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Anne Thomas: Rebuilding life in Sendai May 25, 2011

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It has been well over a month since I have been in touch. Much has happened in that time, both in Japan and in my personal life. Of course, the world’s attention has mostly sifted away from the disasters here, but even so, there is a lot still going on.

This country has been slowly and steadily getting back on her feet. Progress is uneven, but it is happening everywhere. Extremely devastated areas are still struggling with clean up and rebuilding, but much effort has been made to get Sendai proper functioning as normally as possible. We still have ongoing daily earthquakes, huge cracks in the roads, shattered buildings and walls, and protective blue mats everywhere, but reconstruction work is evident wherever you look. Supermarkets are open normal hours now and are well stocked, although some items are still unavailable or rationed.

Almost everyone is intensely focused on remaking their lives. Those who were seriously hit have had to start almost from scratch, but even those who suffered little physical loss are trying to reassess their attitudes, values, and ways of being in the world. Almost everyone is caught up in a wave of discarding unneeded items, and rearranging material belongings to reflect the deep inner changes that this searing tragedy has brought about. A former student of mine, who now lives in Singapore, came to Sendai to help her parents. As she sorts through her family home, she keeps asking her mother, “Do you really need this anymore? Why not get rid of it? Why not start again fresh?” Another student has taken load after load of earthquake-broken or unneeded items to the dump. She was totally astonished to see the mountains of goods that people are getting rid of. But the rubbish place is well organized, typical for Japan. “TVs go over there, refrigerators on that pile, heavy dressers are down this row and on the left,” say the guards at the entrance. Yes, it is a time of peeling away, discarding, reassessing needs and wants.

But there is a lot of buying, too. Home centers, for example, are packed with people sorting through furniture, appliances, bedding, and carpets. There is not an “S” hook to be found in most hardware stores, as people are buying them by the fists-full to hang things in their newly arranged homes. Companies are all displaying messages that say: “We apologize to you for not being able to serve you for several weeks after the recent disaster. That was very inconvenient for you, so please allow us to give you a discount on our items.” Or they might say, “We have all suffered a great deal in the past few months. So, please refresh your feelings by the generous prices we are offering in our shops.” (more…)


Anne Thomas: Beauty amid destruction April 20, 2011

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I thought my last letter would be my final one until after my move. But some people have asked me to kindly keep up these epistles. So since I will be off line for about a month starting Sunday, I realized I should get one more out before then. And very fortunately a friend sent me an email, which expresses how many of us are feeling these days.

Steve and I used to work in the same university in Sendai. It was called Shokei. He hoped for full-time employment there, but the administration had other ideas. It was planning on eliminating the English Department completely, so not only would Steve not get a position, but I would soon lose my job there, too.

Steve knew he had to support his wife and child, so started to look elsewhere. That little family ended up in the UAE. Yuki, Steve’s wife, comes from Iwaki, an area severely devastated by the recent natural catastrophes. Her father is a fire fighter there. And when all the hard work began after the quake, he worked 24/7 and ate two rice balls a day. He continues his total commitment, without holding anything back whatsoever. This is what Steve said about him in an email of several weeks ago:

“I really really, super really, respect the father more than any living person right now. He is a hero – even with radiation his people are priority, even higher than family, but ‘for’ family. No attachment in the best possible way.” (more…)