ALLISON HIGHT - 2 October 2011
On March 11th, 2011, the infamous 8.9 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that hit Japan struck coastal towns the hardest. Among these was Iwate, a town located not far from the country’s east coast that is heavily dependent upon the fishing industry. On that day, over half of Iwate’s livelihood was destroyed in the form of boats, ports, and supplies. Over six months later, the town is still working to rebuild their homes, businesses, industries, and communities.
Although far enough from Fukushima’s nuclear plants that increased levels of radiation were not a serious concern, Iwate has had its fair share of trouble. Only in the last month were the last of its evacuation shelters emptied; temporary housing is still prevalent as gaping holes and ghost foundations serve as reminders of the homes that used to stand on the same land. The recent typhoon also caused mudslides and additional evacuation for people who had been assured that their temporary homes had been built on safe ground. Economic stress has been added to the emotional and traumatic strain as the dire condition of Iwate’s fishing industry stretches into November’s peak sea snail season and boats remain stranded on land or in piles of rubbish.
Like in many other disaster zones, though, the perpetually admirable spirit of perseverance and steadfast determination remains very much alive in the people of Iwate, an attitude which has caused many to stay in the area despite the barren landscape in order to rebuild their community anew. With worldwide attention waning away from Japan, and when present, focused mainly on the progress of radiation quell, the stories produced in areas like Iwate go largely unheard. One such story lies in the work done by the non-governmental organization “Life Investigation Agency” (LIA). Established in 2010, LIA works to end illegal animal trades and halt environmental abuse. After the tsunami, LIA immediately jumped in to do environmental-related rehabilitation work to repair the damage done to Japan’s ecosystem. For example, when the waters swept onto the land, many of the trees on the lower hillsides were immersed in salt water; today, these trees stand as brown beacons of what transpired.
Unfortunately, despite the rampant trash and sludge that washed into the river, many areas cannot be touched, as various wildlife is building their nests amongst the metal and plastic. As LIA’s primary concern is for the well-being of the plants and animals, they are waiting for an opportune time to approach these areas, a process that will take several years before it is concluded.
Surprisingly, efforts like LIA’s may lie at the heart of the answer to this question. While much foreign and national news coverage has converged on the human side of the story all along, the voices of environmental organizations have grown steadily louder in recent months. Currently, Japan stands as a crossroads: despite their renowned recycling and disposal system, the overwhelming amount of clean-up work to be done opens the possibility for irresponsible removal and placement of waste, a decision that could have devastating effects on the country in the future; in contrast, the environmental clean-up being done currently could be taken a step further to prepare the land for possible future disasters. Restoring crops and landscapes to a thriving condition would have the added bonus of affecting Japanese citizens’ day-to-day conditions for the better as well. Especially in Iwate and surrounding regions, where mountains and picturesque scenery is rampant, the value of environmental restoration should not be underestimated.
Fortunately, many people and organizations are reaching out to Japan to accomplish this goal. Among the most encouraging is the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which appears more than willing to share its knowledge and resources in order to assist Japan in necessary scientific and environmental endeavors.
In the days after the earthquake, while the rest of the world was still discussing the scope of the disaster, Japan was posting positive Twitter stories demonstrating the constant stream of citizens’ selfless actions, its nation-wide desire to help evacuees, and steadfast evidence that the country would rebuild in very short order. Today, that attitude persists in its ideal in Iwate’s readiness to accept strangers into their midst for the sake of reconstruction, their eagerness to share their lives and their stories with anyone who is willing to listen, and their ability to take a disaster of incomprehensible scope and turn it into an opportunity for friendship, bonding, and building.
Even in view of the sheer amount of work left to be done, then, Japan’s future is definitely looking more positive every day. Between national and international endeavors, it appears that the events of March 11th may cause the country to emerge even stronger and more resilient than before.
But of course, Japan knew that from day one.