Tohoku Character

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source : www2.manager.co.th

Tohoku character key to Japan's tsunami survivors

by Shingo Ito, April 11, 2011

OFUNATO, Japan (AFP) -
The horror of the tsunami that crushed whole towns on Japan's northeast coast a month ago has been borne with dignity by its victims. That, say the people of the region, is the Tohoku way.

Tohoku, the Japanese name for the northern part of Honshu island, is no stranger to natural disaster. More than 21,000 were killed in an earthquake and tsunami in 1896.
A tsunami generated by the 1960 earthquake that hit Chile also claimed lives in the area.

But even in the region's worst calamity of modern times, the monster waves of March 11, 2011, which left 28,000 dead or missing, its people are unbowed and uncomplaining.

Hiroko Kikuta, 62, whose husband is still listed among the missing of the city of Rikuzentakata, said her personal tragedy was nothing special.

"I can't complain. A lot of people are facing similar difficulties."

Another woman in her 60s, who lost her mother and brother in the disaster, said she did not think she could be singled out.

"There are many other people having a much harder time than me," she said.

Ikuko Takita, whose house in Ofunato was ripped apart by the towering waves, said this forbearance was typical of the region.

"People in Tohoku are patient. Even if we are thinking something, we don't reveal it. We have been taught to be like that."

Towns along hundreds of kilometres (miles) of coast lie in ruins, with little or no immediate prospect of their being rebuilt; the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant continues to belch radiation, poisoning the oceans on which fishing communities rely and affecting the farmland that covers the area.

More than 150,000 people are still living in the draughty school gyms and other public buildings that serve as evacuation centres, sometimes alongside hundreds of others, with little or no privacy and very limited facilities.

Only a handful of families have been able to move into the temporary housing the government has ordered to be constructed.

But many of the tsunami's victims uncomplainingly share the limited space, queuing for rations in neat lines.

Survivors recount the loss of their loved ones in a detached tone, while many of those forced out of their homes by radiation around the crippled nuclear plant accept their lot, speaking little about the apparently slow progress in resolving the crisis.

"We are still lucky as we can stay in this warm place," said Mitsuo Torii, 75, who lost his cousin, of the one-time library in Ofunato that has been his home for a month.

"It is not too inconvenient," said Torii, whose futon bed lies sandwiched between others in the crowded shelter. "We are fortunate, compared with others."

Tohoku was the last part of Honshu to come under the control of the central government, its ethnic rebellion crushed by the imperial dynasty ruling Japan in the eighth century.

Its long harsh winters and countless crop failures, coupled with exacting taxes demanded by emperors and shoguns over the centuries left the region hungry for years at a time.

Even today it remains a wild backwater in the popular imagination, with a dramatic mountainscape and a difficult dialect; its 9.6 million people have a reputation for being hardy and more than capable of holding the fine sake they brew.

They can drink, say people in fashionable, metropolitan Japan, but they are not quarrelsome.

"People in Kobe and other western Japanese cities are quite demanding," said Kazuto Yokoyama, an official from the Kobe Social Welfare Council, who was helping out in Sendai, the region's biggest city.

"But people here are not so pushy. It's a difference of culture and regional characteristics."

Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933), a once-obscure poet and author from the city of Hanamaki in the heart of Tohoku, captured the spirit of the region, fans say, with his work's emphasis on endurance.

His poem "Ame ni mo makezu" ("Be not defeated by the rain"), has been recorded by a collection of singers from around East Asia to raise money for victims of the disaster.

"Be not defeated by the rain,
Nor let the wind prove your better.
Succumb not to the snows of winter.
Nor be bested by the heat of summer,"

it begins.

"His poetry supports us when we face deep grief or hardship," said Toshiya Ushizaki, deputy director of the Kenji Miyazawa Museum in Hanamaki. "His message appeals to those who lost everything in this disaster."


Thursday, April 14


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