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TROUBLESHOOTER / As disasters fill the news, my disaster is overlooked

The Yomiuri ShimbunDear Troubleshooter:

I’m a homemaker in my 50s. I worry about how I should feel about natural disasters that have occurred one after another.

In the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, Ibaraki Prefecture, where I live, suffered serious damage. It took a long time until tap water supplies were resumed and I struggled to secure food and plastic sheets to cover the roof of my house. However, our prefecture is not included in the three prefectures — Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima — which were said to be regions devastated by the disaster. Damage in our prefecture is hardly reported by the media.

Also after the 2011 earthquake, a series of earthquakes occurred in the Kyushu region and another strong quake took place in Osaka. But each time a disaster strikes, I can’t help comparing the suffering people’s situation with what we experienced, thinking, “We felt it much harder” or “They should feel relieved as various aid goods have reached them though their damage was not as serious as ours.”

I understand that it is partly because of the great earthquake that distribution of aid goods and other relief operations have been carried out more quickly in more recent disasters. But I can’t feel sympathy toward people at the sites of the later disasters from the bottom of my heart. I feel I’m a very disgusting person to have such a thought. What should I keep in mind when I think about other disasters?

L, Ibaraki Prefecture

Dear Ms. L:

There is no distinction in levels of seriousness of experiencing disasters, especially in experiences of loss. Some lost family members, friends, pets, houses, jobs, family Buddhist altars, cherished dolls and baseball bats. In all of these cases, each person lost his or her “treasures” and something which they had relied on. It’s impossible to compare levels of sorrow.

You adhere to a point over whether sufferers of disaster including you are known by people in other regions. But try to consider if you were in the opposite position. For example, how much do you know about people who were hit by disasters this summer? Do you know which of the regions suffered “really” tremendous damage? You may now be regarded by people in the later disasters in the same way.

Just like memories of pain and suffering before and after surgical operations fade with the passage of time, experiences of being hit by a disaster and hardships from it also fade from people’s memories. The number of people who know the disaster firsthand decreases, and only words in the media remain. This is unavoidable. So, “relaying memories by words” is important.

I believe that what is important is whether you can continue to keep ties with other people with whom you got acquainted in the wake of the disaster, even just a little bit.

Kiyokazu Washida, philosopher

(From Aug. 25, 2018, issue)Speech

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