Forces of nature

Today typhoon nr. 15, a.k.a. Roke, passed through Japan. It’s the first typhoon since we’ve been here that passed directly over Nagoya and Toyota-City, and the first one that really had me worried.

Typhoon nr. 15, Roke

You can see the typhoon passing almost directly over the area where we live, indicated by the red cross. The typhoon is now over Tokyo. Click on the image to go to the Weathernews website and see an animation of the typhoon's trajectory.

Yesterday on the news we watched images of Nagoya being flooded. And that was before the typhoon even arrived. The flooding was caused by a rain front preceding the typhoon. Now that the typhoon has passed, it seems like in Toyota City it was relatively mild. But the news constantly shows images from all over Japan with fallen trees, cancelled trains and people almost being blown over by the strong wind. Several areas around us, like Nagoya and Okazaki, experienced flooding.

This is the typhoon at its worst in Toyota City, around 3 p.m.

By 6 p.m. everything seemed fine again.

clear skies after typhoon over Toyota City

The view from our balcony around 6 p.m.

While I was preparing for the typhoon and feeling anxious about what was going to happen, it struck me how strong the forces of nature are in Japan. Earthquakes, tsunami, typhoons, landslides, flooding, volcanic eruptions, … In Japan you never know what nature has in store for you. I feel I should be prepared for anything, with an emergency kit standing by at the front door. I’ve started memorizing emergency numbers and found out where to evacuate to in case of a disaster. To experience the forces of nature in all their might is a new experience for me. In Belgium nature is usually very mild.

I wonder how this ‘constant threat’ has influenced Japanese culture. This topic is broached in one of my favourite books: James Clavell’s ‘Shogun’. It is suggested there that because of the regular confrontation with the fact that anything can happen at any time, Japanese people live more in the moment. I indeed find this confrontation with the elements humbling. It makes me grateful for every beautiful day. I can imagine that experiences like this might lead one to appreciate the transient beauty of for example cherry blossoms even more.

The Tōhoku quake aftermath

In response to the post about ‘my first earthquake‘, many of the readers recounted their experience during the March 11th earthquake (read the comments on the post). Actually I was already planning on posting about that quake at some point, so now is as good a time as any.

In Japan this quake is commonly referred to as the Tōhoku quake. As undoubtedly all of you know, it occurred on March 11th 2011 somewhere off the coast of Japan. It had a magnitude of 9 on the Richter scale and is the most powerful earthquake to have ever hit Japan (according to Wikipedia). The main damage was however not caused by the quake itself but by the tsunami that followed in its wake.

The Tōhoku area is indicated in red


The first few weeks after the quake, every news station in the world was on top of the story. But since then many foreign media, or in any case Belgian media, have ceased to report on the quake and it’s aftermath. I had the impression that because of this, the general public is also forgetting about the disaster that hit Japan. It was therefore touching to see that in the comments on ‘my first earthquake‘ , people’s thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Japan.

Of course the people of Japan are still living with the effects of this disaster every day.  The Japanese news brings stories about the disaster every few days and the weather report has a special section for ‘the disaster-affected-area’. The rebuilding is going on as we speak and it will take at least several years for Japan to recover from this disaster.

When I first arrived in Japan, I was very impressed with the way Japanese people, including those outside the affected area, still hold the disaster in mind every day. When I talked to people about it, they became very solemn and spoke with great sorrow and compassion about what had happened. Japanese people have a quiet kind of bravery: everyone does what they can, even in places far away from the Tōhoku region (like not turning on the AC to save electricity). People try to stay positive without denying the reality of their situation. Is this a typical Japanese quality, perhaps for cultural and historical reasons? To face your situation wholeheartedly and accept it with all the good and bad that in encompasses? I hope I can find out as I get to know Japan and it’s people better.