Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Year Later

An Anniversary
Today is 3/11, the day many lives changed here in Japan. At the moment we sit in a tollbooth exiting the Tohoku Expressway, someone's credit card isn't working. I'm reflecting on the sights we took in and my thoughts about the past year.

Our weekend away was the closest we've come to the area impacted by the tsunami and earthquake. It's quieter, more rural, and spacious compared to the cramped confines of the Tokyo suburbs. It also seems economically depressed and in need of tourists.

We did not visit any of towns directly devastated by the tsunami. Catching glimpses of remembrances on TV with grown men crying at the loss of so many people may be riveting TV, but it is not a place I can dwell as the mother of young children who need to know that life is giving and good first. The Zombie House in Edo Wonderland was barely scarey but my children were terrified. Adding real life to this is only asking to paralyze them. Explaining to them that it's their wild imaginations that are scaring the pants off of them is one thing. Explaining that bad things happen to good people gets into conversation they can't see around, yet.

Stone Buddhas
We spent the morning in the calm and quiet of Nikko's snow amongst stone buddhas starring at the wildness of nature in front of them- a rocky river with a rushing torrent of water flowing down the mountainside. It was if we were on an ancient trail, walking through the woods and snow, adrift in the world of spirit and nature.
Stone Buddhas of Nikko
Machiko Pottery
Then I dragged my family off to Machiko, the pottery town. The Ceramic Museum was open for free this weekend. My museum loving children loved it, though they went through it too fast. We watched smoke billow from the kilns, took a gander at a minka farmhouse that was once a home to a potter, and trekked through the local shops to look for wares. My children complained about the looking for wares part as it involved walking and a being without gadgetry. I thought about craftsmanship, creating, and small businesses.
Pottery kiln firing ceramics in Machiko

Old minka farmhouse in Machiko
An American potter living in Machiko had a story about the fishing industry struggling in the aftermath of the tsunami and the losses sustained. They have turned to making hammocks to support themselves but they have no way to process orders from abroad or in English! Why? A simple fix if someone could process and resend orders in Japanese. Local industry could benefit from an infusion from the wider market.

Get busy living, or get busy dying.
The Shawshank Redemption

Older folks, older ways have borne the burden of loss from the tsunami and earthquake. There is no huge industry to drag the financial and political will into a specific direction as was seen in the aftermath of the Kobe earthquake. Local industry needs vision to see beyond the confines of their current market, to ask for specific help which they may not even know they need.

when things look bad and it looks like you're not gonna make it, then you gotta get mean. I mean plum mad-dog mean. 'Cause if you lose your head and give up, then you neither live nor win. That's just the way it is.
The Outlaw Josie Wales

Intimacy with Energy
My lingering thoughts on the impact of 3/11 go to energy. Japan has chalked up another intimate experience with nuclear power, from the atom bomb to a nuclear meltdown. Whether nuclear power is resumed or not, it is firmly fixed in my mind as not the way to go. Sitting around in a cloud of radioactive fallout drove that point home.

The Japanese culture has endured far longer than my own. It is a place where old and new alike can be experienced in the same place- just think about toilets from Captain Kirk chairs to ceramic holes. As Japan marks the first anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake, it is both a burden and an opportunity.

The Shinto head priest at Hachimangu said that the Japanese people have endured hardships from earthquakes and tsunamis for over a thousand years. Being Japanese is in part about shouldering disaster and hardship. Westerners marvel at the emotional masks worn by the Japanese perhaps forgetting their long history with the elements. It is also a culture that celebrates old age, wisdom, and a comprehension of beauty that is unique.

Perhaps opportunity resides in those who are both firmly rooted in Japan and those that can extend Japan into the world and in finding answers to energy problems that we will all ultimately face.

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