Japan Marks Six Months Post-Earthquake with Mourning and Renewal

Umi no Bon festivals honor the lives of those lost in the disaster

Photo by Ramona Bajema. All Rights Reserved.
Thousands of lanterns line the coast line in Ofunato in memory of each person lost to the tsunami Photo by Ramona Bajema. All Rights Reserved.

On September 11, as Americans marked the 10-year anniversary of terrorist attacks on their nation, Japan marked its own anniversary of devastation: six months had passed since a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami shattered the island nation, claiming more than 20,000 lives.

In the weeks prior to September 11, AmeriCares Japan team members, Kyoko Sakurai and Ramona Bajema, joined communities in the Tohoku region to mourn those lost in the disaster during Umi no Bon festivals. 

Held each year throughout Japan during August, the “O-bon” festival commemorates ancestors; however, this year’s Umi no Bon festivals held during the O-bon period honored those lives lost in the epic disaster. AmeriCares sponsored Umi no Bon festivals in three towns – Ishinomaki, Ôtsuchi and Sanriku – to help communities heal as they rebuild.

During the day, people gathered for dancing, singing and musical performances and the opportunity to meet with old friends that had been scattered to different evacuation sites. Memorial services took place in the evenings. In Ishinomaki, 10,000 lanterns – one representing each life lost to the in that area - floated silently down the river and out to the umi (sea).

We will stand up again.”

“Watching the festival’s dance performances, it was hard to forget that residents of these towns have a deep and long relationship with the sea,” said Bajema.  “They prospered from the sea and have also been devastated by it. They had lost friends, family and loved ones on March 11. They had lost their homes. They had lost their businesses.  But they came to the event to perform, to connect, and to remember.”

The tsunami destroyed a historic ancestor shrine in Ishinomaki. Above, men carry a new shrine made of tsunami  debris and remnants of fishing boats through the center of town.
Photo by Ramona Bajema. All Rights Reserved.
The tsunami destroyed a historic ancestor shrine in Ishinomaki. Above, men carry a new shrine made of tsunami debris and remnants of fishing boats through the center of town.

While many people living in coastal communities are still struggling to cope in the aftermath of such significant loss, there is great determination to move forward. In the words of one local resident, “We will stand up again.”

The AmeriCares Japan team is currently working with the Personal Support Center to expand counseling and psychosocial support activities beyond Sendai City and into the coastal towns to help tsunami victims return to a place of emotional stability.  

On March 11, just hours after Japan was rocked by the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami, AmeriCares initiated a large scale emergency response. Since then, our Japan team has opened an office in Sendai to serve as a base of operations for the allocation of $8 million in long-term relief and recovery efforts over the next three years.