Reflection: Touhoku earthquake and Tenohira ga Kataru Koto

March 11th, 2013 was the second anniversary of the 2011 Touhoku earthquake and tsunami, also known as Higashi Nihon Daishinsai (東日本大震災), 3.11 Earthquake, and other names. April 11th marks 2 years and 1 month since the event. We touched upon some of our feelings and emotions at the time 2 years ago on podcast episode 137, Jane Dae.

It was a Friday afternoon for Japan, Thursday night for me. When I first heard about it, I was still doing my usual thing: staying up late and not giving a damn. An NSK stream was going on and some people in chat said that there was a huge earthquake near Japan. That area is frequently assaulted by earthquakes and I’m confident that the nation of Japan has the world’s best earthquake preparedness due to how much of that crap they have to deal with. This wasn’t like any other time though.

My personal experience from afar

Japan earthquake and tsunami damage
Image: Reuters

Unfortunately, I can no longer pinpoint the exact times I reacted or actions I took. I just remember feeling numb. It went from, “oh another earthquake” to “something serious is happening.” The tsunami that resulted after the huge earthquake came with little warning. Shortly afterward, northeastern Japan was engulfed by water and whole cities were destroyed in matters of minutes, even seconds. I don’t think I can say I had seen anything like it before. I watched some of the live footage: cars driving away from the tidal wave as fast as possible, entire acres of farm swallowed by muddy water, the roofs of houses become level with the water. It was a sad sight to watch and it’s a haunting image.

I couldn’t get my mind off of it. I found out via Twitter that Kaz from Yokoso News was broadcasting updates on the situation in Japan via the internet. He would broadcast whenever he could get power and internet connectivity and relay national status updates such as blackouts and casualties. I clung to this for days. I felt a very strange helplessness. My heart sank every time I heard the casualty counter go up and every time the missing persons counter go up. I felt like I had the chance to do something to help, but was completely powerless to do so. At one point, even the thought of enlisting in some rescue organization crossed my mind. Realistically, I wasn’t prepared for any of that at all and there really wasn’t anything I could do. I was not at fault for anything, and I was not responsible for anything, and yet I had this aching feeling. Why was I able to sit in comfort in my chair, in my bed, in my own home, and yet all these people out there are without homes, have lost loved ones, and have lost hope?

I honestly believe I fell into a mild depression due to this event. A friend of mine tried to make me snap out of it by reminding me that Japan is a first world nation, has great disaster preparedness, and will be able to recover easily. Selfishly, we also thought about how our electronics might go up in price due to damaged manufacturing. Were they really going to be okay though? And why did I even care so much? Perhaps it’s a silly question to ask now, but realistically, Japan isn’t my home, nor is it the home of my family. Why did I feel such deep emotions for a nation I honestly didn’t even know? I guess I really just love Japan as a country. After visiting twice now, I have no regrets and I still look back at it very fondly. I have friends there and thankfully none of them nor their family were affected by the disaster. Still though, this nation of people has always been in the back of my mind, maybe merely due to the entertainment their industry delivers.

Ishida Anna’s experience from ground zero

Ishida Anna wearing Dareka no Tame ni shirtIf you have the chance, please read Ishida Anna’s blog post about 3/11. Thanks to jurinaoshi on Tumblr for translating!

She details how she met a man who came in place of his younger sister, the day after the disaster. She wanted to meet his younger sister and let him know that he should bring her the next time he comes to see her, but that’s when he reveals that his little sister was swept away by the tsunami.

There really are no “right” words to say when you hear something like that. I really have to wonder what went on in Anna’s head as well as the fan’s. It was also saddening to hear that this brother only had one photo left of his beloved sister because the tsunami had swept everything else away. This strengthened Anna’s resolve to do what she could to make people smile, and I admire her for that.

For an idol, whose job is to be an entertainer, what can you really do for those that are in need? In this case, Anna has the ability to make people smile because there are people out there who are glad to meet her, glad to see her sing and dance, and glad to see her grow. I feel like if I were an idol, I would have no idea what I would be able to do.

I know there are critics out there who label idols as vapid sources of no-talent and whatnot. Idols are what you make of them and the reality is there are people out there who look up to them as role models. If anything, the 48 family’s duty to visiting the disaster areas and putting on live shows really earns my respect for them because it shows that they are putting resources to good use. There are people out there who have lost hope and maybe a visit from an idol like Ishida Anna can help restore that hope, and for that I am grateful.

Opinion on how the promotion is handled

Watanabe Mayu and Shimazaki Haruka in the busDue to the nature of the idol industry, many of us have to stay vigilant in our criticisms and cynicism. The idol industry itself is smoke and mirrors, but we can choose to take it personally and vouch for genuineness or deny as fake. My main subject is AKS and the 48 family and its efforts of relief in the disaster areas. Obviously, because of the mass amount of resources at their disposal, the 48 groups are able to send groups of girls to the disaster areas at least once a month it seems. To me, this is a great thing because realistically there are only so many people you can reach in such short amount of times, so consistent return trips really make me feel like some real effort is being made to reach the affected people of the northeast.

Flowers at a memorialLet’s be cynical for one moment though. Honestly, because AKS and its affiliates have so many resources, they are using the girls as a huge advertisement for how good their brand is since they are visiting the disaster area. There are always cameras with them taking photo and video so that they can use it in their next documentary (aka propaganda machine) or in some morning news broadcast just so they can mention the name of AKB48. It’s true though, in order to hold a brand’s strength, you must keep its name ingrained in people’s heads. AKB48 and its media affiliates are able to do so by mass media bombardment. As long as the girls and their brand show up on TV constantly, they will not leave people’s minds very easily. The disaster relief efforts are icing on the cake due to the fact that it’s still a very fresh wound in Japan’s history and people generally like seeing sappy stuff like that.

Minegishi Minami holding flowersI don’t see it as some heavenly act where the girls are angels and nothing can fault the 48 family, however I do see it as raising awareness and I think that’s what matters most. People in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, etc live busy lives and they don’t really need to care about the northeast. The disaster relief efforts remind people of a situation that still exists. If anything, at the very least, these visits to the disaster areas show that someone still cares. Sure there is profit to be made from content sold (though Dareka no Tame ni labeled products donate revenue to disaster relief), but at the same time there are staff members, camera crews, and the girls themselves who are willing to go visit because they believe that they can contribute to the good of society by visiting, paying respect, and delivering a message.

Bowing in honor of victimsIf anyone ever asks me if the promotion is just for publicity or if it’s genuine, I can confidently say it’s genuine. Obviously there is publicity, there’s no avoiding it. However, when I see those interviews with the girls who are on the brink of tears speaking about their chances to visit the disaster sites, I really can’t think that it’s fake. And even if we were to get to that extreme and assume that their heartfelt emotions about the nation they call their own home are fake, there’s no doubting that what they do is bring awareness to others and remind them that there is still a part of Japan that needs your help.

Tenohira ga Kataru Koto

The full PV for Tenohira ga Kataru Koto finally came out. I can honestly say that it is one of the most beautiful slideshows I have ever seen in my life. The PV really is a slideshow; they are photos taken from the latest multi-location visit that the 48 family conducted. The PV opens with the sound of an emergency siren, reminding us all of that fateful day. These are what I see as real and candid photos of the girls as they venture towards the disaster area. Even the opening title call is beautiful. It’s an image of a hand holding onto another hand, very relevant to the title of the song, which can be interpreted as, “what our palms speak to us.” What follows is the simple, yet sweet piano combined with vocals of pairs of AKB48 (and sister group) girls.

Watanabe Mayu gift little girlWe mentioned before on our latest podcast that this song was extremely refreshing to listen to due to the fact that we could pick out individual voices within the verses. Everyone sings in harmony for the choruses, but there is personality in the duet lines. The PV itself progresses from the trip to the disaster areas, to visiting memorial sites, to reaction faces of the girls, to interactions with the fans. This was probably the most beautiful part for me because you get to see the girls shaking hands with and high-five-ing fans that you know are happy to see them there. The PV ends with one of the girls’ hands wrapping around a small child’s. I can’t get over how such a simple PV could be so touching, but these are the works I like the best. If you’re able to deliver a message and evoke emotion, I think: the simpler the better. That’s enough fanboying and AKBlasting for now. 11/10, would watch again.

What can I do for someone?

Watanabe Mayu handshake little girlThat begs the question: what CAN I do for someone? A tagline that I originally thought sounded strange in English is now a phrase that I can really get behind. The Dareka no Tame ni project has been going on for 2 years now and portions of profit are donated to the Japan Red Cross. I personally have seen many of my purchases display the project logo, so at the very least I know that some of my money will go somewhere nice. I find it a bit silly, but this is honestly the first time I’ve donated to a large aid organization. Think about that. AKB48 made me donate for the first time in life. I’m kind of a fanboy, huh?

That aside, I honestly do think that the project is doing actual good and I trust my money in their hands. Will donating really help? Maybe we will see, maybe we will not. Maybe it’s selfish to do so since I can brag about how I did donate and feel good about myself, but I will just put my faith in the decision I made and see how it plays out. If you are interested in pitching in, you can visit the Dareka no Tame ni project website. There, you can also download Tenohira ga Kataru for free. No strings attached! Though, it only comes in 160kbps (come on, AKS!)

The lyrics of the song start with: how dreams are something people see alone; when a hand scoops sand, much of it falls out; but we should be persistent in scooping. At the end of the song, dreams are something people help each other with and if we have enough hands, eventually we can make a mountain. It’s beautiful and I love everything about it. I’m listening to it on repeat as I type this out.

I interpret the theme of the song as: we face adversity, but we continue to move forward and chase our dreams together. I think that’s the final message we can all take away from this whole ordeal. If you made it this far, I thank you so much for reading and I hope you the song with anyone and everyone :D

I still can’t believe it took AKB48 for me to donate to something.


Oricon news reports for images: [1] [2]

AKB48 Dareka no Tame ni project website – donate here and download Tenohira ga Kataru Koto for free

About David Chang

Former Editor-in-Chief of New School Kaidan. Graduated.

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