Five years ago, a tragic grief struck Japan. As everyone in the United States can exactly remember the place they were and what they were doing at the time they realized a kamikaze crashed into the World Trade Center building on September 11th 2001, I do precisely remember where I was, and what I was doing when I realized one of the most powerful earthquake shook Sendai and the rest of the country, as well as all the consequences it caused shortly after on March 11th 2011.
I was 16 back then. I was doing my second year of high school in Berlin, Germany, far away from my family, as an exchange student. I was having a hard time fitting in at school and at my guest home, so I felt quite lonely at that time.
On Friday morning, I slowly woke up as it was a day off, and checked my phone, because it’s always the first thing teenagers do. I read my best friend’s text message:
“Is your family in Japan doing fine?”
I couldn’t sense how tensed those words were supposed to be, mostly because I was still half asleep.
“Sure, my uncle and his wife had a baby! Can’t wait to meet him!”, I replied.
“No, that’s not what I meant… Haven’t you seen the news?!”
It took my breath away. It has always been clear that my mother’s country had never been safe from natural disasters. I opened Google as fast as I could, but “Japan” was the only word I could type. “One of the strongest earthquakes of all time”, “tsunami drowning villages”, “nuclear explosion” … The horrifying titles kept coming, despite the lack of key-words. So I reached for the phone and called my parents. No answer. The events were processing in my head. I was still too confused to understand all the news. Then, I finally received a call from my father.
“They’re ok”, he said. “They don’t seem to have any internet connection but we managed to reach your aunt.”
That was a relief. At least my family was doing fine. It didn’t prevent me from crying while watching the news on German national TV, but I felt like it was not linked to me anymore. At least that was what I thought.
On Monday morning at school, everyone was talking about it of course, but something surprised me. Instead of empathy, or even pity, I heard a blameful tone in most of the students’ voice. They were reproaching Japan for being a country that had always been proud of their nuclear power and were telling out loud how the Japanese deserved what happened. In Germany, especially in Berlin, a lot of people think about the environment, which is a good thing, but they apparently also hate anyone who wouldn’t. I also care a lot about the environment myself, and think it’s stupid that the Japanese government brags about their nuclear plants, but I also think it’s as stupid as believing that’s the spirit of every Japanese citizen. My family over there lives in Miyagi, which is the prefecture right above Fukushima. My aunt explained to me later that the population around her area were almost split in half: those who wanted to stop using nuclear power right away and those who wanted to keep it as a national pride. Still, is that really a reason to blame a whole population and think the thousands of victims were well deserved!? I can’t understand this point of view, especially when Germans went through a similar situation. So many people didn’t and still don’t make any difference with the will of the national-socialist party with the citizens’ during World War II. I guess in this globalized world, where the technology allows the information to be frontier-free, we can’t really talk about nations anymore. I hope we will all be able one day to see each other as individuals, citizen of the same planet, instead of some lousy follower hiding behind a certain government.