5 life Lessons learned from the earthquake in Japan

Many of you have probably heard about the earthquake that hit northern Japan last Friday March 11th, and the tsunami it caused and the current nuclear ‘situation’. Fortunately, the region of Kansai where I live is mostly unaffected, but much of the damage and devastation it caused is still ongoing.

A random accumulation of circumstances has lead me to be where I am now. You could call me unlucky that I happen to be in Japan, or you could call be lucky to have survived unscathed, but either way, assigning things that simply happen as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is futile, what matters is what’s happening right now, not the labels that we’ve attached to it.

lessons from the quake

On foundations

When the very ground you stand on – something stable you think will always be there to hold you up – starts to shake and break  apart, you have no choice but to realize that nothing is permanent. If you can’t even rely on the ground you’ve always stood on to always be there, what can you rely on?

The fact that things are changing all the time is something to celebrate. Human beings have a superpower called adaptability. We can learn how to deal with changing situations, learn new things and have fun from new experiences. Our lives are short and the places we go and things we see and people we meet won’t be there forever, but that’s what makes life interesting.

On the media

If there’s one other thing I’ve discovered it’s the power of the media and what ramifications it can have if news reporters exaggerate and blow things out of proportion. I’ve suffered more stress from trying to reassure family members that I am quite alright than being worried about the earthquake or the radiation itself.

People are freaking and leaving areas of Japan where there is little or no danger of radiation because of how the news is being reported. Panic is being created which is making situations worse. Radiation is happening all the time, from our kitchen microwaves and food treatment, to our wireless routers and cell phones, to to medical scans and most ironically, airport security scans. Unfortunately, in the framework of a crisis things get completely blown out of proportion.

It’s impossible to police all news outlets, and even harder to ask people to look at evidence more objectively, which has lead to a worldwide misunderstanding of the issue. I’m not going to go into criticizing the media or human ignorance right now, but I just wanted to make clear that I have weighed up all of the facts and real evidence and have made an informed decision that it is completely unnecessary for me to quit university, abandon my travel plans and leave my host family just because of a few choice adjectives used for headlines.

On fear

I came to Japan fully aware that it is an earthquake prone country. If I was not okay with the fact that an earthquake can happen at any time, I would not have flown across the world to get here. Since I was largely unaffected by the earthquake in Sendai, my stance on this has not changed. In the world, huge earthquakes like this are relatively rare. In any case, an earthquake is always going to ‘might happen’ in Japan, but I shouldn’t let it control my life.

If I let this way of thinking take over, in that case, I would never go to the States in case I ‘got shot’ (thank you media) or to even leave my house in case I catch bird flu or mad cow disease or something. Everyday that we’re alive there’s a danger that something ‘might happen’ but we take that risk because not doing anything in fear that you could get hurt isn’t living, which is basically a slow death anyway.

On love

As much as people are panicking and making things worse, there’ s a lot to be said about the help people all over the world have given Japan in these hard times, whether it’s in the form of money or food/water/blankets or even their own time as volunteers.

There’s something about disasters such as this that makes people come together when they otherwise wouldn’t have. Even if they can’t give anything, they’re giving their thoughts, sympathies and well wishes, which is valuable too.

I’ve also been touched by readers who immediately contacted me to ask if I was okay as soon as they heard. I’m truly grateful to have such a caring bunch of readers like you guys, it means a lot to me.

On beauty

Over the past few months, this country has almost become my home. That’s why it’s quite upsetting to see the devastation that the tsunami has left behind. Not only is an entire part of Japan’s beautiful Tohoku area been wiped out, but so has potentially thousands of innocent people who didn’t stand a chance.

Japan is a country full of the kindest people I’ve ever known and some of the most beautiful places on Earth. I’m sure this country’s strength of unity will see it through this disaster.

I realize I talk about Japan a lot, so I’m just going to leave it here with a few postcards from my travels.

You can find more on my Japan blog.

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  • Lovely pictures! Thank you for sharing. Glad to know you are safe – and that this has not deterred you from continuing your education. Perhaps, in a way, it has and will continue to enrich your experience in Japan.

    • Thanks Clara for your comment! Yes you’re right, if a plus side can be found from this horrible incident is that a lot of lessons were learned, both me and the rest of the world!

  • mike

    It’s refreshing to read a post so full of common sense. I will bet you there are people in America freaking out making the mad rush to the pharmacy to get their iodine pills. You on the other hand don’t let fear and the media hype rule your life.

    • Hey Mike, thanks for your lovely comment! Yes, I try to cut out media as much as I can and just get the facts I need to know. It has been absolutely fascinating to see people freaking out about numbers that don’t mean anything!

  • Newspapers always seem to show off the destruction and worry. I think it would be refreshing if they showed nice things more often.

    Sometime after Japan stops being the popular topic, I’d like to pick up a newspaper and see pictures like these (beautiful by the way) and of people in affected communities who helped each other rebuild their lives.

    I guess that sounded a bit sappy. Whatever, I’m not the only one that’s affected by the mood of whatever I surround myself with.

    • Hey Layla, thank you for your lovely comment! Haha, I wished that we lived in an ideal world where people actually wanted to read/write about beautiful things not just crime and disasters – will it ever come I wonder? 🙂

  • Eli

    I’m glad to hear you are safe and continue with your studies. Here are my best wishes that everything gets better for Japan. I too live in a earthquake-prone country (Costa Rica), where we are “waiting” for a “big one”, and as you say, sometimes the media tend to spread fear, but that does not keep people from living their lives, because the present is all we have. If something happens, you can only deal with it the moment it happens, not a minute sooner. Hugs.

    • Hey Eli, wow Costa Rica?! I wouldn’t mind living there either 🙂 Yes, this is exactly it, what if people gave up the idea living in such a beautiful country just because of their fear of the ‘big one’? If it never happens, what a waste it would be and if it does (touch wood) well, anything can happen at any time wherever they are anyway, and since we can’t predict the future, there’s no way of knowing what would have been good/bad.

  • Michelle

    Well said. The whole Japanese side of my family (mom’s family) is in Japan, and luckily were in a different part of Japan when the earthquake and tsunami happened. Every day my mom watches a live stream of the Japanese news, and every day when I talk to her, she names seemingly trivial things that we can be grateful for. I try to keep gratitude in my daily life, but now it has been heightened so much! I’m glad you are not going to quit your school and travel plans because of fear of something happening, it has inspired me to make sure not to either 🙂

    • Hey Michelle! I’m glad you feel that way, keep it up! You’re right about being grateful for everyday, it’s sad to realize that these people didn’t know when they woke up that day that this disaster was going to happen, and neither do we, so we should embrace life while we can!

  • Jenny

    Hi Jessica,

    I really enjoyed looking at your photos on my morning commute! I’m glad to hear you’re safe and I hope you continue to have a fulfilling time in Japan


    • Hey Jenny, thank you for your lovely comment, I enjoyed reading it on my kindle on the way to class too! 🙂

  • Andre

    My (personal) conclusion: Take the full responsibility over your own life! I.e., don’t let wrong assumptions guide you and don’t let other people (especially the media) decide for you: You and only you are in charge of yourself. Make well-informed decisions about things you want to pursue since everything has an inherent risk – even staying at home! It’s just a matter of weighing up the gains and risks.

    Thanks, that’s what I needed!

    • Hey Andre, I usually give my own comment to people’s comments but here I simply just agree with everything you said! 🙂

  • Nitesh

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Fantastic.