Returning to Fukushima with Hope

By Corinne Morier

Editor's Note: Morier was one of the Facing Fukushima team members, and she returned to teach English to school children. She reflects on her experience and her hopes for the future of Fukushima.

March 11, 2011. When I think about what I was doing back then, it all seems so insignificant. Six years ago, I was just about to finish my freshman year of college in San Francisco. My world consisted of my family, school, and my writing. My life didn’t really have anything extraordinary. I went to school, went home again, did my homework, watched TV, and went to bed.

Then the earthquake hit Japan, and it was all over the news. But it all seemed so far away from me. I didn’t really know anyone who had been affected. Even my Japanese teachers San Francisco State University weren’t personally affected—their families all lived in southern Japan.

It wasn’t until I got involved with the Facing Fukushima project in 2014 that it began to hit closer to home. I knew nothing about journalism or the disaster before the project. I just was excited to go to Japan. The trip gave me an opportunity to use the Japanese I had been studying in school. I met so many people in Fukushima who were affected by the disaster one way or another—people who had lost homes and loved ones. They all had an amazing sense of hope for the future and spoke without reserve of their memories and stories.

Now, six years later, I live in Iwaki in Fukushima prefecture, where I teach English in elementary school. At first, I came to Japan thinking that people had forgotten about the earthquake. No one really talked much about it, and except for the one crazy guy down by the train station protesting nuclear power, there was no other evidence that such a terrible event had occurred here.

In the seven months since coming here, I’ve had a lot of times when I had to just sort of take a step back and rethink my position about this. One big turning point was when I first moved here and discovered that there was a temporary housing facility only about 15 minutes’ walk away from my new home, right next door to one of my schools. Another example of such was when I wound up at the temporary housing facility and ran into some of my students, who said that they lived there.

Evidence of the disaster still surrounds me to this day. The sixth-grade teacher at my school who came from Namie, a town inside the evacuation zone that was destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami… The kids at my school who live in the temporary housing facility…

But not everyone has forgotten the disaster. On March 10 at school, we had an evacuation drill followed by a moment of silence to remember those who perished. Most of the kids wouldn’t remember it, although the current sixth-graders were in the first grade when it happened, so they probably do. And I found it rather comforting, in fact, that the school went to a bit of extra trouble to educate the younger students about the disaster. It feels as if the disaster has made the community here in Fukushima closer than other places in the country.

Along with Japan’s way of remembering what happened, the rest of the world remembers it, too. Recently an article surfaced about Fukushima that contained false information that a Facebook friend shared with me. I was able to tell him that the article in question was simply clickbait. Even though it’s been six years since the disaster—and two years since our project—it’s still necessary to educate others about the situation in Fukushima and to honor and remember the people who lost their lives and homes through no fault of their own.

I love living in Iwaki, and I recently re-signed my contract to stay here another year. I want to continue to remember what we learned, to contribute in any way I can to the recovery effort, whether it be through volunteering or educating others about Fukushima. I want to continue to keep the spirit of hope alive in my heart. Facing Fukushima—one day, hope will spring anew.