Today is the five-year anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, also called the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, or 3.11.
Not long after this disaster struck five years ago, I arrived in Japan for four months with my family while my husband taught English literature as a visiting scholar at Kwansei Gakuin University in Nishinomiya, near Kobe. A few people at home in Canada worried about us going to Japan at such a time. Because of widespread media reports of the disaster, there was a general feeling of panic and unease about the country, even though the area where we were going was unaffected. However, Nishinomiya was not necessarily any safer than Tokyo or Tohoku; it was affected by the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995. Not far from the house we lived in was a memorial commemorating citizens of the area who had perished in that disaster. If you live in Japan, it is impossible not to be affected at one time or another by earthquakes, floods, landslides, or tsunamis. But who can really be prepared for such events? As sophisticated as our technology has become, we still know neither ‘the hour nor the day’ of a disaster’s coming.
What the Japanese do have is their lore of such events, which helps people come to terms with the fickle nature of the geo-physical forces in their environment. Take, for example, the Tale of Hamaguchi Gohei and the Tsunami by Lafcadio Hearn, posted here by translator Sako Ikegami. In this tale, a wizened old village chieftain manages by intuition and quick-thinking to save villagers from certain death. After this post ran in April of 2011, the inaugural year of this blog, it became the third-most viewed post that year, and it continued to be viewed frequently, becoming the top-most viewed post in 2013, 2014, 2015, and so far in 2016. It is the all-time most popular post on this blog. I encourage you now to click the link and read the tale, to immerse yourself in the ‘hour and the day’ of a disastrous event and its effect on the Japanese people.
Above: Gleanings in Buddha-Fields (1897) by Lafcadio Hearn is the source of the Hamaguchi Gohei story. The text of this book is not in copyright. Cover image located here.