Half-staff

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半旗

Today is March 11th. Anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake (東日本大震災).

I got to school today and noticed two teachers raising the Japanese flag. Unlike America, the flag is rarely put up, even in front of the school. They raised it to half-staff and left it there. Nonchalantly, one of the teachers came over and asked if I knew the meaning.

“Of course,” I responded. “There was a tragedy. The earthquake 5 years ago, right?”

“Yes,” he said, matter-of-factly, no sadness visible on his face. It had been five years, after all. He was pretty old too. I wonder how he remembers the event.

This town was spared, relatively. Many houses were damaged, and electricity and water were scarce. But we were able to bus our students out west to Yamagata so they could live in ease while the adults could focus on the problems.

In this prefecture of Miyagi, almost 10,000 people lost their lives. In total there were more than 20,000 casualties. Compared with America’s 9/11, where about 3000 people lost their lives and the casualty count was around 10,000, it’s certainly perspective-giving. But, compared with the Haitian earthquake in 2010, where more than 100,000 people died, both are just a drop in the bucket.

As someone who likes RPGs, maybe I’m too infatuated with numbers. I wonder: does a higher or lower body count matter to the individual? Because what all these events did is scare people.

Enemy

I think we got lucky in America with 9/11. We could say that we know who perpetrated this crime. We could go after the one who did it. A nation at peace felt like it was at war again, and everyone worried a bit more. But we had a target, nebulous as it may be.

In both Japan and Haiti, the enemy was the land that they called home. It was living on a fault line. They could protect themselves better, but they couldn’t fight it. The enemy was their friend.

In America, we look at an event like 9/11 both as a time of solidarity and a time of action. “We will get them,” we say. And we raise our flag to half-staff.

But while earthquakes are rare, I think we do have a similar moment to the ones felt by Japan.

When we have a public shooting, this is how we act. We act like guns are both our friend and foe. “It’s terrible that this happened, but that’s the nature of the US,” we say. Like it’s a force out of our control. And, of course, our flags fly at half-staff.

Silence

At 2:46 today, we stood in the gym and had a moment of silence (黙とう). I stood with all my students and teachers and thought about how the event shaped all of us.

And now, at 3:41, all the students are outside playing baseball and running around, full of life. Does it still affect them? Who knows. Kids seem to move on quick, but this thing might still haunt them the rest of their life. Or it might not. Everyone is different.

. . .

Okay, time to get back to work. Forget about all this. See you next week when we talk about the AlphaGo Deepmind challenge against Lee Sedol and how I can finally play Bloodborne again.

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