Japan..."stay strong and united"

A small plaque at Naritsan Temple just six weeks ago...
It's hard to believe that just six weeks ago, my wonderful week-long holiday in Japan was coming to an end. Mum and I were diverted home from Tokyo via Singapore after our outbound flight was cancelled due to volcanic ash in the Kyushu area. Perhaps that was a warning of things to come...

For me, our brief trip to Japan had provided a much welcome escape from Queensland's "Big Wet", and the unplanned evacuation from and re-location back into my Teneriffe apartment during the devastating floods which engulfed large parts of Australia's third largest city. At least I had a dry, undamaged home to return to.

We were fortunate to arrive home from Tokyo just a few days ahead of Cyclone Yasi, one of the most powerful cyclones ever to smash the Far North Queensland coast. A couple of weeks later, a massive earthquake struck the beautiful New Zealand city of Christchurch.

It feels like the news in 2011 has been one continual waterlogged story of death and devastation. It feels like each of these natural disasters has grown exponentially in scope and destruction - the stories of loss seemingly far outweighing the stories of survival. And yet, I've been morbidly transfixed by the TV footage and unbelievable, "before and after photos" each day. There has also been an incredible display of community spirit - locally and globally - after each disaster. Each day seems to give birth to yet another much needed disaster relief fund.

And just when we in the Pacific didn't think things could get a whole lot worse, Mother Nature threw a complete hissy fit last Friday and squeezed out an 8.9-magnitude earthquake off the coast of Northern Japan. As if the quake, which apparently rocked and rolled the beautiful island nation a couple of metres sideways - permanently, was not bad enough, a series of tsunamis then smashed the coast and everything in their path.

The Japanese coined the phrase "tsunami". Situated in the Pacific "Rim of Fire" atop a couple of restless tektonic plates, this is a country used to earthquakes and the subsequent big waves which such massive releases of energy generate. Sophisticated early warning systems are located around the Japanese coastline, and the buildings are apparently built to withstand pretty severe shaking.

But we've since learned that this monster quake was some 8,000 times more intense in energy than the Christchurch earthquake. Who'd have thought that was even possible?

We've heard that a wall of water, in some cases up to 10 metres high and travelling at 800 kilometres an hour - the speed of a jet aircraft in flight - completely flattened towns such as Sendai, Otsuchi, Minamisoma, Minami Sinraku, Rikuzentakat...and the list goes on.

It's heartbreaking to think that several thousand people have already died in this latest tragedy; that some four days later, there are thousands of missing people who will most likely never be found; that search and rescue teams and the armed forces still can't even get into some of the small villages to begin to assess the loss; that hundreds of thousands of Japanese people are tonight separate from their loved ones, still without homes, power and food - all of this in the middle of a cold winter. Add to that the growing threat of multiple nuclear emergencies, and you can't help but wonder, WHEN WILL IT ALL STOP? When will this battered country get some sort of a reprieve and see an end to a disaster which just seems to keep unfolding?

My heart breaks with every tragic image I see of this awesome country in turmoil. I am desperately sad seeing images of the stoic Japanese people, whose world has fallen apart - yet who remain calm, and warrior-like in their resolve to keep going, seemingly against all odds. They are indeed inspirational.

I took the photo in this post on my first day in Japan - spotting it by chance out of the thousands of similar little handwritten messages hanging off racks around the Narita-san temple complex. After the Queensland floods, it was like I was meant to see that little plaque.

And so to the Japanese people, I say in return, that I hope you too can overcome this disaster, and stay strong and united. xx

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