Today is the remembrance day for the atomic bomb, which was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945. I’ll attend the ceremony later and will probably be blogging about the event, peace and pacifism in Japan at some point this week. However, today’s post is about the floods and responses to them.
When I arrived in Hiroshima, I was a day late and it was pouring with rain- the aftereffects of a typhoon. Dangerous weather conditions had forced the Shinkansen to cease operations the day before.
As a result, I had watched the reports of devastation in Onomichi, Kurashiki and other coastal towns, where flooding had destroyed houses, roads and train lines. The full scale of the damage would not become apparent for several more days.
While Hiroshima was affected by the typhoon, I have been fortunate enough to suffer no consequences. My suburb of Itsukaichi remains untouched. Instead, the worst of the floods here hit Asa-minami and Asa-kita to the north of the city, and the smaller towns scattered around the bay to the south. Saka and Kure, to the southeast, were hit particularly hard.
Although I have been shielded from the effects of the weather, I often teach students from Kure, Kaita and other affected towns. In particular, I’m told, conditions have been very difficult in Kure. Many houses were completely destroyed. For weeks, the water supply was often erratic or non-existent. Several smaller roads have been made impassable. The smaller train lines along the coast remain suspended, leaving the smaller towns such as Kure and Saka with gridlocked or unreliable roads and no train connections for weeks on end.
The ferry service has been picking up the slack, but this creates its own problems- one NOVA visitor reported travelling for three hours each way to get to their workplace, a few miles away in a neighbouring town, via tram and ferry. A lot of people remain homeless. Meanwhile, Saka’s popular tourist beach was effectively destroyed by landslides.
The floods have surfaced regularly in conversation, and I’ve learnt a bit about how my students view the government and its preparedness. In general, people weren’t too impressed. A student from Fuchu, a suburban town east of Hiroshima, told me that the whole town had been ordered to evacuate en masse. However, they were given no clear instructions about where to go, leaving people panicked and confused. Others complained of the slow pace of infrastructure repairs, and the patchiness of emergency communication systems.
In fairness, I should point out that the government did organise disaster Wi-fi hotspots, and there are well-constructed emergency evacuation centres, like this one on Miyajima Island: Some language learners also acknowledged that the local government has problems of manpower and funding that aren’t entirely its own making. For example, many of the smaller towns have mostly elderly residents, who for obvious reasons may not be able to help with some of the heavy lifting required for repairs. Meanwhile, getting people into the affected areas was no mean feat during the worst days of the flooding.
(Not my image, obviously)
The most heartening part of this whole tragic affair has been the surfeit of volunteers. I read a great book called Bending Adversity (by David Pilling) which talked about the culture of volunteering in Japan post-Fukushima. Well, I’ve certainly seen plenty of examples over the last few weeks.
Several students, when pressed about their weekend plans, told me they were going to volunteer in Saka, Kure or northern Hiroshima. One student was helping to carry bags of sand and soil, to divert or absorb water and to repair damaged land. Others were helping to repair homes, or clearing away debris from the landslide. I was shown pictures of the extent of the damage by a returnee. People were finding time to do this despite (in general) working longer hours than most Westerners.
I don’t want to paint too rosy a portrait of the situation. I felt moved by the scale of volunteering efforts, but it’s possible that this has allowed the government to avoid responsibility for some mistakes. I hope that the volunteering effort can be matched by better preparedness in the future. Nonetheless, I hope people in the bay area are justly proud of their community spirit, and if I am able to volunteer during my week off next week, I will certainly find the time.