Emiko Yoshida, Representative Director of Otento SUN.
“Otento SUN” Joint Enterprise Cooperative
First Steps from Fukushima
Walking together with people from around the world
Q: What were you doing on 11th march?
That day, I was at the office of “The People,” which is the NPO that I work for in Onahama, in the city of Iwaki, Fukushima. The monthly meetings usually lasted into the evening, but on that day we ended the meeting early. Everyone was saying, “Thank goodness that’s over!”
I was talking with some of the young staff members when suddenly several unfamiliar-sounding alarms went off at the same time. It took us a few moments to realize that they were cell phone alarms. At first we thought someone was receiving a call, but just then the building started to shake violently.
Actually, several days before the earthquake, there had been a meeting to discuss the management of the office building, and we were told, “This building is not earthquake-resistant, so it will be dangerous if a big earthquake hits one day.” Therefore, we panicked and got out of the building quickly. When I turned around, I saw the four-story building shaking, the water tank on the rooftop terrace splitting open, the block fence crumbling and the utility pole wires swinging. While I was watching the disaster unfold, a junior high school girl on the street near me suddenly started crying, and was unable to walk. I put my arms around her, and we just endured the period of time while the ground shook underneath us.
And when the shaking stopped, I thought "ah, it's over".
In a disaster, the time when everything shakes is the earth quake. And you think that it is
over at that point, when actually it was just the beginning of the disaster. Now looking back, I feel that way, however, the all we could feel was “ah, it’s over” back then.
My house is not close to the sea, but my father-in-law who was in his late 80s was at home, and I was worried about him, so I got in the car and drove home.
I heard someone shouting, “A major tsunami warning has been issued!,” but people in Iwaki weren’t highly aware of disasters like a tsunami, so even when I heard that, I didn’t have the slightest idea what a tsunami was. I was worried about my house, and I just drove my car home. Usually, it would take me 15 to 20 minutes to get home, but because of a major traffic jam I was still stuck on the road an hour later. When the tsunami hit the coastal area, I was still in my car.
When I reached home, I found my house half-collapsed. The inside of the house was in complete disarray, and my father-in-law was just sitting there alone in a state of shock not being able to do anything. At that point, I had no idea what kind of damage the tsunami had caused in the area near the sea. All I could see was what was happening in the immediate vicinity. Fortunately, the electricity was working, and I was able to see live broadcasts of the disaster that the tsunami caused in Miyagi and Iwate on TV. But I didn’t have a clue what was going on in my own town of Iwaki.
Later, when we heard about the nuclear accident, we understood that the disaster had continued even after the earthquake had ended. It’s been five years since then, but the disaster still hasn’t ended in Fukushima. I didn’t expect that it would last this long.
Q: Now that five years have passed, what is your vision of the future? Is there any message that you want to share with other people?
In Fukushima, we experienced both a natural disaster and a man-made disaster. For each disaster, there were victims, people who had to leave their homes and people who suffered damage. I’ve been spending my time meeting the victims of both disasters.
Five years later, there are still many unresolved issues in Fukushima, but in fact these are things that could occur anywhere. They just happened to occur here first.
Perhaps people from other places look at the disaster in Fukushima from far away, and think of it as “something tragic that happened to the people in Fukushima.” But this could occur tomorrow in their own towns. We who live in Fukushima have experienced many things over the past five years and have learned a lot from them, so our experiences could be of great benefit to people who live elsewhere as well.
Through our own experiences, we’re trying to build the future of Fukushima and face the challenges that lie ahead. We owe this to our five years of experience. This isn’t just for Fukushima, but also for people who live everywhere. We’re moving forward one step at a time and hoping that we can create something that is of benefit to everyone.
Otherwise, we won’t have learned anything from all of this. If the same thing happens elsewhere and we repeat the same mistakes, we may wonder, “Didn’t we learn anything from that experience?” We went through a lot of pain, and that’s why we must build on our experiences and move ahead, even if it’s just one step at a time.
Q: Is there anything you would like to say to people all over the world?
For a long time before the disaster, I had been involved in social actions. Because of this, I was able to take action immediately in response to the disaster, which enabled me to understand what was happening and what we needed to do to move ahead.
If people hadn’t begun to think about the future, or taken their first steps, the devastation would have stayed just as it was. I learned that the people who are willing to think, set goals, and work towards achieving them; those are the people who are ready to take action when something goes wrong. Each one of us in this world can make our own contribution, develop our awareness, and take action, even if only on a small scale, to make world a better place for everyone. In this manner, no matter how big the problems are that come our way, we can overcome them. People in the world may feel pity towards us here in Fukushima, but we’re trying to take our first steps towards recovery, and we hope that everyone all over the world will walk together with us.