by Hyesoo Kim
Biking to school, watching Friends, and attending basketball practices were all parts of my daily life; as were the earthquakes. I was so used to the frequent earthquake drills that I was ready to duck under the desk whenever a fairly strong earthquake hit. What is more, I grew to ignore minor earthquakes.
On March 11th, the Great Tohoku Earthquake shook Japan. The earth vibrated with a strength that I could never have imagined. Unlike those around me, however, I did not panic. I trusted that this earthquake was like many others—it would eventually pass by.
Soon, the media all over the world covered the devastating number of casualties. The earthquake had resulted in more than 15,000 deaths, 6,000 injuries, and 2,000 people missing. Ports, electricity supplies, the transportation system, and even the nuclear power plants were damaged. Nevertheless, my home, family, and friends were all fine. No major changes took place in the daily patterns of the people I knew. My friends and I still went to grab Café latte at Starbucks in the morning, workers packed the convenient stores during the lunchtime, and managers cleaned the windows of their restaurants and shops, anticipating more customers the next day. Everyone seemed to have found his or her pattern again.
During my junior year, I participated in the Fun with English program, in which students taught English to the young victims of the earthquake. This was when I saw that the earthquake held a different meaning for the kids. Laughter never left the kids when they were running outside in the playground. They often clung to me to ask if they can go outside; some even went without my permission. A boy named Tadashi, if I remember correctly, only participated in class that took place in the playground. No matter how hard the student volunteers and even the supervisors tried, he refused to follow the instructions. Instead, he stared outside the window or just ran around the classroom. Everyone grew tired of trying to engage him with the class activities or running around to fetch him. And initially, I, too, could not fathom why he and the others had such an attachment to the playground, which honestly was not the best playground in the world, or even in Tokyo.
However, I soon realized that the kids, through the freedom of the playground, were longing for their old homes. In what were once their homes, the kids had run around and played games in large open spaces, much bigger than my school’s playground. Tokyo, in contrast, was crowded with buildings, cars, and people. The kids were simply searching for a place that could replace their homes.
What seemed like just a hindrance to me was a devastating force that left incurable damage to others. The earthquake had totally changed, if not shattered, many people’s lives. Learning all the evacuation procedures and knowing the number of casualties had definitely provided me with the facts, yet even with those facts, I had failed to notice the actual degree of damage the earthquake had caused. I had only examined what were presented to me, and thus had underestimated the meaning of the Tohoku Earthquake to others. The meaning of the Tohoku earthquake clearly lay in the children running around the playground.
Although I do not think that everyone, through reading this story, will gain the same lesson I gained, hopefully at least he or she got a glimpse of how it may have transformed me. One may know all the notes in a song, and another may know all the steps in choreography. But whether the audience hears notes or sees the steps is not important. What matters is that the audience hears the music and sees the dance performance. The external cover can never reveal what’s inside it, similar to how the fact that I am 157cm tall, that I have long brown hair, and that I have drooping eyes don’t reflect everything about me.
In the 21st century, where we are bombarded with new information everyday, or even every minute, it is easy to lose the truths behind the facts. Through this article, I wanted to give everyone a chance to look deeper. Behind the newspaper headlines and paragraphs in history textbooks, there is more knowledge asking to be found. Only by seeking what is under the surface (of not just headlines and paragraphs in textbooks, but also of friends and family members) can we say that we understand a matter, or a person. Remember, children happily running in the playground had much more to tell than what could be seen.