Two Years : 2年


Today, 14.46 marked the second year anniversary of The Great East Japan Earthquake. Our school flag was half-raised on the mast, and the children returned home early. Whereas the past weekend was brilliantly warm and tomorrow onwards is also promised to be, today, a thin, weak snow drifted down throughout the afternoon. At this school, I work with an evacuee teacher whose family no longer lives in Fukushima. It isn’t possible to understand how she feels on such a day; I am lucky, as a foreign observer, to look at the calendar in surprise that so much time has hurried by since March 2011 – to note what concrete, exterior recoveries have taken place, and not the persistence of internal, personal grief.

At 14.46 Japan time, an ex-Japanese expat blogger currently living in London either awoke very early or stayed up very late to contribute her remembrance by way of a blog post. Months and months ago, Ali Muskett requested that I write an article about my current impressions of living in recovering Tohoku. It took me months and months to really work out exactly what I wanted to say – what I had the right to say – and what impression I wanted to give her readers from the view of an expat. At the exact time of when the 9.03 Richter Scale earthquake hit north-east Japan two years ago, Ali posted the article on her fantastic blog Haikugirl’s Japan. Please do me the honour of reading the article, and, if you will, think of Japan today.

Thank you very much, Ali.

Words From Tohoku on the 2nd Anniversary



I visit an infamous river whose name is, over centuries of composition, frequented as utamakura in waka; whose fossilized trees from the dregs of its bed are sought after as relics of poetry; whose banks Basho did not visit, so wearily familiar they were by his time.

I can’t tell you how much I dug it yet.
The words will come later …
(Click here for the write up)

Two weeks into Koriyama life = buff m8. Term hasn’t started yet, so we’ve had plenty of time to settle in: visiting hot-spring onsen resorts, dancing in city festivals, buying grill ovens, dancing to funk and jazz in Fukushima city, and getting lost (a lot.)

This week, Junior High School students have been writing and practicing speeches for the upcoming English Speech Contest, and we’ve been coaching their pronunciation, intonation and grammar. These contests are nationwide, and prefectures throughout Japan battle it out. The kids are rad good. Helping out at events like these really highlights how little gusto there is for language learning in the UK education system. Because we were recently assigned our individual specific schools, every JET has been pretty giddy about teaching their own students for the speech contests. I appear to be an odd case this year: all beginning JETs placed in Koriyama are usually assigned two Junior High Schools each, but I’ve been given six Elementary schools! Looks like my speedy email for requesting the younger kids worked out! Koriyama is a big city, so I’ll be biking or getting a designated taxi to schools all around town. We drove past one today, and it was a school built IN a shinto shrine. A SHRINE. I am working with young Japanese children in a shrine this year. Mate. Photos soon to come 😉

We’ve been getting to know the city quite a lot, with all this settling in going on. Damage from March’s earthquake is scattered all around the place. The massive city gym is still unusable, and shops and houses have been boarded up and abandoned. Stone staircases belonging to our city’s largest Buddhist temple, the Niyohoji, are all over the grounds, and graves are in pieces. One house is still sitting in the middle of a road, having slid down a hillside during the quake (please see photo below.)
Many people have moved out of Koriyama, in fear of the radiation levels – or unwillingly, as radiation has lost many suppliers and farmers their livelihoods. We find ourselves reading vegetable labels to avoid Fukushima goods, whilst wanting to support our home. It’s a strange one. I’m personally drinking the tap water, though some of my neighbours are buying theirs in; and we try to remain indoors when it rains. From day to ordinary day, these quiet threats are very easy to forget about. A few nights ago we experienced a 6.0 earthquake at 3am (didn’t sleep again ’til 5!), but I’ve yet to prepare an emergency quake kit in case we need to evacuate. Time to start taking these things a bit more seriously, maybe. Until school starts, I better get visiting the 14 shrines and temples knocking about the place.