Lecture Note:Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami by Dr. Hitoshi Abe, Mr. Shige Higashi, and Dr. Osamu Fujimura – May 10, 2011

Nibei Abe Fujimura Higashi Tohoku report

Dr,. Hitoshi Abe, from left, Dr. Osamu Fujimura, and Mr. Shige Higashi.

The Nibei Foundation – Japan Study Club

11570 West Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064

May 10, 2011

The evening lecture was given by three speakers; Dr. Hitoshi Abe, Mr. Shige Higashi and Dr. Osamu Fujimura.

Dr. Hitoshi Abe

The first speaker was Dr. Abe, UCLA Director of the Center for Japanese Studies and chair of the architecture department.

His personal history and ties to the Sendai area go back nine generations and his own family still lives there.

He returned to the area in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami and gave us a report on the situation that he had seen at that time.

This earthquake and tsunami was the largest to hit Japan in its history.  Plates shifted in some areas as much as 300 miles and sunk to depths as great as four feet.

As of April 10, deaths: 13,013; missing: 14,608; for a total of 27,621 dead and missing. Refugees:  500,000.

Nibei Dr Hitoshi Abe Tohoku Report

Dr. Hitoshi Abe (Cultural News Photo)

Dr. Abe discussed the great devastation and personal toll that it took in the areas that the earthquake and tsunami hit.  Many victims were asked in different areas as to their desire to return to their home areas and the majority said no.

What should be noted is that despite the horrific conditions that left the people with virtually nothing, there remained a sense of “community” and goodwill to help each other.  They formed a communal-like setting in places like junior high school gyms and formed a type of “dividing line” to demark  small spaces that served as entities to help govern themselves and to make things easier for everyone else.

Stories were told to children to help entertain them and even smiling faces could be seen at times.  Food delivery came to some areas within 12 hours after the tsunami.  Mom and Pop stores were the ones that were able to supply food most easily as the larger markets chains such as the Seven-Eleven stores  had more difficulty in quickly releasing its supplies.

Help and aid came from all parts of the world such as Canada and the US.  The US Military played a big part in the clean-up of the Sendai Airport.  This support came just five days after the tsunami hit; 216 Marines worked day and night, 24 hours a day in this effort. Beside Sendai Airport clean-up project, the total of 19,000 troops, many aircrafts and ships were involved in this mass disaster rescue mission.

The projection as to this area’s future is that it will take at least six months to repair the infrastructure of the area and three to five years to reconstruct certain areas and move many people out.

There is hope to create some jobs and bring financial aid to the people of the hit areas, but many problems remain.

One in particular is the treatment of the mentally-ill and handicapped.  The present evacuee shelters cannot accommodate them as well as they wish.

What has compounded the problem of distributing funds and aid to the victims was the fact the in the disaster, many family and land registries were lost.

It was therefore, difficult to disburse any money without this basic information.  Only 10% of the eligible people were able to receive such funds due to this situation.

Many families were also affected by the salt and water situations caused by the disaster. It is estimated that it would take around three to five years to again grow crops in the area.

Another major problem is the job situations.  It has hit especially hard on those who ran small businesses and that are now 50 to 60 years old.

These people are at an age where it would be especially difficult to restart their businesses and lives again. Pollution and the nuclear situation also compounds the problem as Fukushima nuclear checks take up to 10 years to go through.

Nibei Shige Higashi

Mr. Shige Higashi in Iwate Prefecture on April 18 (Cultural News Photo)

Mr. Shige Higashi

The second speaker of the evening was Mr. Shige Higashi, publisher and editor of The Cultural News newspaper and website

He presented the following statistics of the aftermath of the disaster as of May 10:  deaths:  14,841; missing:  10,063; evacuees:  120,000; shelter:  2,400.  [Source: Japan’s National Police Agency]

Mr. Higashi visited Tohoku region from April 15 through April 20.

He started his tour of the area at Hachinohe in Aomori Prefecture which was the northernmost post of his trip.  Things were fairly normal in this region as of April 15.

When Mr. Higashi was asked about how things were in the Tokyo area, he reported that things in Tokyo were quite normal though the people there were constantly updated as to the situation of Fukushima nuclear disaster.

On a light note, he saw signs of hope as a JAL Express plane had the words:  Ganbaro Nihon which loosely translated means to try your hardest and keep on going on.  This saying could be seen in the different parts of the country in different dialects.

Some areas took a massive beating.  In the City of Rikuzen-Takata in Iwate Prefecture, as much as 90% of the population was affected by the tsunami.

This area’s population was 23,000 and only about 3,000 people were not affected by this disaster.

The area was virtually flattened and wiped out.  On April 16, the Self-Defense Force was still trying to search for bodies and clear the streets.

Mr. Higashi also visited some shelters in Rikuzen-Takata, and saw the situation first hand.  He went to Asunaro Home for the mentally challenged people. In spite of the fact their workshop facility was not affected by tsunami, members’ group housing were all destroyed. There were seven group housing for mentally challenged in their city.

Other shelter he visited was the gym of a local junior high school that served as the living quarters. The clinic here was run by the Red Cross.   Here people could also receive mail and check posters of people searching for their loved ones.  igashikkk

Mr. Higashi also commented on how people were working to make it easier on others.  For example, a professional chef named Hiroki Tono came in to help cook for the people at the shelter.

When Mr. Higashi was asked to which organizations would be best to donate to, he directed them to check the May issue of Cultural News which would list the local organizations sanctioned by the local government that needed the most help.

Nibei Dr Osamu Fujimura

Dr Osamu Fujimura (Cultural News Photo)

Dr. Osamu Fujimura

The third speaker of the evening was Dr. Osamu Fujimura at the UCLA Medical Center.

Dr. Fujimura went to help the victims of the Miyagi Prefecture just five days after the earthquake hit.  There were as many as 400 aftershocks of the magnitude of five and six after the initial disaster.

He landed in Osaka and later went to Tokyo where he joined the TMAT, Tokushukai Medical Association Team.

He reported that victims were tagged as to how serious their condition was from lighter injuries to the more serious and black indicating the deceased.  90% of the deaths could be attributed to the tsunami.

He said that non-governmental disaster relief organizations were present from around the globe.  Dr. Fujimura’s group brought their own medical supplies, sleeping bags and food.

He was placed on a medical team that included doctors, nurses, pharmacists, medical and social workers.

When he arrived at the Sendai Tokushukai Hospital, each member of his team was given instructions as to where to go each day and reported back to the center each day to give their full report of the day’s activities.

Hashikami Junior High School was a station that was used as a shelter for about 600 evacuees where electricity was later established and food was dispersed.  Many young people were at the shelters helping and supporting the victims.

Dr. Fujimura commented that the intense situation was difficult at times as one has to just concentrate on getting the work done and try not to get too emotionally involved.

He went on to say that though you may feel numb in a sense at times, talking to the individual people puts the “human” perspective in sight and one cannot help but feel the real pain and sadness that the disaster had caused.

The three speakers all gave a most informative and touching account of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

(Naomi Otani took note of this lecture.)