One year on

Kobe by night

Kobe by night

Today’s post has nothing to do with cycling.

March 2012 marks one year since the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and resultant tsunami laid waste to most of Japan’s eastern coastline, especially across the Tohoku region.

Chinatown in KobeOne week after the anniversary I found myself in Kobe, the scene of Japan’s previous major earthquake, the Great Hanshin Earthquake.  In 1995, a magnitude 6.8 quake struck the city at 5.46am claiming more than 6000 lives, many as they slept.  The quake flattened houses, toppled the raised highways and caused much of the harbour-side area and port to crumble into the sea.

Now a bustling city once more, Kobe will be in many ways a template for the restoration of Tohoku – a symbol of hope that shows that life can eventually return to normal even in the face of overwhelming devastation.  In Kobe, the physical scars of that disaster have been completely erased.   All that physically remains today is a tiny area down at the harbour left as a reminder of nature’s savagery.

Hanshin Earthquake memorial

Alas, the physical scars will be harder to heal this time around because of the radiation from the partial meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi Power Plant in Fukushima City.

It could be said that in some ways it seems that the country did not learn its lessons well enough in Kobe.  In that case, the highways though built to withstand a quake of a much greater magnitude collapsed because the ground speed of the quake was faster than the experts ever imagined.  In Fukushima too, the tsunami protection measures installed around the nuclear plant were only built to repel a wave of a smaller magnitude because no one thought such a massive tsunami would ever occur. This despite a long painful history of large quakes and tsunami’s in this country. Even the Tiny riderearthquake monitoring station in Iwate Prefecture couldn’t register the quake – because it was beyond the capacity of their equipment.  An inability or unwillingness to plan for the unexpected or highly unlikely appears to be all too common.

I am aware that hindsight is 20:20 and that I am a foreigner commenting on a country that I have not grown up in nor do I completely understand.  However, I challenge anyone to watch the documentary listed below, to listen to the parents who lost their children or who have had to uproot their entire family’s lives because those in authority underestimated Mother Nature yet again, and not feel that more could have been done.   Please watch this if you can obtain a copy: BBC Children of the Tsunami

Pagoda in Kobe's Chinatown