It was now five years ago that the Great Tohoku Earthquake occurred causing the giant tsunami together destroying houses, buildings, land and lives in Northern Honshu (and particularly Tohoku). Readers of my blog may recall that I spent two years in Ichinoseki, in Tohoku, teaching English and living there.
But that was 2012 – 2014, in 2011 on March the 11th I was on a 10 month trip to many countries ranging from Vietnam to Central Asia, Europe and Cameroon. I was in the first two weeks of my trip at the time, in the hill city of Dalat in Vietnam. My trip was very much just beginning.
I had had a pretty good day – I had been out on a tour and seen some of the countryside and met some nice people too. I came back to my guesthouse and a friend I had made there by the name of Steve (who knew of my travel plans) said that I wouldn’t be going to Japan anymore. I was due to go from Vietnam to Laos, and then back to Hanoi to catch a flight to Tokyo you see, so I was about 2-3 weeks away.
I was not sure what to make of his claim. I asked him why, he told me there’d been a huge earthquake or tsunami or something and the whole country was devastated. I scratched my head and thought I’d better not jump to any conclusions, and went out for dinner. After dinner I returned to my guesthouse and watched cable TV deep into the night basically flipping from one news network to another, including NHK (in English).
In fact I did for the next couple of nights. I had been very excited about the prospect of getting to Japan for months before the trip if not a couple of years, and I have a lot to weigh up. Should I still go? That was the main question. The secondary question was IF I was still to head to Japan, where should I go and where should I avoid?
I had to consider the opinion of family as well. My parents initially stood on the fence, then they thought it best I didn’t go. This was chiefly due to the news from Fukushima. I lived in Iwate for 2 years, and even now I don’t think anything like the full truth has been told.
News of these sort of things is often hard to digest when you’re on the road. How bad is it really? Is it now not appropriate to visit Japan? As it turned out, I decided to modify my journey. I flew into Kansai and decided to not head to Tokyo. I bought a flight via Kuala Lumpur for around $300 which was a great deal, and cancelled my Hanoi – Tokyo flight. It was a frequent flyer booking so not a lot of harm done.
I figured if I kept south I’d be okay, which was a fair thought. I was able to book places to stay pretty easily too, which was a result of the disaster. It clearly had affected tourism. I arrived at the very start of April and was amazed at how quiet it was tourist-wise. Kyoto was still beautiful, friendly and brilliant though. Tokyo on the other hand was strangely quiet. Yes, I changed my plans once I hit the ground in Japan and realised that things weren’t as bad as it had been suggested they might have been. And Japan was understandably well down on tourists.
And of course, I fell in love with Japan. I can compare my experiences of April in 2011 to other years, and apart from 2011 Japan is probably busiest at that time. In some ways it was almost special to be there in 2011 so soon after the Great Earthquake. Despite the devastation the people of Japan had no choice to keep on living, breathing, working and the like.
The rebound from the disaster and the way communities worked together was evident when I was in Tohoku for two years. The people’s ability to keep on keeping on – amazing. May the Journey Never End.
Post Script. After putting this post together, I felt someone guilty about writing a post about MY experience of 11/3/2011. Because in reality, my travel plans were the least important thing about that day in the ENTIRE WORLD. So please spare a few moments today to remember those who lost homes, jobs and above all lives on that day. The photos I’ve provided are all my own and were taken 1 and 2 years after the tsunami, at two towns absolutely devastated by it, Ishinomori and Kesenumma. Both have rebounded back demonstrating the amazing spirit of the people of Tohoku.