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  • Writer's pictureTim Odagiri

Remembering the Tōhoku Earthquake and Tsunami

Earthquake damage in Japan

Ten years ago, on March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake off the northeast coast of Japan triggered a tsunami that devastated a large swath of the country’s Tōhoku region. As people were still trying to grapple with the destruction, news came that the tsunami crippled a nuclear power plant in Fukushima, sending radiation throughout the area, and forcing the evacuation of local communities that continues to this day.

It is difficult to comprehend the scale and scope of an event like this without being in the midst of it. The raw numbers are overwhelming.

  • Nearly 16,000 people perished, and an additional 2,500 are still unaccounted for.

  • More than 340,000 people had to evacuate at least temporarily. Tens of thousands have yet to return home.

  • Ninety percent of the fishing boats in the three hardest-hit prefectures were totaled—around 26,000 vessels.

  • Direct economic losses in the first year alone amounted to ¥16.9 trillion (US$211 billion).

In addition to these direct losses, the fallout from the event impacted the lives of Japanese nationwide. The nuclear emergency led to an analysis and long-term shutdown of all nuclear plants in the country, forcing Japan to import more costly energy sources for years. Already struggling with a labor shortage, the nation saw nearly three percent of its immigrant work force flee for their home countries to escape the tragedy.

Most of all, the disaster seared yet another national calamity into the minds and calendars of the Japanese. While the destruction of the tsunami cannot compare with the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II, for younger Japanese who only read about the war in textbooks, the Tōhoku earthquake was shocking and immediate.

The rest of the world witnessed not just natural chaos, but the kind of human compassion and ingenuity that is borne out of disasters like the one in 2011. Although the Fukushima power plant is still in disarray and many people have no homes to return to, the general expectation is that Japan will overcome the impact of the earthquake and tsunami, and will be stronger. The song Flowers will Bloom (Hana wa Saku), written to raise support for the disaster, became a national rallying cry, reminding all who heard it that 3.11 is not an end, but a start.

[Image Credits: Office-HAL/]


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