Japan

Japan

 

USPG has a cherished relationship with the Nippon Sei Ko Kai (NSKK), the Anglican Church in Japan. In 2019, USPG participated in the International Forum for a Nuclear Free World organised by NSKK. On 11th March 2021, USPG commemorated the 10th anniversary of the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake. Below, you can find reflections from the prayer service we held on that day.

The Great Eastern Japan Earthquake registered 9.0 on the Richter Scale, causing widespread damage to Japan’s eastern coast. The earthquake and the tsunami it caused led to the deaths of 15,848 Japanese citizens as well as causing an accident at the nearby Fukushima nuclear power plant. 2,500 people are missing as a result of the earthquake.

10 years later, we gathered to pray for those who lost their lives at that time, and those whose lives changed irreversibly due to the earthquake. Yuki Johnson, licensed lay minister in the Japanese Anglican Church (UK), shared the following reflection on John 8, verses 31-47 during our prayers: 

My reflection is about the events of 10 years ago, and what has happened since, but I want to set this in the context of today’s reading, particularly in the context of Jesus’ words when he says, ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples.’ How can we be Jesus’ disciples when faced with events like the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake?

On 11th March 2011 at 2:46 in the afternoon – (5:46 in the morning here in the UK) a magnitude 9 earthquake occurred off the coast of North Eastern Japan, the biggest ever recorded in Japan. The earthquake lasted about 6 minutes. That does not sound long, but for an earthquake it is a very long time. Many people said they felt that it would never end.

The earthquake caused massive damage, as did the tsunami and nuclear accident that followed. There have been various natural disasters since 2011, but this event was unique. It was a triple disaster - a combination of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident.

One year after the earthquake, I made my first trip to the areas it had affected. This was one of the most unforgettable moments of my life. I was astonished by the scale of the damage inflicted by the earthquake. I stood on a small hill, looking across at the places where houses and communities had existed until the tsunami washed them away. Nearby was a destroyed temple, next to which there was a box labelled ‘plastic bags for collected bones’. I was shocked.

10 years later, and 2,525 people remain missing. Their bodies have never been found. Just last month a fragment of a woman's body was found and identified. The woman's son said, ‘I am extremely happy that my mother has been found just before the 10th anniversary. Now I can move forward’. In Japan, it is quite normal that people only accept the death of a loved one once their remains have been found.

Since my first trip I have made another four visits. During one trip, when I stood in a deserted town within the contamination restriction zone, the only sound was the eerie high-pitched buzz of a Geiger counter. I heard how many mothers were worrying about the safety of their breastmilk or that their children were growing up in an area with high radiation. People from different faith groups, including Christians, provided space for them to share their feelings and tried to reassure them.

Now, after 10 years, people are starting to recover. By the end of this month, no one who was displaced by the disaster will be living in temporary accommodation. But behind stories of recovery, there are also people who have to face harsh realities. For many people, their home town doesn't exist anymore, as these places have been damaged by the earthquake and tsunami or contaminated by nuclear radiation.

In the wake of the disaster, the Nippon Sei Ko Kai (The Anglican Church in Japan) passed a resolution at its regular Synod in 2012 calling for all to “seek a world without nuclear power plants”.

However, many Japanese people struggle to discuss the subject of nuclear power . There are people who had welcomed the nuclear power industry into their village and who had been employed by the industry. These people often feel guilty about their association with nuclear power. We can be quick to make a judgement that people are good or bad. But it is not that simple. In John 8:34 we hear Jesus say, ‘very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.’  I can also say, ‘everyone who feels guilt is often a slave to guilt.’ 

It is painful to hear how people have been abused and discriminated against because their hometown is Fukushima, with children even being bullied because of this. Farmers have also been struggling to sell their products as many consumers are concerned for the safety of their products.

This is the human story of the disaster. The question is, when faced with loss, grief and trauma, the destruction of community, the guilt of survivors and the poisoning of the air and earth, how can Christians continue to follow Jesus – be his disciples? And how can Christians show others that they are His disciples?

In John 13, Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, an act of love and service, and later he tells them to ‘love one another, just as I have loved you’. It is through loving their neighbours, sharing their grief, working for the rebuilding of community, standing in solidarity with victims of nuclear exclusion, living forgiveness, loving and serving others that Christians both show they are disciples of Christ, and discover what it is to be a disciple.

 

Below, you can find a collect written for the anniversary by the House of Bishops of the Nippon Sei Ko Kai, the Anglican Communion in Japan.

Almighty God, Creator of Heaven and Earth,

On its 10th anniversary, we gather to pray for those who have suffered as a result of the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake, tsunami and subsequent accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.

Since then, Japan and the world have experienced many further disasters, including the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

We pray for all those who are no longer with us, as well as those who still suffer. May your comfort and encouragement be with them all.

Empower and guide us, that we may be used each in our own small ways to help restore – in this world of constant conflict, hatred, and disasters – the beauty of your creation.

We ask this in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, who walks with all who suffer and are in pain.
Amen.

 

Above: Image of Minami-Sanriku Memorial Park, dedicated to the victims of the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake