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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Moving on 7 years after 3.11 quake and tsunami

Rika Kayama

We have once again reached March 11, the anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. Since that fateful day seven years ago, I have made numerous trips to affected areas in Tohoku and other regions, and I email the people I met there on the anniversary of the disasters while apologizing for not contacting them regularly.

    A number of the messages I send bounce back with the alert "this address could not be found." Did they change their email address? Perhaps they decided to give up on email altogether. When it is an elderly individual, I can't help being concerned that something might be amiss with their health.

    After worrying for some time, however, I come to accept that after seven years, there are various changes in people's lives and lifestyles, and just leave it at that. If I asked around, there would probably be someone who knew the individual's contact information, but I think, "I am just someone they met through support activities, after all," and decide not to go out of my way to search for them.

    If the situation were reversed and seven years had passed since some difficult event and someone said to me, "I'm really very sorry. Please get better soon," or something similar, I would probably snap back, "I'm already living a normal life. Please leave me alone." But on the other hand, surely there are cases where people would like to shed their identities as victims and supporters and just be normal friends. With this in mind I almost find myself brooding over how the people who changed their email addresses without telling me must have felt.

    Even as a person who was involved with the damaged areas and the residents as a supporter, I still have these kinds of complicated feelings. Those who were affected by the disaster while living in the Tohoku and Kanto regions and others who also suffered a great deal of damage must have dealt with various emotional highs and lows or found themselves thinking about the disaster even though they were determined they would no longer do so. Still, I imagine they worked with all their strength to build a new life.

    I feel like I might faint just imagining the hardships they must have faced, but at the same time I can't help but admire how amazing the human spirit is. The people that I am able to contact send me news on such events as the opening of a shop in their hometown, getting married and having a child where they evacuated, and leaving for a foreign assignment. Even while carrying sadness and heartache with them, they relentlessly fight to carve out a way of life for themselves.

    Of course, for those who lost their families or hometowns to the disaster, the simple passage of seven years doesn't necessarily solve anything. There also must be cases where the pain only increases with each year. Even then, they still continue living -- the people I contacted successfully, those I didn't and all the others.

    I would like to applaud those who weathered the damage from the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster for continuing to move forward. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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