Reflecting on Japan’s Triple Disaster

Three years ago I read David Mitchell’s amazing novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De  Zoet.

Set in 1799, the story is about  a young Dutch trader sequestered in Nagasaki harbor who becomes increasingly fascinated with Japan, its people, and its culture. At the time we were busy working with author Matt Wagner on Overcup’s first book, The Tall Trees of Tokyo, and I could relate to the way that the country cast a spell on the young man in the novel. Even though I was on the other side of the world, I felt myself being drawn toward this island nation that had avoided and resisted Western influence until about 150 years ago. Matt began traveling to Japan regularly over a decade ago, and for years I would listen to stories of his travels with the wide-eyed fascination of a kid meeting an astronaut. It’s difficult to explain why so many people feel drawn to Japan, but for me it’s the paradoxes that fascinate me most. The balance between traditional and modern; the tension between old and new. No other place I know embodies it so fully.

It was also three years ago this month that Japan was shaken by the fifth strongest earthquake on record. This was followed by a tsunami which devastated entire towns and left thousands dead. Those two catastrophes combined to create a third: the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster. Like much of the world, I watched this unfold with helplessness and horror. Matt had a trip planned to go to Japan the next week to work on the project, but I assumed it would be cancelled. However, even as fears of radiation began rising and the aftershocks were still being felt, Matt had every intention of going back. He even quickly put together a fundraiser art show to help draw attention to what was happening there. Support began pouring forth from all over for Japan, especially from artists and graphic designers. Japan has often been a source of inspiration for artists, and many of them began creating posters and sharing them online to increase awareness for the tragedy that was unfolding. I created a short video to help amplify the message.

While most of the focus in the Western media has been on the Fukushima nuclear plant and concerns about radiation, it’s important to remember on this three-year anniversary that the events of 3-11 (as it’s known in Japan) killed 19,000 people and destroyed over one million buildings. To this day there are still over 270,000 people who are homeless or displaced as a result of this disaster and 2,600 remain missing.

For many people living in Fukushima, the activities of everyday life have changed drastically since the event. It's most evident in the way kids play now. Fears of radiation have forced the kids of Fukushima to play inside.

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