Japan One Year After The Earthquake

頑張れ日本! Go Japan!

My daughter made this in Japanese preschool last week as the calendar for March. Most years March would be represented by Girls’ Day but March 11th marks the one year anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake. My daughter wrote the word 頑張ろう ganbarō at the bottom. This is the volitional form of the verb ganbaru which is a word you often hear in Japanese language meaning things like “hang in there”, to endure or something you say when you wish someone good luck (since they’re going through a hard time).

From time to time people at work and such ask me how Japan is doing. They know I keep up with the news there and such, so in lieu of a real Japanese person they ask me. :-p

When I visited there a couple months ago in Kanagawa prefecture, somewhat removed from east Japan,1 and further up north in Utsunomiya, it was easy to forget that Japan was still recovering. You could see posters and slogans like 日本頑張れ! (Japan hang in there!) but otherwise daily life was back to normal for most people.

However I also know that in private people still worry. Some worry that a big aftershock will hit closer to the Tokyo metropolitan area and cause tremendous damage like the 1923 Kantō Earthquake. People in Kanagawa and Tokyo aren’t walking around with Geiger counters, but are worried about the economy and the efforts to rebuild eastern Japan. Those who lived through through the disaster still sleep poorly at night. It is a sobering reminder of the fragility of life.

But more than anything, after 1 year has passed, I believe that people in Japan still feel a sense of quiet uncertainty weighing down on them. For example, the clean-up of the Tōhoku area will take decades to complete, and where does all that debris go? Can people rebuild critical industries, before its too late? Also, aftershocks happen almost daily, but will tomorrow bring a much more powerful one?

In my limited experience, the phrase ganbaru, emblematic of Japanese culture, can also convey a sense of “keep a stiff upper lip” or “to soldier on”, and I think that’s why this phrase gets used so much in slogans and posters: people in Japan are still uneasy, and still worried, but whether another major aftershock hits or whether the economy recovers or not is out of their hands. Instead of getting upset about it, and let their emotions spill out, all people can do is keep a stiff upper lip, and take it one day at a time.


1 People still ask me if Kanagawa Prefecture was greatly affected by the earthquake, and I have to explain that it’s somewhat far from the earthquake epicenter. Think of the state of California, and imagine a huge earth quake hitting up north near Sacramento. People in San Francisco will likely feel it, but the damage will be far less. People in LA will hardly feel it at all. Japan is crowded, but it’s quite long, so it’s roughly comparable. This isn’t a great analogy, but it helps. 🙂


Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

116 thoughts on “Japan One Year After The Earthquake”

  1. Thanks for sharing a little about the feelings of people in Japan. My children and I visited there just months after the earthquake and raised money for the Japanese Red Cross. When you go there and see just how calm, orderly and respectful people are, it’s especially hard to imagine how they must have been horrified by the disaster and how the problems snowballed. Their spirit was inspirational, but not everyone we met in Japan gave themselves permission to smile and enjoy life again…it was too soon and too many people they knew were affected. I hope more are remembering the good things in life and smiling now.


  2. Thank you for sharing this. I have a friend in Japan, so when the earthquke happend, I was so worried about her. I didn’t know whether or not she was affected by it, and her family.All I could do was pray and hope that I will get some news that she is ok. Luckly a day later, she posted that she was ok. I offered her my sorrow for Japan, and told her that I would be praying for her country, and people. She was so touched by the respone that people were giving to Japan. It still makes me teary thinking what they all went through, many lives were lost, many homes gone. I felt so helpless because all I could do was make donations. I will never forget how touched my friend was knowing that people all over the world was praying and supporting Japan. I can’t believe it’s already been a year. Time flies. It amazes me how Japanese people responded to this, it’s something we all should take note. Just like Scott (above comment) commented, I also agree what he said. I am an American born, but I am a little disappointed with the U.S and I think we the U.S can learn something from the East.


  3. Interesting. I am moving to Japan in less than a month to raise my unborn child, my wife is Japanese. Interesting, in so much as that my everyday will soon be affected by much of what you wrote. I will be far from the disaster area geographically, but my mind will inevitably wander across the Tōhoku area, and upon those directly affected.


    1. @jeffitron: FWIW, I’d say not to worry, especially if you live anywhere west of Tokyo. Having been there myself, felt safe overall, but a certain amount of preparation is in order. We’ve been ordering camping-style supplies for my wife’s family from Amazon JP just to be sure.

      Hope you guys stay safe in any case.


      1. I am not worried really, just pondering on the collective mindset that I will be entering, the atmosphere of actually living there instead of viewing from a distance. Although, Osaka is quite a bit away. We will indeed stay safe.


  4. Thank you for bridging the gap as I have wanted to know how Japan is doing beyond just purchasing a bracelet that we care about Japan. I’m looking forward to reading more. Ganbaru!


  5. Thank you for sharing your article, and allowing us to be reminded of our blessings to be alive and well. I admire the strength and endurance of the Japanese people. It is encouraging to see other countries, including the United States extend a helpful hand when trouble and/or disaster occurs. I am continually in prayer for Japan and the people who survived. Be encouraged!!!!!!!


  6. Thank you for your post! Our son is living in Iwakuni, serving at the US Marine Air Station there, and he arrived in Tokyo a year ago, an hour before the quake hit Northern Japan! That was a long day for my husband and I, as we found out about the quake at 5 am CST, and didn’t hear from our son that he was fine until midnight CST!!

    Due to our son living in Japan, we are always asking him questions about the people and culture, and enjoy his stories about living there. He really likes the country. I find myself trying to learn all I can about Japan, too. Again, thanks for your post!


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