On March 11, 2011, I woke up in an Austin hotel room in a panic. It was the first day of SXSW, the annual music/movie/interactive festival in Austin, Texas and I didn’t want to be late. I reached for my phone and was immediately overcome with dread. I turned on the tv and watched in numb horror as CNN replayed the same footage over and over and over. A massive wave of black water swept over fields, consuming roads, homes, schools, cars, people — everything in its path. It was like watching a movie. How is this real? I wondered as I watched the black goo eat everything again. Entire lives were washed away.
It’s weird when you’re connected to something but not. I spent weeks where I’d just come home from work and lie on the couch and watch TV Japan’s coverage of the disaster (which at that time was nearly 24 hours a day). It still scares me when the NHK announcer in the video above says that the Shibuya studio is shaking.
Every day, I’d watch as the death toll would rise. As of now, 15,000+ people have died and more than 3,000 are still missing. Hundreds of thousands of people are still living in shelters.
What got to me about everything was that I know how Japanese people are. Shikata ga nai. It can’t be helped. Japanese people endure. They accept. They move on. As far removed from Japan as I am, it still struck a chord with me.
For the past year, and almost directly because of 3/11, I’ve been more involved with Japanese culture than I have been in years. It just seemed more important to me somehow. Or maybe it strengthened the connection I already had. But almost exactly a year later, I have this:
A Japanese working holiday visa. It’s good for a year so yes — I’m moving to Japan! It seems like a strange thing to announce on the anniversary of something so tragic, but they’re kind of related for me. Like Gil Asakawa said, “What Japan will really need in the month—and years—to come, is for us to get up our nerve, learn a little more modern Nihongo, and travel to Japan. Because surely, that’s the kind of personal aid they’ll seek the most: reconnecting with our families and the country from which our ancestors emigrated.”