Remembering the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami – 10 Years Later

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By KIMIAKI CHIBA

Please join us for a virtual fundraising event sponsored by San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center on Saturday, March 6, at 5 p.m. Help us remember Japan’s disaster by raising money to help the Tohoku orphans with special needs.

Kimiaki Chiba (right) with John Nakama at the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center. (Photo courtesy of Nancy Oda)

At the event we will get updates on the rebuilding of the Tohoku area, specifically, Minamisanriku in Miyagi Prefecture. Koichi Saichi will provide updates on his family, who was in his hometown when the earthquake happened.

Ten years ago, Aunt Michiko was having tea with her husband and neighbors. Realizing that the tsunami was coming, they all made a run for it. She made it to higher ground and survived, but her husband Gentaro didn’t. I was told that Uncle Gentaro stopped to take a picture of the approaching water and those few seconds cost him his life. Aunt Michiko now lives on a newly built home on a hill, after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami swept her house away.

When I heard about the earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku in 2011, I was very scared and worried for my relatives in Miyagi Prefecture. My father’s family’s main house is in Minamisanriku, next to the Rikuzen Minato (literally translates to “Land in front of Port”) train station. I used to joke with my cousin that the old house in rural Japan was like a “resort with an ocean view.”

In my childhood, I was there when there was a tsunami warning after an earthquake in South America. My relatives and neighbors all went to the port to tie up their small fishing boats so that they wouldn’t get washed away. Since the family’s seaweed factory and the house sat on top of small Nukatsuka Mountain, I felt safe from the possible tsunami and I looked out of the factory window for a possible tidal wave.

Needless to say, there was no tsunami and life went back to normal.

Things haven’t gotten back to normal for many since the disaster struck 10 years ago. The most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Japan also triggered a 133-foot tsunami that caused significant damage, 15,899 deaths and 6,157 injuries, with 2,529 people still missing.

When I heard about the tsunami, I was hoping that all my family members evacuated to Nukatsuka Mountain like I did years ago. Turns out, all the other people in town evacuated to a shrine that was higher and was safe. Unfortunately, the seaweed factory and the house on Nukatsuka Mountain were washed away and my cousins who tried to evacuate there are still missing.

About a month later, it was verified that we lost five family members. The main house was destroyed, as well as the seaweed factory and the family’s general store at the same location. Two other families completely lost their homes and other family members had significant damage to their homes and/or businesses.

We hope that you can join us to remember this 10-year milestone of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami on March 6. Please sign up at www.sfvjacc.com/events.

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