Life after the Great East Japan earthquake

Editor's Note: The views expressed in this piece are those of the author's.

Miyagi, Japan (CNN Philippines) — Five years after an earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, the extent of the devastation can still be seen and felt.

The magnitude 9 earthquake shook the country for nearly six minutes on March 11, 2011.

The quake damaged the Fukushima nuclear reactor, knocking out the cooling system and causing a reactor fuel meltdown.

It was the worst nuclear disaster since the Chernobyl incident in 1986.

A survivor’s story

Tsunami_9_CNNPH.png Miyura-san, a survivor from Higashimatsuhima in Miyagi, Japan.

“It used to be a very vibrant town, I love it here, I will stay here," Miyura-san tells tourists and visitors of Higashimatsuhima town.

It’s negative one degree outside but Miyura-san didn’t mind the cold weather on that day. She’s happily recounting her beautiful memories of the town, and then suddenly, she stopped.

She can’t help but feel sad whenever the day of March 11, 2011 comes flashing back to her memory, the day when the powerful earthquake devastated the northeastern seaboard of Japan.

In half an hour, the fury of the earthquake was unleashed -- a tsunami as high as 20 meters washed away hundreds of thousands of homes and claimed almost 16,000 lives.

The world witnessed how the rushing wall of water destroyed everything on its path -- houses, people, hopes and even dreams.

Tearing families apart, leaving people homeless and hopeless.

Miyura-san said that she and her family were lucky enough to evacuate and transfer to a higher ground before the giant tsunami waves flattened their town.

It took them more than a year before they went back to Higashimatsushima.

Rebuilding from the ruins was never an easy task.

But for Miyura-san, it’s no longer the town she used to know, it’s no longer the town she used to love.

And day after day, her neighbors and even her friends leave their hometown. According to her, most of them are afraid that another disaster would happen again.

Long road ahead

Tsunami_CNNPH.png Humanitarian worker Robin Lewis saw how Japan recovered from the earthquake and tsunami.  

Robin Lewis is a humanitarian worker for Peace Boat. He saw how Japan rebuilt itself five years after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

He witnessed how the help and aid from all over the world poured out to the Japanese people. He was there at the frontline, helping out and reaching out.

The recovery efforts in Japan at that time was considered to be one of the biggest humanitarian efforts in history.

A day after the tsunami ravaged three major prefectures, the threat of a nuclear meltdown in Fukushima came into the picture.

Lewis thought that the disaster would make the Japanese lose their compassion and faith with each other, but he was wrong.

Empathy and sympathy dominated their darkest times, he saw how the Japanese people continue to share whatever food or anything that they have no matter how big or small it was. For them, protecting oneself is protecting your community.

Recovery and reconstruction are still in full swing for the entire Tohoku region. There are new and wider roads, bridges and houses.

The town is also investing in higher sea walls. There is even a center for remembering 3/11, a place to hear out survivors and where future generations can look back and learn how to cope with disasters.

A storage house was also built in 2014 for Tohoku residents in the event of another major calamity.

Of hoping and dreaming

Japan is a disaster-resilient country, but the events on March 11th showed that it remains vulnerable to nature’s wrath, but the world can learn from them.

This is the purpose of the Hope and Dreams (HANDs) project of the Japan Foundation-- to study and know how the hardest hit areas of major disasters in history recover and learn from the disaster.

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From the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, Super Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban, Philippines, the smog and severe drought problem in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and the Great East Japan Earthquake in Japan. Four major disasters, four testaments of human compassion and resiliency.

Disasters are inevitable, but education is key. There is a common belief in Japan that in every disaster there are three major players for survival and recovery: yourself, your community and your government.

A core belief that as long as we work hand-in-hand we can hope again, and by empathizing with one another we can dream again. A renewed hope and dream that no storm or huge waves can wash away.