The past year has been a terribly hard one for Japan. Tomorrow is the anniversary of the devastating earthquake and unprecedented tsunami that ravaged a wide area in the northeast part of the county and caused major damage to the nuclear power plants in Fukushima, a place name that most Americans had not heard of before but which is now a household word.
Some have compared 3/11/11 in Japan with 9/11/01 in the United States: “3/11 will be etched on our heart and psyche just as 9/11 is imprinted on the American psyche," wrote a Japanese Christian leader a few days after last year’s disaster. “The reasons are totally different, but it is a single event which determines how we as a nation will live for many years to come.”
There are stark differences, of course. Nearly 20,000 people were killed in the disaster in Japan, 45,700 buildings were destroyed, and an estimated 230,000 automobiles and trucks were damaged or destroyed in the disaster. Thus, the destruction was much, much greater on 3/11 than on 9/11.
The main difference, of course, is that 9/11 was completely the result of human ill will whereas 3/11 was a natural disaster. Sometimes natural disasters are called “acts of God.” A legal dictionary explains: “An act of God is a natural catastrophe which no one can prevent.” But while “act of God” may be an acceptable legal term, it is most unacceptable as a theological one.
Yet there were those who literally thought the Japanese tragedy was caused by God. Two days after the 3/11 earthquake/tsunami, Rev. David Yonggi Cho, senior pastor of the Yoido Full Gospel Church (in Seoul, Korea, and the world’s largest church ) called the Japanese quake and tsunami “God’s warning.”
The next day on his radio show, Glenn Beck called the tragedy a message from God. And that same day even the Governor of Tokyo told reporters that he thought the tsunami was tenbatsu (divine punishment). The Governor later apologized, but I can find no record of Beck or Rev. Cho doing the same.
But “natural disasters” means not only that they occur in nature but also that they happen from purely natural, rather than human or divine, causes. For example, scientists can ascertain how or why earthquakes occur: they are caused by the movement of “plates” below the surface of the earth. Further, large earthquakes in or near the ocean cause large tidal waves, now widely known by the Japanese word tsunami.
I hope you have been able to see some of the pictures of northeast Japan showing the marked contrast between the situation there now and last year just after the tsunami wreaked such devastation in that section of the country. If not, check out this website that shows how much of the devastation of 3.11 has been overcome. (Here is also a link to a YouTube video expressing gratitude for help received.)
The Japanese people, with considerable help from abroad, have done remarkably well in overcoming last year’s terrible tragedy. But many people are still living in temporary housing and some continue to suffer physically and emotionally. Prayers for and support of the Japanese people by the international community are still very much needed.
Note to those who live in the Kansas City area: Greater Kansas City Japanese Film Festival - Saturday, March 10 (10:30 a.m. - 11:00 p.m.) and Sunday, March 11 (10:30 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.) at the Kansas City Art Institute and Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. A number of films will be shown, including Norwegian Wood and The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom (nominated for a 2011 Academy Award). Contributions accepted in lieu of admission. More information at http://www.heartlandjetaa.org/wp-content/japanfilmfest/