giovedì 12 marzo 2015

FOUR YEARS FROM THE TSUNAMI


THANKS to my friend Christian, who took this photo in front of Kencho, Naha. A luminous installation to commemorate the tsunami victims.

TODAY, four years ago, the Fukushima disaster happened. Today, four years ago, I was in Kyōto. I was travelling throughout Japan to write an article for Panorama Travel, an Italian tourism magazine now extinct (R.I.P.). I had arrived to Japan for the first time in my life around a month before, from Shanghai landing in Fukuoka. Japan had been my Dream since I was a boy (cool samurais, Goldrake, incredibly beautiful women, an amazing electronic mini-shaver that my daddy gave me after a trip in that faaaar away strange country), but until then I had thought it was impossible for my always empty pockets. Once there I started thinking it was po$$ible (the 80’s and their economical boom were extinct too).

The 11th March I was walking around the charming Kyōto, taking photos as usual. I didn’t feel any earthquake. I discovered what had happened only once back to the guest-house, a crappy youth hostel where the staff was stealing my yogurt in the fridge every other day. That evening all the guests were glued to the TV screen, watching the nightmare in silence. Soon, very soon, most of the foreign guests started leaving the guest-house and Japan. The French were the ones to leave as fast as they could. They have nuclear plants, they know too well what kind of gifts they can give. The French embassy was offering free tickets to its citizens who wanted to fly back. Italy, not to be second to anyone, offered an unique ‘offer’ to its citizens: a one-way ticket with guess-what-airline at the very discounted price of only 800 euros, only for you and only for today! (usually that company sells return tickets for less than that price). But I was in Japan to live my Dream, not to leave it. Feeling safe enough in Kyōto, even if I remembered the fear for winds from Chernobyl of when I was 21 years old.

The day after the disaster I was expecting a general atmosphere of ‘The Day After’, but going out I found a city living as if nothing had happened. I went to the Manga Museum and, as scheduled, I photographed crazy cosplays playing the roles of their favorite anime. Not only one time I thought how it would have been the same disaster in my country (every private or public shop/office shut down for mourning, general panic for the radioactivity, at least half Italian population leaving the country for fear, supermarkets empty). In Kyōto, however, nothing had changed. Only the evening of the day after I felt the earthquake. I was at the computer in the guest-house, when a vase with flowers in front of my nose started shaking too much for my taste. Few days later, guest-house almost empty, I decided to change my plans. No more trip to Tōkyō – people were running away from there -, also because my travel article, at that point, was extinct too (“Nobody will go to Japan for tourism for at least a year”, the magazine’s director told me). What to do? I followed Mario, a Brazilian-Mexican horny guest of the hostel, to Okinawa (Okinawa? At that time I knew almost nothing about the archipelago, just that over there a crazy battle had been fought during WW2).


A year after I was in Nago, here in Okinawa, at a beautiful festival to commemorate the victims of the tragedy. Something massive, with a lot of people mourning in silence at the time – early afternoon - of the tsunami. Very touching.


Anoter year after I was in Naha, expecting a huge parade, organized by the city’s authorities, to commemorate the sad day. All I saw was a group of twenty old ladies parading with a commemorative banner along Kokusai-dōri – the avenue of the tourists – for half an hour. At home we switched off the lights and used candels, as symbolic protest against the nuclear power (I guess that nobody noticed it in Tōkyō, but we did it anyway).


One more year after, the past year, I was teaching (trying to teach) English at Takara elementary school in Naha, when all the children gathered for a minute of silence at the soccer field, watching towards the North of Japan, where the disaster had occurred.

So here we are, four years after. Fukushima is still there, nobody could fix the destroyed but still active nuclear plant. Very occasional news come from there, but some people are very happy for the Olimpics of 2020. Some other people can’t wait to restart the nuclear plants, some others eat and serve food from Fukushima as a gesture of solidarity to that unfortunate region. Some people say that radioactivity is higher in Rome than in Tōkyō. I am not a scientist, and sometimes I ask myself what am I doing here, living on the other side of the planet. However, the other day I threw in the garbage the mushrooms from Nagano that I bought by mistake (damned kanji…). And I won’t forget what I told my mom, just after the tsunami, four years ago: “Mamma, I’m not coming back to Italy. Yesterday I was watching the TV, there were images of a dog, alive, guarding its companion’s dead body, in a town reduced to debris. That moment I decided to stay, and so I will”.


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