On March 11th in the Northern prefecture of Tohoku, Japan, the ground shook to an extent never before experienced by the current generation. Life in Japan carries the imminent threat of an horrendous earthquake, and the realised disaster has left a fallout to be reckoned with. As news spread across the capital of the horrors unfolding in Tohoku, Sendai and the surrounding areas, the threat to Fukishima Daiichi nuclear power plant came as a second blow.
With a relief effort battling against the quake and tsunami damage along with strong aftershocks, attentions turned to the fight against a nuclear disaster just 215km from Tokyo. Unsettled by the feeling of the ground moving beneath your feet, footage of the events around Tohoku and the events at Fukishima, an exodus of foreigners from the capital began within 24 hours of the event. Tokyo assumed an eerie quiet accompanied by intermittent power cuts and widespread transport disruption. With Fashion Week and many large-scale events cancelled and tourism at nil, the overall impact and cost of the earthquake on a country already in the grasp of economic depression has yet to be accurately gauged.
Nevertheless, 18 days after the quake, a feeling that life must carry on prevails in the bustling hub of Tokyo. Companies are running as normal and people have begun to return from the Western getaways of Osaka, Kyoto and the like with flights into the capital once again running smoothly.
Although the tragedy has highlighted many internal failings, the Japanese cannot be faulted for their orderliness and sense of community spirit. Shibuya today seems much as usual, however interspersed amongst the fast moving bodies are the new addition of groups sporting red T-Shirts and rattling collection boxes as the country groups together in a phenomenal bid to raise money for the relief effort. The familiar landscape in central Tokyo is decked with posters declaring, ‘Pray for Japan’ and ‘Save Power And Carry On’. The ethos of restrained energy use and co-ordinated community effort has been overwhelming to observe. One tweet from the governmental office of the Japanese Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, was enough to save Tokyo from a blackout as residents en masse reduced their electricity use. The feeling of powerlessness and guilt that accompanies surviving a national disaster seems to have been successfully channelled into some phenomenal collective and individual efforts.
The online web magazine, honeyee.com, which typically covers international fashion and culture has a prominent link on its homepage to a ‘Japan Earthquake’ information page listing all the various charity efforts and a list of information on the situation. The day after the earthquake, Common Sense Magazine posted a link on its blog to a website set up by the company SIMONE, entitled ‘Save Japan: Pray With Us, Stay With Us, Engage With Us’, which quickly circulated information in eleven languages concerning the earthquake with links to donation websites. One particularly successful donation page was set up by team GIRA which includes UNDERCOVER’s Jun Takahashi. Uniqlo`s parent company, Fast Retailing, has donated 1.4 billion yen of which 1 billion comes from the personal pocket of its Chairman, Tadashi Yanai, along with donations of clothing and the installation of donation boxes in Fast Retailing`s 2,200 international stores. Photographer Shin Sazaki organised a charity flea market with all proceeds going towards the relief effort.
Meanwhile the chatty and upbeat kids encountered raising money on the street tell of the horror and sadness which propelled them to help their shell shocked country. In a normally reserved and insular country, people are reaching out to one another. Foreign friends speak of their inboxes flooded, not just with messages from concerned relatives, but from nearly everyone they know in Japan, checking that they are safe and asking if they need anything.
As people return to work, events are rescheduled and the country battles to restore its ailing currency, talk of the situation is never far from earshot. The will to help and to be useful prevails as Japanese people and all who have made their life in the country struggle for a return to normality, under the black cloud of the on-going situation in Fukishima.
For helping with this article many thanks go to Junsuke Yamasaki, Emi Kameoka, Przemek Sobocki and Martin Webb.
To make donations to the Japan Tsunami Appeal visit Japan Red Cross