Yesterday was March 11, 2020. On the same day of 2011, the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami occurred. Today’s newspapers and TV programs report how the affected provinces are recovering from the severe damages caused by the earthquake and tsunami, and how the residents of the disaster-stricken areas have gone through a long period of hardships.
The gigantic earthquake and tsunami, and in particular, the subsequent accident of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, are the most painful and saddest events that no Japanese can ever forget. I attended a memorial service for the victims as the Minister of the Environment last year, but this year it was cancelled due to coronavirus pandemic.
I called the chiefs of the towns and villages of those provinces, with whom I got acquainted when I served as the Minister of the Environment, and expressed my respect and gratitude for their contribution to the restoration of their towns and villages.
What was I doing at 2:46 p.m., on March 11, 2011? I was apparently on my way back to Fukuoka from Haneda Airport. When I arrived at Fukuoka Airport, I noticed that the atmosphere at the airport was somewhat strange, and the expressions on people’s faces were entirely different than usual. I asked an airport staff member, “Did anything happen?” The staff replied, “Well, it seems that a serious accident happened somewhere around Tokyo, but the TV reporters seem to be confused about the accident and so we don’t really know what is going on.” I still could not get any details at the end of the day.
About two weeks after the outbreak of the gigantic earthquake and tsunami and the accident of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, I, together with one of my staff members, visited Fukushima Prefecture. It was not easy to reach the disaster-stricken areas because the highways and roads were congested with cars and trucks. We were somehow able to enter Koriyama City and Iwaki City. We saw many sign boards which the government prohibited people from entering the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station and its surrounding areas. I was overwhelmed with the fury of the earthquake and tsunami. We reached the coastline, and for the first time I witnessed the ruins left by the earthquake and tsunami. Some wrecked ships were washed up on the seashore, and I saw a boat sitting on top of a building far from the coast.