Wednesday, March 11, 2015

March 11, Japan, and me: がんばって!

The USGS's overview of affected areas
While surfing the internet today, you may notice an increase in news stories about Japan, and it's not just your imagination: March 11 is an important day in recent Japanese history.

Four years ago today, the most powerful earthquake to ever hit Japan during modern times struck off the coast of the Touhoku region, the northeastern area of Japan's main island of Honshu. The earthquake triggered deadly tsunami, landslides, and aftershocks; the natural disasters caused nuclear meltdowns in Fukushima; and the death toll passed 15,000, with thousands still missing. Even today, it's estimated that over 200,000 people are still displaced, living in temporary housing.

Having lived in Indiana for most of my life, I've only experienced a handful of earthquakes that I can remember; since they're so rare and weak here, they usually mainly cause confusion and surprise rather than major damage--as in, "whoa, did a car just hit the house?!"--so it's hard for me to truly comprehend what it would have been like. The Japan Quake Map, set to March 11, gives us a scientific, geological perspective--watch the map until the time advances to 14:46 JST to see the far-reaching magnitude of a ~9.0 earthquake, and the many aftershocks that followed in its wake--but to actually have been there must have been beyond words.

I remember watching videos of the aftermath on what seemed like endless repeat on CNN in the break room at work that following week, feeling so helpless, being moved to tears. Thanks to social media, Japanese and American friends living across Japan were able to check in with us, reassuring everyone of their safety--even if they had been stuck in their Tokyo office buildings without electricity for hours--and word of opportunities to donate toward Japan relief spread like wildfire. 

Opportunities to donate toward Japan relief abounded
In the days that followed, I received many emails and saw posts on social media from some of my favorite companies about donating to the American Red Cross toward Japan relief. T-shirt company DesignByHumans gave $3 to the Red Cross for every Japan Relief shirt sold; fashion brand tokidoki organized a Relief Run with actor Josh Duhamel, also selling totes and shirts for Japan relief; Nissan donated $500,000 to the Red Cross and matched donations for the first $500,000; LivingSocial offered $5 for a $10 donation to the Red Cross; and even Lady Gaga sold "We Pray for Japan" wristbands (which unfortunately resulted in a lawsuit, but did remind us to be mindful and guarded when making charitable donations).

The events surrounding 3.11 left a big impact on me. I had enjoyed Japanese culture for as long as I could remember, but the Touhoku quake pushed me to take a closer look at why Japan had fascinated me for so long and what I loved about it, and ultimately drove me to immerse myself in all things Japanese in an attempt to answer those questions. Later that year, I began to formally study Japanese in a university setting, so I could begin to understand more of the language as it related to the culture. On March 11, 2013--the two year anniversary of the Touhoku earthquake--I realized a lifelong dream and visited Japan for the first time. When I was in Japan, something strange happened: for the first time since second grade, I felt like I belonged...which, admittedly, sounds strange, as I was a head taller and several shades blonder than the vast majority of the population, but that feeling was there nonetheless. I knew then that continuing to learn more about Japan was the best course of action for me, and I hope to live there someday.

がんばって (ganbatte) isn't just a word tossed around in anime; the spirit of it is inherent in Japanese culture. Conjugated from the verb 頑張る (ganbaru), it has many meanings, but the main idea involves persevering through tough times, always trying one's best, and keeping at it. "Ganbatte!" was everywhere in the wake of the Touhoku earthquake, and this concept so ingrained in the spirit of Japanese people undoubtedly helped get Japan back on its feet. It really spoke to me, too, not only in my studies of Japanese language, but in life as well: in my line of work I'm faced with a lot of difficult rejection, but ganbatte--as well as the proverb 七転び八起き, which I'll discuss in a future blog post-- helps me persevere. And although many cities in Japan are still struggling with lingering effects and trauma of 3.11, they'll undoubtedly carry on with ganbatte in mind.

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