"My feelings could not be lifted but sunk down": Dispatches from Japan on the anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake

Ichiroya Kimono Flea Market is a company that sells vintage and new kimonos. I don't own any kimonos, and I don't expect to ever buy one. But I do subscribe to Ichiroya's email newsletter. Why? Because it's hands-down the best corporate communique I've ever had the pleasure of reading.

Honest, earnest, and unfiltered, the newsletter is written by Ichiro & Yuka Wada, who own and operate Ichiroya out of Osaka, Japan. The newsletters are not really about the company, per se. Sure, they discuss kimonos sometimes. But they're really more just a weekly personal letter from Japan. They're about life. And they're a pleasure to read, even when the life they're recording is incredibly sad.

I was turned onto the Ichiroya newsletters last month by science writer Shar Levine, who has been reading them for years. After the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan a year ago—and through the fear and madness that's followed the Fukushima nuclear meltdowns—Shar told me that the Ichiroya newsletters have been a powerful testament to how these disasters impacted the lives of everyday Japanese.

There are archives of some of the newsletters online. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find an archive that contained the letters written since March 11, 2011. However, when I got the Ichiroya newsletter today, I knew I needed to share it with you. The entire thing is posted below the cut. It tells a story of terrible sadness, strength, and rebirth that needs to be read.

Hello from Japan! This is

It is March 11th, exactly one year ago, a big earthquake hit Tohoku(northern east area of Japan)and the tsunami caused by the earthquake wiped away ordinary people's lives. In cluding 3155 missing lives, approx 20 thousands people lost their lives, we cannot imagine how many people are there who lost their beloved family members and friends.

Today, there have been prayers and memorial concerts and gatherings all over Japan. I was in a big book store in Osaka, in the afternoon, and there was an announcement for silent prayer at the time when the tsunami hit Tohoku. All TV channels had special commemorative programs, and showed the devastating video over and over.

Wherever I went, my feelings could not be lifted but sunk down. We offered prayers at our church today, and are having a charity concert next Saturday. There are positive message all over but the tsunami was too overwhelming. If I were one of the people who lost their houses and families in an instant, I probably could not be positive only in one year, I cannot even imagine wheather I could get over it and live on my own. There are so many charity concerts and events, but on the other hands, there are also many writers, artists, and singers who became not to write, or play music. One popular woman writer was saying in an interview the other day, she feels very responsible to express in appropriate words about this disaster but she is still seeking for the words. I had hard time finding a topic about newsletter this time, and I cannot help introducing the action by American Marine who saved people of small island called Kesennuma Oshima(it is different from Oshima of Oshima tsumugi).

Kesennuma Oshima is a very small island in Miyagi prefecture with only 3000 people. When the tsunami happened, it hit this small island from all direction over and over. Since the damaged area was so vast in northern area, this small island was left and isolated. Gareki(rubble- which is now the most serious problem after the disaster) blocked rescue mission boats from landing. Some rescue members of Japanese self-defense force were there but they were working to find survivors and could not handel all the work for other residents. They even lacked drinking water, so were drinking from school swimming pool by claryfing water for themselves. To that isolated island, more than three hundred US Marines landed for help. They built showers, cleaned rubbles-called on each house, and asked what they could do.

One man and his wife who owned a very small restaurant lost everything and things from the restaurants were all under mud with bad odor. One Marine offered to clean the debris- and the man and his wife saw the stacking bowls and dishes collected by this young Marine from the mud and rubble. They thought everything has ended and they lost their restaurant, but they have reopened their restaurant again, using these dishes and bowls- they said, when they saw the dishes dug out by the young Marine, they thought they should start again.

Also the Marine members saw a small boy cleaning up rubbles alone to make a path, they started to do the work with him.

This is what this boy wrote in his essay:
My house has gone.
My father's fish store has gone. I know he kept the store for a long time.
My mother said not to cry, and encouraged me but,
I could not stop crying.
I cried and cried and I used all my tears.
Now my tears stopped.

His parents were worried about this little son, and let him as he wanted to do.

I do not think the Marine members read the essay but saw this boy working alone to make a path-the Marine member who was taking photos said, he just could not help coming to the boy to help him and work with him. The action on this island by US Marine was one of the action of Operation Tomodachi.

Actually, the damaged area was so big, and what happened to this particular small island was not known so broadly, but this boy and the residents of the island were helped by tomodachi(friends). All the residents saw the Marine members off when they left the island, and then invited them again after 9 months for the token of their thankfulness-they were so happy to see them again and promised, to show the island again with the complete rebirth.

To real fukko(rebirth), it will be a long way. We may never be able to express in appropriate words what this Shinsai(disaster by tsunami and earthquake)gave us, and what words to tell to the victims. However, the offered hands truly helped so many people who got hurt. This will never be forgotten. Whole Japan will never forget the offered hands from all over the world. We heard we received help from 163 countries and area.

Thank you, domo arigatou gozaimasu

Ichiro & Yuka Wada
Kimono Flea Market "ICHIROYA"


Video taken in Kesennuma Oshima on March 11, 2011.

Image: 気仙沼(波路上)でボランティア Kesennuma, Miyagi pref. Deeply damaged area by the Tsunami of Japan quake, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from jetalone's photostream


  1. real, thanks.

    This was message from family in Fukushima received 1 year ago:

    my family is dead in Japan:
    “so sorry,I can’t reply you.we have many trouble…my funny grandma house were swept away.and, funny grandma, aunt and uncle died because of TSUNAMI. do you remember baseball boy? his father Masaru also died.very bad time.the biggest problem is nuclear plant.they explode three times. my family run away from my house. I don’t have any ideas to solve this crisis.”These were all lovely, kind people who took care of me. Funny grandma handmade my coat (hanten). She would laugh and joke with me. She was a dancer and seamstress. ♥

  2. Thanks Maggie, this was comforting to read.  I’ve been to Oshima island – it’s the traditional place for JET program participants living in Miyagi to spend a weekend long goodbye party at the end of the contracted year.  After the tsunami, a friend of mine wrote on Facebook, “Oshima is gone, all we have left is the memories.” I figured with this comment that the tsunami had taken everyone and everything from Oshima, so it was lovely to read that some people had survived and are even thriving there.  The Japanese are very resilient.

    By the way, from about :20-1:00 in the Telegraph video you linked to,  the big blue building in the rear is the Kesennuma Rias Shark Museum.  You can see it below in better days, it was quite a cool place.  There was also a fish market attached to it.  A few days after the quake, my wife idly wondered if the tsunami had affected the shark museum.  Coincidentally, that evening I saw this video and sadly it answered her question.

  3. Thank you for sharing this.
    I was stirred by the story of a farmer whose family had raised cattle in Fukushima for generations. He hung himself in his own bar. He wrote on the wall in chalk: “If only there had not been a nuclear plant here…”I feel that his words took up residence in my mind not because they were not by nature anti-nuclear, but because they highlight that there is no clear “enemy.” Nobody to beat with your fists. No way to bring back the lives that were lost. 
    “If only there had not been a tsunami”
    “If only TEPCO had acted responsibly”
    “If only the politicians had used money more wisely”

    “If only… If only…”

    The people of Tohoku have such a struggle ahead of them. Besides the catastrophic loss of life, the survivors have lost their way of life. Who will buy produce and meat from a prefecture  blanketed in Cesium?… and yet the Tokyo government has responded so coldly to these people who in a sad sense now find themselves abandoned by their leaders. 

    A whole year has passed since then – almost to the day. 
    But the people of Tohoku still need love and support more than ever.

  4. The enormity of this disaster had not reached me until this evening when I heard an announcement that almost 20,000 people were dead or missing.

    From Wikipedia:

    It was the most powerful known earthquake ever to have hit Japan, and one of the five most powerful earthquakes in the world since modern record-keeping began in 1900.[11][13][14] The earthquake triggered powerful tsunami waves that reached heights of up to 40.5 metres (133 ft) in Miyako in Tōhoku’s Iwate Prefecture,[15][16] and which, in the Sendai area, travelled up to 10 km (6 mi) inland.[17] The earthquake moved Honshu 2.4 m (8 ft) east and shifted the Earth on its axis by estimates of between 10 cm (4 in) and 25 cm (10 in).[18][19][20]

    Honshu the largest island of Japan and the seventh largest island in the world was literally moved 8 feet.

  5. It was a very sad loss that day.  I remember well the anxiety it produced all the way over the oceans in these other countries.  I cannot even begin to imagine what it was like right there where the Shinsai happened.

  6. “sunk down”  Get it?  Oh, man, that’s classic Japanese comedy.  I don’t care who you are, that’s funny stuff.  The guy is probably “drowning” his sorrows in saki.  Wow.  I did it again.


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