(Note: The Episcopal Church Center, through the offices of the Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry (EAM)and the Partnership for Asia and the Pacific held a Prayer Service for Japan last March 18, 2011 in Chapel of Christ the Lord, New York City. The following is a reflection from Dr. James Kodera, President of the EAM Council in another prayer service held in Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachussetts. More Prayer Services are being planned in other places.)
Vigil for Japan
16 March 2011
Houghton Memorial Chapel, Wellesley College
Reflections by T. James Kodera
It is at times such as these that we see ourselves standing before our Maker, no matter what our heritage. There is so much to say, but we find it difficult to put words to our raw feelings inside. Do we have to say everything for us to be heard by our Make, by each other? A Hindu prayer instructs us: “Oh Thou before whom all words recoil.” We can hear each other out without words. Our Maker certainly knows our helplessness, our cries for help, in the silence we keep, in the tears we shed, in the warm embrace we exchange on this day and the days to come. Our Maker hears us, reaches out to us and comforts us in our solitude but especially through the circle we form that shall not be broken.
It was at this time sixteen years ago in 1995, when I shared with the Wellesley College community what it was like to witness the earthquake of Kobe a day after the city of 1.5 million was reduced to rubble with 6,500 dead. It was the greatest quake since the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 that claimed 140,000 lives in Tokyo and its vicinity. They were magnitude 6.8 and 7.9, respectively, on the Richter scale. The quake that hit the Tohoku region of Japan last Friday was 9.0. Unlike the other two, the Tohoku Earthquake was followed by the tsunami with tidal waves nearing 30 feet. Once the tsunami got going, we are told it accelerated its speed to one comparable to a jet airplane. That is why it took only six or seven hours for the tsunami to reach the islands of Hawaii. We will not know the final toll of this earthquake. The nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture continues to heat up, leaking radioactive fumes and liquid. The reactors shut themselves off when the ground first shook, as so designed. But the structure was damaged so badly that they could not be cooled. Uranium, which is said to simulate the heat of the sun, supplies inexhaustible energy, but also radiation. After the atomic bomb, so we were told, no plant life would ever return to Hiroshima for a hundred years. But today, as the students who were there in January know, the Peace Park in Hiroshima is covered with grass with trees and flowers. Would this happen to Fukushima? Chernobyl remains uninhabitable since 1986, the worst nuclear disaster to date.
Kobe is where I grew up in junior and senior high school days. After walking several hours with train tracks twisted like spaghetti and roads turned into raw sewage, I found my parents and grandmother huddled together in a house with no external wall on one side, just like a Hollywood movie set. And old lady next door was crushed by the heavy roof tiles and died. After a few hours of sleep without water, food or heat, I went to the Ward Office to do volunteer. Because of my height, they promptly put me in charge of telling people at the entrance not to bring any more dead bodies there. My job was to direct them to different make shift facilities where the dead could be properly cremated and buried. I could not return to Wellesley for the start of the spring semester. The College President encouraged me to stay in Kobe as long as I needed. I finally left Kobe for the airport on the back of a scooter, driven by a friend. Since then, Kobe has been rebuilt with the latest technology, guaranteed to withstand another earthquake 6.8 or worse.
Japan is earthquake prone. 20 % of all the earthquakes higher than 6.0 on the Richter Scale have hit Japan. Massive tidal waves are known for their Japanese word, tsunami. This time, the earthquake, the tsunami and the nuclear fiasco are the worst in Japan’s history. The Prime Minister declared that it was the greatest disaster since the World War II. The Emperor of Japan, Akihito, spoke on television yesterday. No emperor of Japan ever spoke on television. It recalled to many the day after Japan’s “unconditional surrender” in August 1945, when Emperor Hirohito spoke on the radio, commending his subjects who had “endured the unendurable” during the War. This time, his son, Akihito said he was “deeply worried “about the ongoing nuclear crisis at several stricken reactors and asked for his subjects to act with compassion “to overcome these difficult times.” He also thanked over 90 nations that had offered to help.
Natural disasters bring out the best and the worst in human nature. What is particularly moving is that the people of Korea and China, who have legitimate gripes against Japan for its war-time atrocities, were among the first to arrive to help. Endless television coverage has also shown the orderly behavior of the Japanese, even after their loved ones have been washed to the sea or buried in the mud under the rubble, and their houses gone. So far, there has been no instance of looting or fighting. A friend in Tokyo reported that it took four hours to drive eight miles, bumper to bumper. And yet, there was no honking. A Wellesley alumna relayed to me that Diane Sawyer, Wellesley Class of 67, who was in Japan as a television reporter, was offered food by the victims of the earthquake and tsunami. Speechless, she simply wept. Some 50 workers at the nuclear plant have been hailed as heroes. They remain at their work place, trying with all their might to cool down the reactors, minimizing the damage to others, while they were being exposed directly to radioactive materials. After the Great Kanto Earthquake 89 years ago, some Japanese turned against the Koreans living in Japan, accusing them of poisoning the well water. And they went on a rampage, killing the Koreans on the streets. It continued until a police officer told the angry mob to bring a cup of the well water poisoned by the Koreans. In front of everyone, he gulped the water. There was no poison. Japan that once sought to equal the Western nations through military buildup and colonial expansion, have since turned itself into a peaceful nation with technology and trade as tools of international competition. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton remarked two days ago: since Japan is one of the most generous nations in the world in times of need, the United States should do all it can do help Japan. And yet, those in Japan who live far away from the areas affected bought up all the food and supplies “just in case.” Perhaps, the ugliest is what we have seen on some websites in the last couple of days. Some Americans have linked the disasters in Japan to Pearl Harbor. For them, it is “pay back time.” Is it, really?
A continent and an ocean away, what can we do? What should we do? That is where we find ourselves helpless, speechless, standing in front of our Maker. Be a friend, comfort one another, renew our hope that love conquers hate, hope overcomes despair. Our good will reach across the globe, and touch those who need us.
Fukushima means the “island of riches.” Today, it is an island isolated and rich with radiation. Tomorrow, it will be an island, rich with affection and hope. Let the circle never be broken.
(The Rev. Dr. Takihiro James Kodera is professor at Wellesley College and President of the Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry Council.- Fred Vergara)