Usher videos don’t normally cause me much concern. Occasionally I feel a twinge of curiosity—how is his head still affixed after all that bobbing? Usually a glance is more than enough, and I move on. The “Without You” video, however, was different. After watching it with my roommate, I was filled with distaste.
It features the average amount of gyrating and contains a series of massive earthquakes that literally rip lines in the earth, so that a new Pangea is formed. I felt a deep-seated discomfort and had to leave the room.
On Mar. 11, 2011, at 2:46 P.M., I was sitting with my brother at the table at our home in Tokyo, eating lunch. Small earthquakes are commonplace in Japan, so when the table began to shake, it didn’t bother me. As the tremors intensified, it still didn’t faze me—I continued to eat my lunch as my brother held down a porcelain jug with fear flitting across his face. Suddenly the entire glass cabinet behind me was clattering violently with the threat of wine glasses above my head falling, the windows rattled with stress, and I was surrounded by the sound of falling objects. Before I could warn my brother to get under the table, it was over.
We’re all familiar with the horrors that played out across the TV screens that night. Entire villages swallowed by water, the roar of the earth drowned out only by terrified screaming. Images of people looking stunned and lost, bewildered by the rage of nature.
I engaged in tense conversations with my parents, both at the dinner table and as I lay in the dark, listening, as the fears of radiation poisoning grew and the devastation became more and more apparent. One evening my mother handed me a roll of duct tape and asked me to seal up the windows. As I stood on a chair and worked, my younger brother silently handed me pieces of tape. The quiet reached its brim, over-spilling in his quiet question: “What if we die?”
It is a testament to the numbness instilled by the tragedy of the earthquake that I could only shrug. I provided the cold comfort of an older sibling. “I don’t know,” I said.
The Usher video reminded me, ironically, that people have forgotten. In October 2011, when the video was released, it was apparently perfectly acceptable to feature an enormous earthquake as its main focus, when there were real victims of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami still very much suffering from its aftermath—lack of shelter as winter approached, limited food resources, and the constant fear of aftershocks in unstable housing.
Uncertainty colored every moment, and the air was dense with terror. The international community in Tokyo was in a frenzy: Air Italia stopped flying to Narita Airport due to fears of radiation, companies shut down operations (although Goldman Sachs threatened to fire its employees if they left), and the term “gai-jin”, meaning foreigner, was modified to a disdainful “fly-jin.”
I wrote in an email to a friend: “You want life to go on as usual, but…as you turn every corner of each second on the clock, you feel this strange dichotomy of tension and release. We passed this hour—now onto the next. To think of Thursday—to think of Friday morning, even, is completely unreal.”
Although the before-and-after pictures show a clear path to recovery, we still tread gingerly over the cracks in our comfort. Outwardly, it was nearly imperceptible. Tokyo was far away from the epicenter of the earthquake; we sustained a few rolling blackouts, but for the most part we were returning to a daily pace. The Monday following the quake, my father had returned to work. My brothers had resumed harassing each other. Nonetheless, the memories of the disaster are still quite obvious, as evidenced in new habits. They can still be seen in my mom’s sudden jitteriness when I knock a glass over, and in the helmets and backpacks suddenly lined up at a family friend’s door. It can be seen in the occasional murmurings of radiation poisoning in the water, and in empty seats in my brothers’ classrooms.
February is Japan Awareness Month. Georgetown is hosting various events that remind the community that, while the world has moved on, there are still victims who spent the New Year in school gyms. There are children who will start the Japanese school year in April without many of their classmates and teachers. We owe them the respect of commemoration.