"Please don’t forget us” - a powerful message on the 3rd anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami
Reporter: Terry Crotty
March 11 2014
This AJS NSW event was held in Sydney on March 11, exactly three years since the disaster.
President Philip Mitchell welcomed around 40 guests and explained that it was 3 years ago to the day that Japan was struck by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, a disaster of shocking proportions. “All of us will remember where we were that day and the time of the event and we pay tribute to the resilience and courage of the Japanese people.”
He then welcomed Masato Takaoka, the newly-appointed Consul-General of Japan in Sydney.
The Consul-General thanked AJS for their notable gesture to host an event to commemorate the disaster. He reviewed the events of three years ago, pointed out that the earthquake at magnitude 9 was the largest ever recorded. 19,000 people lost their lives as a result of the disaster, one million buildings were damaged and 473,000 people evacuated.
He reiterated Japanese Prime Minister Abe’s focus on the reconstruction effort, with the establishment of the Reconstruction Agency. The importance of the effort has been highlighted with 25 trillion yen being allocated to the reconstruction in the next year.
He outlined that much had already been done – for example, 93% of hospitals are back to normal operation, 91% of debris had been disposed of and 99% of roads have been reopened or rebuilt – but there is still much to do. In particular he referred to the 103,000 people still living in temporary housing with the Government’s efforts heavily directed towards resettling these people into permanent housing.
One of the most noticeable aspects in the aftermath of the disaster was the significant decrease in population in the region since the event. Many people either won’t be able to come back or will choose not to come back.
With radiation levels from the damaged Fukushima nuclear plants remaining high in some areas, it is still not possible for people to safely return to these areas. The Government reports real time radiation levels at a number of sites in the affected areas as well as readings throughout the rest of Japan.
He stressed how important it is for people to continue to visit Japan and the Tohoku area to show their support for Japan and its people. He concluded by indicating that much had been done in the reconstruction effort but much still needs to be done. He is grateful for the support of friends overseas, particularly from Australia.
Philip Mitchell then welcomed Peter Gibson. Peter has been to Japan almost 50 times, since beginning a career there as a professional tennis player and coach. Last year he decided to do something special and planned a 309 kilometre walk from Fukushima to Ofunato through the most affected areas.
Previous Event Reports :
Nikkei Australians- November 2013
August 2013 - Japanese Investment
Mark Willacy and others Jan - July 2013
Peter opened by reflecting on the events of 11 March 2011 and the thought “what would we have done in Australia had the disaster happened here?”
He planned the walk from a desire to contribute something of himself to show his support for the area and its people. He wanted to see the region first hand, feel and touch the area and speak with the people about what they went through. His adventure was covered by the Japanese media and he played a short video of a recent television segment featuring his walk.
He did a practice walk from Yokohama to Asakusa to prepare himself for his upcoming Tohoku adventure.
Peter chose to make his adventure a fund raising effort and over the course of his walk, he raised over $12,000 for the orphans of Tohoku via his chosen charity Peace Winds Japan. He provided a very engaging day-by-day account of his travels, the people he met and the experiences which moved him emotionally.
The managers of many of the inns he stayed in during his walk donated the accommodation charge back to him, some even contributing more to his fund raising efforts.
He used his love of tennis to break down barriers and start conversations with people, giving lessons, playing games and donating racquets.
He visited seven harbour areas, of which six were devastated. During the walk he was constantly amazed at the speed of the reconstruction effort.
On arriving at Ofunato, he realised this area was one of the worst hit. “The damage was everywhere. Where once whole towns existed, open fields are all that remain.” He was also amazed that areas so far inland from the sea had been greatly affected by being inundated by the tsunami.
To end the journey on a light note he dressed as Elvis to generate more corporate donations.
One of his strongest memories from the people of Tohoku was the message “Please don’t forget us”.Following Peter’s very memorable presentation, President Philip Mitchell presented the Consul-General with a pledge of $1,000 from the Society to be directed to the charity of the Consul-General’s choice to assist in the rebuilding efforts.