Of Miracles and Beethoven.

March 6, 2016, 8:41 PM ·

Beethoven 3-Ishinomaki


Well, Friday is the 5th anniversary of the earthquake /tsunami/nuclear disaster that killed and rendered so many homeless here in Japan. Many thousands still living in temporary homes and a large percentage of schools in the disaster zone have not been rebuilt.

When I was working in Ishi no Maki (the worst hit major town) a woman came up to me in tears and said, "We are so afraid. You are here now, but in a year everybody will have forgotten us." I made a promise to her that I would talk about what I saw and experienced every year without fail. I have kept that promise and have always been supported by schools and teachers who remember that awful time so well. Except for one teacher.... An elementary school upper grade teacher two years ago refused my polite request to talk for ten minutes in Japanese about the topic during a scheduled lesson because "The students have already studied it in their textbooks.:

"Really?" I thought. "Students don't want to hear about the German pilot I met carrying a blank check from Lufthansa's employees to buy trucks and tractors? They don't want to hear about the champion swimmer I met in a supermarket who survived being dragged five kilometers in the tsunami before being rescued, albeit half scalped? She`s very proud of the way her hair grew back, by the way. They don't want to hear about our volunteer group digging mud and excrement in what we thought was a ghost town of half broken down buildings, only have a door suddenly open and a young woman came out with refreshments? Living there on her own with no electricity because 'it is her beauty parlour and she was going to keep running it so that when people came back they could experience beauty again?' They don`t want to hear about the members of v.commie who sent gifts to the Sendai symphony orchestra as such a generous symbol of support and solidarity? Shows how much you know."

But I am polite so I nod and do it anyway. Love to hear how she would explain stopping me to the headmaster. But this woman is, through no fault of her own, emblematic of Japan as it stands now. A broken economy (yes it is bankrupt, but we aren't allowed to say that) struggling to find a way to deal with runaway nuclear pollution and the oldest population around. About to stage the Olympics yet none of us wants to pay the huge costs of the stadium and the prime minister lied (as usual) about the nuclear crisis being over by 2020 so yes everybody, bring your kids.

So, as I sit watching the hopeful and excited faces of the youngsters graduating from my junior high school this morning, the faces of kids who have no idea what a difficult world they are about to enter, I am struck by something incongruous. Not only incongruous but, as I think about it, awesome beyond belief. These are Japanese kids, who don`t speak English, have never been abroad, from in a little town in the middle of nowhere and they are graduating to the strains of Beethoven's 3rd symphony. And it is perfect. I know at least ten of those 120 kids will go out into the world and punch life in the face until it submits, and it is right and fitting that they should do it to Beethoven's music. It is music that today transcended time, space and culture. Absolutely the best of what the human race is capable of creating when we stop killing each other.

* * *

Beethoven Symphony No. 3, "Eroica"
BBC Proms 2012
Daniel Barenboim with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

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March 7, 2016 at 07:50 PM · Thanks for this, Buri!

Even back in 2013, when I enjoyed a sabbatical in Tokyo, I was shocked at the way the triple disaster already seemed to be like "history" to some people. The NHK morning TV soap, "Amachan", partly set in a small coastal town up in Iwate, had the most sickening happy ending with several weddings and everything just wonderful. Meanwhile a brief visit to a nearby town in that prefecture was enough for me to learn that some people were only just beginning to come to terms with what had happened to them. Re-building was painfully slow even 2 1/2 years after the event. When the Japanese government campaigned to get the Olympics to Tokyo, they claimed it would help the people in Tohoku. I can't see how it will do anything of the kind, on the contrary. All I can say is that if any V.commies are going to Tokyo for the Olympics (or any other reason for that matter), consider a trip to the Tohoku coast while you're on the island! In case you're worried about radiation, Iwate is a fair way from Fukushima.

March 7, 2016 at 09:39 PM · Hi Magaret,

thanks for ypur comments. These days I am following the Asahi Shimbun coverage which is very detialed on a daily basis. The time limit on living in temporary housing is legally five yeras which expires thia Friday but ten percent of the families living in them ( about three thousand people have no where to go and no income.)

The pattern of temporary housing suicide follows exactly that of the victims of the KObe earthquake in the early nineties . Displaced single people, no tradition or system of home help, alcoholism and suicide is rampant.

The amount of storage space required for the radiocative waste from Fukushima is currently estimated to be an area of land 19 times the size of Tokyo stadium . After five yeras of negotiations with land owner sall ove rthe country, the government and electric company so far have a possible one percent of this amount if one is being generous.

On the brigt side, the refugges from Fukushima who are somehow finding decent accomodation in othe parts of the country have finally won a court case that allows them to be compensated on an individual basis for the appalling trauma they endured rather than the set paltry sum agreed between Tokyo Powe rcompany and the government.

Sorry, Im getting bogged down in the details here. Yes, the tradegy has become a footnote in textbooks for many young people. That would probably happen anywhere. Historical narratives need to be kept alive somehow.

The Tokyo olympics job was awarded as a result of blatant lies to the international community regarding both money and conditions here. A cruel farce to tax those of us lucky enough to have jobs to the hilt to pay for an event like that when the after effects of the disaster are still hurting so many people who arent getting any assistance. Your observation is spot on.

Thankfully we have music....

March 8, 2016 at 01:13 AM · It's always this way with the Olympics. A few people benefit and the rest can rot in hell. Tons of different events and all you hear about on the news is the "medal count" and the doping scandals and the accidents. There is some legitimately exciting sport but it's not worth what we pay.

That tragedy fades from our memories is probably some kind of evolved defense. What makes it even more sad is that Fukushima is only one place among many across the globe suffering dire refugee crises.

March 8, 2016 at 01:32 AM · Sure,

Compared to Europe it's a drop in rhe ocean.

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