Do you remember where you were on 3/11/2011? Many Japanese can never forget where they were when the Triple Disaster hit Japan. On the anniversary of the disaster this year, Pastor Makito Matsuda of Oasis Chapel, took us to see some of the affected coastline along with our co-worker, Julie Nitao, JEMS missionary. It was a calm, beautiful day, unlike the day 11 years ago. For your information, “Triple Disaster” means, a M 9.1 earthquake (plus 2 more M 7+ quakes within 2 hours), the first tsunami (max. height 40 m or 130 ft.) arriving 30 minutes later, and 3 nuclear plant meltdowns within days. About 16,000 died, 2,500 missing presumed dead, and over 6,100 injuries on one afternoon.
The tsunamis caused the most damage and deaths. The waves affected the coastline for nearly 200 km (or ~124 miles). Some workers heroically stayed and sacrificed themselves. Their job was to warn people using the municipal public address system (PA) to run to safety on high ground. We remember the earthquake experience in Yokohama (~4-minute earthquake only) and seeing the videos on TV and the Internet.
Here’s a short video of our day together (2:22): 2022 Rememberance: A day with Pastor Makito, Julie and the Hwangs
We visited a lookout point of Matsushima Bay, famous for the ~260 “pine-clad islets.” Those islands protected the bay from the worst effects of the tsunami. The wave was about 2.9 meters (9.5 feet) was much less than other nearby areas. Pastor Makito remembered visiting the same point 10 days after the tsunami and seeing debris filling over 70% of the bay! Now, it is clean with few scars left on the land. Most scars are on the hearts of the people who survived. The memories of the terror of the ~6-minute-long earthquake still haunt the people. Imagine huddling under your table thinking your house is going to collapse and kill you. Or running for high ground when the tsunami alarm sounded. Or seeing the devastation all around.
Traveling further east, we visited the Higashi Matsushima Memorial Museum and Park. It is located on the former site of the Nobiru train station which was destroyed by the tsunami. Over 500 lives were lost in this town. The museum has interactive displays, pictures, artifacts, and a video (in Japanese), documenting the disaster. Their goal is both to remember the past and give hope for the future. We visited the beach nearby and climbed the >2-meter (~6 foot) seawall. Entire communities were not allowed to rebuild because of the danger. There is a new housing development in the hills above, but many have not returned.
Oasis Chapel volunteers served the survivors in the temporary housing units in this area during the recovery and rebuilding. About two years ago, the temporary housing shelters were finally closed. In serving over a long period, volunteers made friends and invited them to outreach events, like Gospel concerts. One of the community leaders, Mr. O, continues to be a friend and heard the Good News of Christ. Please pray the seeds that were planted will produce God’s fruit of faith, salvation, and hope.
Returning to Rifu, a small group of members and a few friends gathered at Oasis Chapel central. Pastor Makito led a prayer service followed by a live-stream concert. A few were invited to share their experiences during the prayer time. I noticed that, after eleven years, many still grieve over the loss and trauma from the disaster. However, some of those who are Christian, are able to look back and see God’s mercy and grace in the midst of the tragedy.
Just 5 days later, we experienced a strong M 7.4 earthquake near Fukushima, 95 km (59 mi.) away. We were awake at 11:30 PM and moved to a safe space in our apartment. We were shaken but the Lord kept us safe. Rifu is located inland and is safe from tsunamis. Thankfully no dangerous tsunami followed but a warning was issued. Our cell phones kept alarming us for the next hour! There were 4 that died and 97 injured due to the earthquake.
Some people reported having trouble sleeping, being upset, being overly alert (scared by small tremors), and feeling anxiety afterward. Perhaps some are having Post Traumatic Stress from the disaster 11 years ago. Please pray for the survivors of 3/11 for healing from trauma. More importantly, please pray that survivors would encounter the Risen Christ for complete healing and hope! Thanks for your prayers!
“God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.”
Psalm 46:1-3 NIV