When the snow falls, you grab the shovel [Remembering 3.11]


I should probably begin this with a large apology for not posting for an entire month.

I made a brief post about the snow storm in Japan on my Tumblr, but in a nutshell, it was pretty bad. Classes were canceled for an entire week and most of the local businesses were closed down due to the very fact that most people could barely open their doors due to the heavy amount of snow.


Those details will be mentioned later.

There’s a more important significance to this post.

It’s the evening before 3.11:


2011 Touhoku Earthquake and Tsunami,

Great East Japan Earthquake.

Whatever you want to call it, it was a complete and utter disaster. It was literally felt around the world.


At 2:46pm, an earthquake with a magnitude of 9.0 hit Japan, about 230 miles northwest of Tokyo. While the earthquake was recorded as the 4th largest in Japanese history, most of the damage was done by the nearly 30 ft. waves that crashed into the shores of the Japanese northwest prefectures. For those knowledgable on the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, it was the tsunami that caused the real damage.

As of last month, 15,884 people are confirmed to be dead and there are still volunteers searching for their loved ones.


Hope never gives up.

Tomorrow Japan will be observing a moment of silence at 2:46pm and some prefectures will be hosting vigils to remember those lost.

I’ve spent the last few days occasionally reading articles relating to the 3.11 earthquake and tsunami. Mostly about protests that have been occurring throughout the country to keep nuclear power plants in Japan at a minimum. Politicians throughout the country (including Prime Minister Abe) have considered or even pushed for the reopening and creation of nuclear power plants in Japan.

Being a visitor of Japan, I don’t know where I exactly stand on the presence of nuclear power in Japan and I feel like my opinion might not be appropriate. However, as a visitor, I have been told many a time to try my best to conserve energy. Whether it’s turing off the heater before leaving or keeping as many lights off in the apartment as possible; it’s to conserve the energy and prove to government officials that the need for nuclear power plants is obsolete.

I think those well-articulated with Japanese affairs have heard this phrase before: A part of the Japanese lifestyle is to live a life of community.

Traphagan of the University of Texas at Austin agrees:

“Japan is a very community-oriented society,”

John Traphagan (2011)

You see it all the time. Most of our host families live with their extended family. The kids I see walking to school every morning wait for each other at predetermined stops along the street until they can all walk together.

When a disaster strikes in Japan, people get busy.

To this very day, now exactly 3 years later, volunteers are still coming from near and far to the 3.11 disaster area (and other prefectures hosting displaced persons) and doing what they can with what they have. Whether it is assist those who are still homeless or help rebuild what was almost entirely swallowed by the ocean, they come with their hands ready.

Some say that this strive for community hasn’t always been the Japanese ideal. Shoutarou Yachi, former Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs of Japan believes that it is due mostly to the expansion of media and Internet access:

“People tended to think in terms of building more fulfilling lives for themselves rather than considering the impact of their actions on society as a whole. The influence of the Internet and mobile phones may have exacerbated this tendency.”

Yachi Shoutarou (2011)

After 3.11, he believed that changed; from the rural towns in northwest Japan, to the big cities southward:

The vectors that previously pointed inward have started to turn toward the outside world and society at large. Terms like danketsu (solidarity) and kessoku (cohesiveness), which had been fading from use, have begun to sound fresh again, and the word kizuna (bonds) is back in vogue”

Yachi Shoutarou (2011)


Shoutarou sees this especially with the Japanese youth, who probably were the most inward of them all prior to 3.11.

This Japanese ideal of community probably helped make the 3.11 post-diaster efforts more manageable and the coping doable.

“In Japan, it is all about the collective, what you do as a group… in an emergency, that works better.”

Keiji Asakura (2011)

This ideal of community has been ingrained into some of the Japanese communities prior to the 3.11 earthquake and tsunami.

Traphagan has found that many Japanese towns have formal organizations that help assess and solve issues and even provide leadership when times get tough.

He also concluded that because of the strong sense of family ties held in Japanese families, the made the grieving experienced after the disaster a little bit easier:

” …there are parts of Japan where generations live together and the concept of family extends to relations that most Americans would consider distant. This family structure can offer a network of support in times of disaster.”

John Traphagan (2011)


However, nothing in the entire world, not even a millennium of well-practiced cultural values, can prepare one for what happened March 11, 2011.

Like I said before, about a month ago, most of Japan got hit with a hefty snow storm, bringing about 35 inches of snow to Yamanashi Prefecture in less than 24 hours. I’ve lived in the Midwest my entire life and go to school in Green Bay, WI and not even the snowy weather I’ve experienced there would’ve prepared me for this.

While Yamanashi Prefecture is not new to snow, it was taken aback by the amount that was dropped in February. Local townships were advising people to stay indoors and not attempt to drive. Those who did found themselves stuck on the roads and many chose to abandon their cars until they could be dug out of the snow a week later.

City halls became safe zones for those who lost power, needed food/water or required medical attention. Every few hours, announcements were read on the Tsuru-shi PA system, letting people know where they could go if they needed help.

And most likely asking those of able-body to help.

My friends and I trekked out to the store the day after the snow drop and saw an apocalyptic type of city. It was erringly quiet, despite the numerous amounts of people trying to shovel cars out of the street. Now and then a helicopter flew by.

We were inspired by what we saw and returned home to help our neighbors shovel the side street leading to their houses/our apartments. With some simple Japanese and borrowed shovels, we shoveled until dark with the expectation to do it again the next day. However, the weather became nice enough to the point where some of the snow began to melt.

Our university and many of the local schools were closed due to the snow, so students got busy with their after-school club groups and shoveled all day until it was too dark to see the snow. Business owners forewent the option of opening their doors and instead helped their neighbors out of the snow. Local businesses were opening up their bathrooms for the volunteers to use.

Everyone wanted to make sure everyone was okay.

In no way am I comparing this snow storm to the 3.11 disaster. 

I only wish to mention the fact that I was able to experience a fraction of this Japanese ideal of community I have heard so much about.

I really don’t have a good way of ending this. Tomorrow is going to be rough for many people. My thoughts and support go out to everyone. Tonight. Tomorrow. And every day after.

Those reading from St. Norbert College will understand when I say this,

Japan, I have been inspired by your own, special form of communio.

Whenever I can, from now on, I will get my hands dirty for the sake of the community.


Much love,


Credit for the information can be found at:

CNN, Aljazeera, JapanEcho, Chron, The Japan Times

Credit for the photos (with the exception of the first one) can be found (in order from 2nd to last);

here, here, here, here


4 thoughts on “When the snow falls, you grab the shovel [Remembering 3.11]

  1. Jill

    Now that I’ve found your blog, I’m having a hard time putting it down, much like a good book. And learning much along the way. I almost feel as though I’m there.

    • Hi Jill, Hi Jill, Hi Jiiiiilll!! 😀

      I’m so glad you found my blog! I’ve kept it hidden to much, huh? I should advertise it more.

      I’m glad you’re enjoying it!! 😀 I will keep trying my best with writing so that you can really experience Japan!

      Miss you and everyone at the Office of Admissions!!

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