People have been talking about the big one for years, the quake to rival others in Japan, including the Kanto earthquake of 1923, which set off fires that burned down 381,000 homes, or the Great Hanshin earthquake of 1995, which took 6,000 lives in Kobe.
By any measure, the quake that struck northern Japan on March 11 is among the world’s most horrific, 9.0 in magnitude on the Richter scale, with a tsunami force 23 feet high and the speed of a jet plane.
But of course this is not a competition anyone wants to win. It is a tragedy on a human scale beyond comprehension.
I was getting a haircut when the initial shock hit Tokyo. I felt as if suddenly I was part of a bizarre concrete mixer. Of course I had no idea that the situation was so much worse in the Sendai area. I only knew that in many years of living in Japan, and in other earthquake countries like Chile, or in the vulnerable Seattle area, this shock was the most violent.
In inimitable Japanese politeness, my hair stylist apologized for the disturbance, the floor of the shop still rolling. Nervously I laughed and replied that perhaps we should be apologizing to the kami (gods).
Scurrying back to my office nearby, I found that the Japanese staff had things well under control and seemed calmer than I. We agreed to leave the office and get into an open space, away from buildings. A good spot was right across the street, near the entrance of Meguro’s nature park. Streams of office workers, many wearing helmets, were walking by from offices as far away as the adjoining neighborhood, Ebisu.
We stayed there for about an hour, giving thanks for our safety and praying silently for those less fortunate. The aftershocks were continuous.
People gradually began to return to their offices. The trains were not running so my staff could not return home. We walked to my condo where they spent the night.
As we learned more about the quake and its aftermath, what stood out about this monster was its impact over such a wide area of Japan. There were multiple quakes. It was if the top part of the country were breaking apart.
My wife comments on the now so-called East Japan Big Earthquake in a metaphysical way, remarking that the people of Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima and Ibaraki Prefectures, the hardest hit regions, made a sacrifice for Tokyo. Had the epicenter of the earthquake been in Tokyo, the potential devastation would have been unimaginable. She will join a relief organization on-site as soon as possible, together with the thousands of volunteers from Japan and from all over the world offering a helping hand.
Adversity can result in benefit, a silver lining. The politicians in Japan have put aside their bickering in this time of need and resolved to provide unified support. Some of my clients have spoken of their experiences—of both failed and successful leadership during this crisis.
New technologies will be created to make Japan stronger, less vulnerable to the havoc that this quake brought. In times like these, people are reminded of what is truly important, and embrace their core, noble values. The strength of close community is ever more manifest.
Japanese people have shown great resiliency in recovering from national setbacks in the past, and they will do so again. Of this I am certain.
All the best,
Warren J. Devalier
©2011 Warren J. Devalier