Japan begins recovery following natural disasters

Japan’s recent earthquake has the highest magnitude and death toll out of all of the country’s previous recorded earthquakes, becoming the country’s most devastating natural disaster. (credit: Justin Lin/) Japan’s recent earthquake has the highest magnitude and death toll out of all of the country’s previous recorded earthquakes, becoming the country’s most devastating natural disaster. (credit: Justin Lin/)

In Japan, a record 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit the northeast coastal region followed by a tsunami that devastated areas such as the Miyagi and Fukushima Prefectures on March 11. This earthquake was the most devastating natural disaster to hit Japan since the 1995 Great Hanshin earthquake.

As Japan’s government and local and international aid efforts work to bring food and supplies to survivors, the death toll has climbed to at least 7,197 with at least 18,000 missing, according to the BBC network and NHK World News.

Over 400,000 citizens are living in relief centers while many face freezing temperatures, snow, and limited food and heat.

International rescue teams from over 10 countries traveled to Japan, and over 70 countries offered aid.

One of the remaining fears is the state of damaged nuclear reactors, particularly the six at the Fukushima Daiichi plant 250 miles from Tokyo. Last Saturday morning, firefighters resumed pouring seawater into the third reactor, which was further damaged by a hydrogen explosion last Monday.

The hope was to pour at least 1,260 tons of water into the reactor in seven hours, according to NHK World. The workers must also lower rising temperatures in the fifth and sixth reactors.

Efforts have been made to connect the reactors to a power line to restore cooling ability to the reactors and avert a potential nuclear meltdown. A mandatory evacuation zone of 20 kilometers was enforced by the Japanese government, with about 200 people experiencing radiation exposure.

Japan’s Metropolis English Language Magazine reported a normal level of .176 microsieverts of radiation in Tokyo. However, as a cautionary measure, the United States embassy encouraged a voluntary evacuation of an 80 kilometer radius of the Fukushima plant and encouraged flights out of Japan for U.S. citizens last Friday.

The reactions of the country and Japanese people have been orderly in the face of crisis as a result of both culture and preparedness. Even in the hardest hit areas, lines for relief supplies were calm. Although residents of Tokyo purchased water and nonperishable foods, most citizens have returned to normal routines. The organized atmosphere and lack of looting are reflective of Japan’s social tradition, as expressed by Thomas Lifson in The American Thinker. Citizens are also cooperating with rolling blackouts by the Tokyo Electric Company that will continue into April.

“I think that the Japanese are generally well prepared for earthquakes, but this time the tsunamis were much more destructive than they had anticipated,” commented Yasufumi Iwasaki, an assistant teaching professor of Japanese at Carnegie Mellon.

Stephanie Guerdan, a junior Japanese major studying in Temple University’s Japan campus in Tokyo, noted the city’s atmosphere. “I’ve seen the lines outside grocery stores — stood in them, in fact — and people are all very courteous about waiting their turn.... The Japanese as a whole are very conscious about not inconveniencing others, so it would be unconscionable to storm grocery stores or riot,” Guerdan said. “The level of destruction [the disasters] caused in Miyagi and the surrounding prefectures is astounding and saddening.”

According to Temple University’s Japan campus website last Friday, the study abroad program has been suspended, and students are advised to return to the United States.

At the Carnegie Mellon campus in Pittsburgh, student organizations have initiated efforts to raise funds and awareness for Japan’s relief. In particular, graduate students from the Tepper School of Business and the Heinz College, and undergraduate students from the Japanese Student Association and the Pre-Law Society, held fundraisers in addition to other efforts.

Keiji Matsunaga, a second-year graduate MBA student in Tepper, described current efforts as well as the reaction of the Carnegie Mellon community. “I was again reminded of the strength of our community, with so many students volunteering and asking for updates relating to this terrible tragedy. Other students have also contributed not only donations, but their time and efforts in folding origami cranes and bookmarks. So far, we have successfully gathered $2,700 at CMU,” Matsunaga said.

Events will include a discussion today at 5:20 p.m. in Posner 151 hosted by Tepper MBA students, as well as live interaction with Tepper alumni in Japan. Donations will be accepted at the Gates Hilman Complex and Baker Hall on April 2 by the Japanese Student Association and at the International Film Festival by the Tepper School of Business.

Aki Iijima, a second-year student in the master of science for public policy and management program in the Heinz College, helped organize the Heinz graduate students’ participation in fundraising efforts. “I was frightened thinking I might lose my family, friends, and many loved ones, whose existences I took for granted,” Iijima said. “Even after they were fine, I was depressed since I could not do anything for them ... so I decided to launch a fundraising campaign with other Japanese friends in the Heinz School.”

Miki Bentz and Daiji Kano of the Japanese Student Association also expressed their initial reactions. They further described ongoing undergraduate fundraising efforts.

Kano, a senior biological sciences major and the community liaison for the Japanese Student Association, expressed that “a combination of fear and worry started taking over me as I was unable to reach my relatives back home but was relieved to hear back from them a couple of hours later.”

Bentz, a junior information systems and Japanese studies major, described some of the association’s fundraising efforts. “[The Japanese Student Association] actually already had a fundraiser planned for this week for St. Patrick’s Day, but on the day of the initial earthquake and tsunami, the board unanimously decided to continue the fundraiser, but donate all of the proceeds to earthquake relief.... The generosity of so many people over these past few days has been so touching.”

As the Japanese people continue their recovery and containment efforts, they draw upon a history of determination and unity in the face of hardship that will aid them in this difficult time.

Matsunaga summarized, “In Japan, there is a popular saying that pronounces ‘endurance and continuous efforts make you stronger.’ As we continue to increase our efforts in supporting the victims of Japan, in my heart, I truly know that we can all make a difference in overcoming this tragic disaster in the coming months, and arise an even stronger, closer global community for the future.”