Reflections on the March 11 Japan Earthquake/Tsunami

Editor’s note: Hallam Shorrock ’52 M.Div. served as a missionary in Japan for many years following World War II.  Following is a reflection he wrote about the recent earthquake in Japan.

By Hallam Shorrock '52 M.Div.
 I write as a retired Disciples missionary who first went to Japan in 1947 as an English teacher, and subsequently lived and worked there for nearly 25 years during several alternate periods, until retirement in 1990.  Following the death of my wife, Helen (M.A.'67, ex.'48), I married Yasuko Fukada, the daughter of a Japan Methodist pastor.  After spending her early childhood in the U.S. she and her family returned to Japan in 1938.  She lived in Tokyo during the war and became a teacher. three-pronged cataclysm that struck the northeast coast of Japan hit "close to home" for me: first, because the stricken areas were one of the places where I first spoke to the young people who were crowding the churches immediately after the war, and are now among the elderly who compose about one-third of the victims of the tragedy; and secondly, because of my eight years of working together with my YDS classmate, Kentaro Buma, as we directed the post-war relief and rehabilitation activities of Church World Service in Japan. I am presently heartened by the reports of the post-earthquake/tsunami ecumenical relief efforts that are being carried on by the churches there, with the strong support of CWS, the WCC and the Geneva-based "Act Alliance," working with a coalition of 32 Japanese agencies.
The deeply distressing news/pictures of the mile-after-mile utter destruction caused mainly by the brutal force of the tsunami, which victimized close to half a million people (10,000 fatalities, more than 17,500 missing so far, nearly 3,000 injured, and 450,000  homeless), brought back to Yasuko grim childhood memories of the wartime U.S.bombing of Japanese cities, especially the fire-bombing of Tokyo exactly 66 years ago (March 9-11, 1945), which killed 80,000 residents and left tens of thousands injured and homeless.

Furthermore, the earthquake/tsunami-caused damage to the four Fukushima nuclear power plants resulting in an as-yet unclear amount of radioactive fallout, reminded both of us of the horrific effects of the August 6 and 9, 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki:  190,000-210,000 deaths with some 360,000  (hibakusha) still dealing with the radiation effects of the two nuclear bombs.

Now, as senior citizens ourselves, we feel a special sense of sorrow, grief, and sympathy for the Japanese people, especially for the older generation of Japanese and their families, so many of whom, in addition to the wartime suffering and trauma during their youth, have lost their lives, family members, close friends and neighbors, or been left injured and homeless by this disaster in their final years.

Yasuko and I are freshly inspired by the spirit and manner in which the Japanese people are responding to the current tragedy, just as they did to the suffering and difficulties during the war, and to the immediate post-war hardships that were exacerbated by earthquakes, fires and floods; that is: the qualities of family and group loyalty, fortitude, patience, hard work and endurance, resilience, self-restraint, stoicism, and suppression of individual desires for the common good. However, we must admit that we continue to be troubled with a culture that tends to carefully guard the information that the government and public service and other agencies provide to the general public, leaving, as Cambridge Professor Masaru Tamamoto has expressed it, "decisions in the hands of anonymous bureaucrats."

In reflecting on these qualities and the collective will of the Japanese people to persevere in the fact of social and personal upheavals, Yasuko remembers from childhood, especially during World War II, the oft-repeated motto-motive force words, "ichi oku" (100 million) - "isshin" (one heart) that are defined by the Japanese dictionary as "one hundred hearts beating as one."  This motto is well reflected in Emperor Akihito's first public-recorded address to the nation on March 16 in which he called for the Japanese people "to join together in solidarity and perseverance”

 In closing Yasuko and I wish to share some thoughts of hope by her brother, Robert Mikio, retired professor of practical theology at Doshisha University.  After being in Tokyo during the earthquake, he wrote: "The country will recover, for sure.  What kind of wisdom and leadership are mobilized can be the key as to how that recovery is achieved.  We can certainly pray that the best of human beings, Japanese and non-Japanese, can transform this tragedy into a stepping stone to establish a solid foundation for cherishing God's creation, whether you understand it in our Christian tradition or something else.”

I believe that our American nation has much to learn from the Japanese people, especially in terms of how they handle both local and national adversities.


Posted: 04/04/2011