Sunday marked exactly one year since the devastating 9.0-magnitude earthquake rocked Japan. Entire villages were swept away in the subsequent tsunami, and more than 20,000 people lost their lives in the disaster.
Suijy Nihei was at home when the local fire department issued a warning that the tsunami was coming. But by the time he and his family had gotten in their car, they could hear the water surging toward them. “It was the loudest noise,” he recalled. “It sounded like a snake crawling under the tatami mat.” Nihei and his family fled their home, but it was only a matter of moments before waves were surrounding them on every side. The family managed to reach the highest point of the expressway without being submerged. It was there that they waited out the worst of the disaster, watching as the water churned around them, destroying everything in its path.
Nihei and his family remember every detail of their escape on that terrifying day. The surge of water and the ensuing mass destruction are etched in their memories. Even those who didn’t witness the disaster can vividly picture what it looked like. On the day of the earthquake, thousands of individuals whipped out hand-held devices to capture videos of the tsunami bearing down on their villages and their homes. CNN's Kyung Lah has called last year's disaster in Japan “one of the most recorded in history,” as thousands of videos appeared online within hours, alerting the world to the devastation faced by millions in Japan.
But the Japan tsunami videos captured more than just the disaster; they exposed the world to the individual victims. Tokyo-based technology consultant Steve Nagata believes that the videos brought the tragedy closer to home for many people, helping viewers connect to the victims and become engaged in the relief effort. "Because you had all of this very real footage, it made the incident much more real in people's minds,” he says. “They no longer have to imagine what a tsunami is, they saw it live.”
While videos of the disaster circulated the internet, impacting donors and strengthening relief efforts, the individual victims of the tragedy sought to carry on with their lives, to salvage what was lost, to rebuild what had been destroyed. For three months after the earthquake, Suijy Nihei and his family lived in a temporary shelter. Their lives were saved, but they had lost everything. When they were finally able to return to the area they had once lived, Nihei felt like he was living a nightmare. “I went into panic, and I didn’t know what to do,” he confessed. “I knew I couldn’t repair it by myself, and I didn’t have the money to build a new house.”
Suijy Nihei and his family represent hundreds of thousands of people who lost homes in the disaster – in total, 300,000 homes were destroyed. Many of those who are displaced continue to live in temporary housing. But for some, there is a ray of hope in the form of countless volunteers who have continued to work to rebuild post-quake Japan.
Nihei was surprised – and grateful – when a team of volunteer carpenters with Samaritan’s Purse arrived to help him rebuild his home. Andrew Jamieson of Samaritan’s Purse says that the tsunami they serve have suffered tremendously. “When we begin on a house, they look run down and depressed without hope,” he says. “Then we start putting walls up, and through that expression of love, we see hearts changed. I’ve learned the greatness that comes from serving and sacrifice. For years I didn’t think about anyone else but myself. This is more rewarding than any sum of money I have ever received.”
Today, a year after the tsunami, relief organizations such as Samaritan’s Purse, World Vision, and countless others are working to rebuild the areas affected by the disaster, and heal physical and emotional wounds.
World Vision is working to provide aid to victims of the disaster, with a special focus on children. At least 1,500 children lost one or both parents in the tsunami. Rachel Wolff of World Vision says that child victims need to “have a place that's their own, where there are teachers and volunteers that can work with them, can really help the healing process."
As Japan makes strides toward recovery, organizations and individuals are seeking to aid in relief efforts, and think long term by increasing tourism. In New York City, events such as “Dine Out for Japan – Restaurant Week” have promoted tourism and disaster relief by raising funds for victims with donations from participating restaurants.
Malcolm Thompson is the general manager of The Peninsula Tokyo hotel. He says that typically his guests are comprised of 30 percent leisure and around 70 percent business. "Corporate business is 95 percent back," he says. "It's really the high-end leisure traveler from America and Europe. They're the ones we are not seeing yet. They're the ones who are still very tentative about Japan. We here know that everything is fine and life is back to normal in most parts of Japan, but that's not the perception."
Rebuilding Japan is a process, and like the reconstruction of countless thousands of homes, it takes time, energy, and vision. Samaritan’s Purse is one of many organizations rebuilding homes in Japan for individuals like Suijy Nihei, who after months of residing in temporary shelters, has finally moved into a finished house, a house that is beginning to feel like home for him and his family. “When I heard Samaritan’s Purse would rebuild my home, I thought that I must be in a dream,” he said. “After I have seen their faithful work, I can’t explain how thankful I am.”
Kristin Wright is a contributing writer at Crosswalk.com, where she covers topics related to human rights, international travel, social justice, women's issues, religious freedom, and refugee resettlement. For further articles, visit her website at kristinbutler.net or email [email protected].
Publication date: March 12, 2012