First steps on road to recovery

First steps on road to recovery

Global support for Japan as it rebuilds after last year's tsunami is touching

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Many students at Ishinomaki Okawa Elementary School were killed or went missing following last March's tsunami, but hope lives on.
Many students at Ishinomaki Okawa Elementary School were killed or went missing following last March's tsunami, but hope lives on.
Photos: Haruka Nuga
As a Japanese person living in Hong Kong for the past 19 years, it was eye-opening to visit Ishinomaki, in the region of Tohoku - one of the cities severely damaged by the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan's northeast coast last March.

My journey gave me the chance to reconnect with my family's roots and gain a different perspective of my home country.

Six other journalism students went on the trip, which was funded by the University of Hong Kong. Our task, with the help of voluntary workers in Japan, was to report on the first anniversary of the March 11 tsunami. The giant waves killed 15,854 people and injured another 26,992, with 3,155 reported missing. More than a million buildings were completely destroyed or damaged.

There was a strange atmosphere as I arrived at the scene of the devastation. I stood in front of the abandoned Ishinomaki Okawa Elementary School, which was badly damaged by the tsunami. As it stood in a huge pool of water, with large chunks of its walls missing, I could only imagine the pristine state of the school before the disaster struck.

"Many students went missing and couldn't be found," said Naoto Komatsu, a volunteer worker who accompanied us to the site.

Japan's Asahi news channel reported that 74 out of 108 students at the school died or went missing.

We left the school and drove around other areas of the city. There were many abandoned houses along broken, cracked roads. Everywhere I went, I saw belongings scattered around, items that had been left behind by former residents. "It's a lot better now than before though," said Komatsu. "The place has been cleaned up a little more now. Many people from all over came to help out."

I saw some Westerners and local people who were there to help rebuild offices, or show their support.

Yet it was hard for me to understand the meaning of "better than before" when all I could see was a rundown and devastated area.

I consider Hong Kong my home, having lived in the city since I was three months old. I would never have expected this trip to have had such a great impact on me. Seeing first-hand the aftermath of the natural disaster in my home country - which I've never felt closely connected to until now - was a touching and enriching experience.

As a university student, perhaps there is not much I can do to change things, yet everything I try to do to help makes all the difference to the people I met here.

The volunteer workers appreciated our help, even though we had not really done much; our mere presence already meant a lot to them.

Japan is slowly recovering; it will take a long time before life returns to normal in the devastated areas. But the support from people around the world grows stronger every day. I believe people will keep coming together to offer their help - just as many people came on the day of the anniversary to celebrate the country's recovery.

Taking one step at a time, Japan will recover one day.

Haruka was a summer intern at Young Post and is now a first-year journalism student at the University of Hong Kong


Haruka Nuga (third from right) in Ishinomaki with a group of volunteers, including Naoto Komatsu (second From left), and her fellow Hong Kong student Isak Ladegaard (far right)

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