2:46pm today was the fourth anniversary of the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami.
As I make my way lazily toward Sendai for the United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) I wanted to take time out from my visitor activity to reflect on this significant day. The Kakunodate Visitor Information Office (such Offices are always a favourite of mine) advised that in this part of Akita Prefecture – well away from the Pacific Coast- there was no formal ceremony, however silent prayer would be observed at 2:46pm.
On March 11, 2011 more than 300 volunteer firefighters died that afternoon selflessly, valiantly, desperately, and sometimes heroically working to protect the communities in which they lived. Many of the most affected towns were small and serviced by volunteer fire departments like our own NSW RFS. Rikuzentakata – where I will be next Monday for a WCDRR Public Forum session – lost 52 volunteer fire fighters.
Thus, I made my way to the Kakunodate Fire Department. Regular readers will know that fire stations are a big part of my life. But today though, more significant. I will get to the fraternity of being with the Kakunodate fire fighters in a moment.
As 2:46 drew just a minute away, the 11 (and me making 12) firefighters stood around the office in a loose circle. At 2:46 we stood in silence as a melodious female voice floated from loudspeakers across the town, imploring us all to reflect upon the memory of those lost in the event, and those still grieving and recovering. Each of us in silent prayer and reflection.
I stood silently with men and women who had left Kakunodate immediately to respond to the catastrophe affecting their neighbours. After that momentary pause, the eerie wail of the sirens rang out for a minute over Kakunodate. And then back to the new normal.
And about that 30 minutes in Kakunodate Fire Station? Another fantastic and welcoming bunch. Through rough translations, my Lonely Planet language book, and a you-beaut language converter App, we got by. I learnt stuff about what they did, and I told a few stories about back home in the Blue Mountains. Not worth elaborating really.
By the way, I am not dressed for glamour. It was bitterly cold. Atleast you can’t see my tights.