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Thoughts on the Great East Japan Earthquake Post 3.11

I would like to express my concern and best wishes for those affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake that struck at 2:46 p.m. on March 11, followed by tsunami and the failure of a nuclear power reactor. We pray for those who lost their lives and express our condolences to their families. We hope for the earliest recovery and restoration of earthquake-stricken area. And to do this, it is important to offer help and support through the various means possible to the victims of the earthquake.

On the evening of March 11, I became a "refugee" stranded far from home and unable to return. I learned a lot from this experience. It made me think of and reflect on many things. With the beginning of new business year in April, I would like to address this topic in the Director's Message.

On March 11, CRN and the Benesse Institute for the Child Science and Parenting moved its offices from Kanda to Nishi-Shinjuku, so the day of the earthquake was my second day of commuting to our new location. In the afternoon, I had paid my greetings to the head of our section on the same floor and was just taking a short break at about 2:50 when a large tremor suddenly shook the building, followed by violent shocks that I had never experienced before. Books flew out of the large built-in bookcase with six shelves. There was a succession of announcements. An early emergency announcement over the PA system told us it was an earthquake with a magnitude 6 and sought to reassure us that the building was earthquake-resistant. After several aftershocks, calm was restored in Tokyo, but it was beyond my imagination then to think that towns on Pacific Ocean coast of Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima, Ibaraki and Chiba Prefectures had been struck by huge tsunami and that I would later become stranded as a refugee unable to return home.

The elevator had stopped, so I think it was around 6:00 p.m. when I walked down the stairs from the 13th floor, step by step, to the hotel next door to catch a taxi. There was a line over 100 meters long. But with one taxi coming every thirty minutes or so, I would be waiting over two hours. Luckily, I was with Mr. Makoto Kinoshita, Secretary-general of the Japanese Society of Child Science, and we decided to take a nearby bus to Nakano, a slight distance from the city center, thinking that it would be easier to catch a taxi from there. Luckily, we were able to catch the bus right way, but due to the traffic, it took two hours to Nakano, a trip that usually takes no more than 30 minutes. Moreover, when we got there, a long line awaited us at the taxi stand in front of Nakano station, although it looked a little shorter than the one at the hotel in Shinjuku.

Abandoning any hope of returning home that evening, we decided to find a place to stay overnight. But, first we need to find food, so we went into casual drinking place near the station where we were finally able to get a meal in peace and quiet, but with only two employees, there wasn't much service.

As we were looking for lodging, we heard that the large hall on the first floor of the Nakano Sun Plaza was open to those who had been stranded, and opening the door, we were shocked to see over 100 people, young and old, men and women, already sleeping all over the floor. Thanks to the kindness of a civil servant of Nakano local government, I received a blanket from their emergency supplies, spread my coat on the floor, pulled the blanket over me, and fell asleep. The hall was heated and the floor felt warm as if heated from below, so I did not feel cold at all and was able to get some sleep. Compared with the cold north wind while we were waiting at the hotel in Shinjuku, sleeping on the floor was truly paradise.

I woke up at 7 a.m. and heard that JR trains would not be running until 8:30. Mr. Kinoshita and I parted ways, and I took a bus to Shibuya and the subway from there, and returned home safely just before 9 a.m.

Returning home, I was shocked to see the extent of devastation of the earthquake and tsunami on the Tohoku and Kanto coast. The scenes shown on TV one after another were painful to watch and I wished with all my heart that I could help the victims in some way.

It might have been late at night on March 11 or past one a.m. the next day, but when I curled up in my emergency ration blanket, I recalled the events that took place about three days after August 21, 1945 which is the year of the end of the war. The Imperial Japanese Naval Academy at Etajima in Hiroshima, where I had been studying and living for two years, closed and I returned to Tochigi Prefecture where my parents had evacuated for safety.

Japan's defeat has became increasingly imminent by the start of 1945. Grumman aircraft from U.S. aircraft carriers came flying, shooting at us on the parade ground with machine-gun fire. Furthermore, without fuel, the submarines that were Japan's pride could not be operated and several were moored at an island in the Inland Sea, so we were exposed to bomber attacks. During this time the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. I saw the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima in the morning from far away and fires reflected in the red night sky for two or three days, after which the war ended on August 15.

The Naval Academy closed and the students split up into groups to return to their region and then each to his home. My parents, younger brother and sister had evacuated to a small town in the mountains of Tochigi prefecture, so I led a group of about ten students back to Utsunomiya in Tochigi.

We were taken by boat from the Naval Academy to Ushina-sanbashi. We walked along a road where the radiation level from the atomic bomb was still high and drank water from burst water pipes before we finally reached Hiroshima station. It was a truly hot summer day.

When the train traveling east from Hiroshima arrived, it was so packed that we could not get on. It was late afternoon before we were able to hop on a cargo train where we slept on a heap of coal. We passed through Okayama and Kobe, which had been turned into scorched fields by American bombers, and saw that Osaka, too, was the same. Fortunately, we were able to take a local train from there, and passed through Kyoto which had been spared the bombing, and then Nagoya which had been bombed. According to information, advance troops of the American occupying forces had already landed in Tokyo and Yokohama, so we avoided the Tokaido railway line and took the Chuo line instead, and passing through Matsumoto and Nagano, all of us arrived safely in Utsunomiya. I still vividly remember how the mountains and green forests shone brilliantly in the summer sun from the window of the train. We went our separate ways at Utsunomiya Station to our respective homes.

Wrapped in a blanket at Nakano Sun Plaza, I recalled Japan's defeat and the end of the war, an historic event of 66 years ago, which gave me a second start in life and remains a strong memory. Actually, based on the magnitude, this great East Japan earthquake was one of the largest in thousands of years. It made me think that these experiences had much in common. Of course, at my age, there would not be much reason to expect a third start in life, but from appearances, the destruction caused by the American incendiary bombs and the towns washed away by the tsunami, the atomic bomb and nuclear plant disaster all seemed to have points in common. And in a sense, what we need to do is similar, too.

Although the great East Japan earthquake struck only half of Japan, it has left problems for the entire country that are just as serious as those at the end of the war. The economic problems are particularly grave. First, we need to scientifically record and analyze the damage caused by the earthquake and tsunami and organize our knowledge for early detection and disaster prevention. We now see that logistics are an important and difficult area. Even though Japan is prone to earthquakes and tsunami, leaving this beautiful country for another is not an alternative. What we see on TV tells us the measures to deal with the aftermath are not adequate.

Secondly, we need to consider the issue of nuclear reactors in the same way. Nuclear power generation is the forefront of the peaceful use of nuclear energy. I would like to see Japan, create technology to prevent such disasters as the recent one and use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. As the only country to have experienced a nuclear attack, Japan should show countries that have used or are thinking of using nuclear energy to wage war that peaceful use is possible. This will also involve starting with a record and analysis of the disaster and raising the level of fundamental science and technology to support this.

Most importantly, we must take this occasion to rebuild our hearts and minds, which are the pillars of society. Japan rose up from the destruction of WWII to show the world an amazing recovery and succeeded into creating an affluent society, in particular, one with material wealth. I have pointed out numerous times at CRN that this affluence has begun to backfire and become precarious. I would like to see us build a gentle society, a considerate society, and a sympathetic society with consideration given to Child Caring Design for the children who comprise this foundation on which society will be rebuilt. What do we Japanese need to do in order to accomplish this? We will need to put more spirit and feeling into our affluent society.

In the end, we are most concerned about solving the problems that children face today. Many children lost their lives in this disaster, which is truly a regrettable loss of life. Other children not only experienced disaster, but many also lost a parent. These are children who need emotional care. CRN organized and presented materials on the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake of 1995 in July 2008. We have now made these materials available again on the CRN website as "Child Science on Great East Japan Earthquake: The Emotional Care of Children " (Japanese language only) and we hope you will refer to them.

I would also like to ask those in the disaster area to send CRN information on the problems that children are now facing in the aftermath of the earthquake. We welcome any kind of information or thoughts that you may have. We would like to hear what you experienced, saw, thought, or put into practice as a parent, as a child-care professional, kindergarten or school teacher. Of course, feel free to send short research papers and surveys, too. Together with you, we hope to compile a study of "Child Science and Earthquakes" and think about solutions.

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