I never found in Arizona. It could be the beautiful, noisy city. It could be something in the water. Whatever it is, Tokyo makes me feel a certain way. But I digress.

My decision was to stay, though it may vex those who love me. Anyone who ever visits Japan needs to recognize some simple truths. Japan is earthquake-prone, tsunami-prone, but generally safe. The quake and tsunami were miles from Tokyo, as is the Fukushima Nuclear Power Station. I offer this question in response to those who have brought up fleeing Tokyo as an option: If a plant went into meltdown in Boston, would you flee from New York? Philadephia? This is about the distance between Tokyo or Kyoto and Fukushima. It’s far, very far, safely far.

I don’t begrudge those who do choose to leave, but perhaps in stubbornness, or a show of solidarity to my Japanese friends who have nowhere else to go, I choose to stay. Unless the quakes get worse, or Fukushima rhymes with Chernobyl, I’ll be here until my flight leaves.

I’m glad, though it’s morbid, that I was able to bear witness to the devastation and pain, the beautiful outpouring of grief, community and support. I’ve become an integral part of a history, and, not to sound detached, I have some stories to tell. The goal of any traveler is to have experiences, and I am having them today.

In closing, please do all you can to support the victims of the Great Tohoku Earthquake. Donate money or food, wear red, write a blog, tell a friend, or send a text. Do something, anything, to help. It is sorely needed. Do what you can and remember, be thankful for what you have and your place in the world. Fortunes change with the wind.  


— Anson Smith is a senior studying Japanese studies, who visited Japan shortly after the earthquake on March 11. He has since returned home. He can be reached at

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