The circumstances surrounding my absence from Japan when it was stricken by the huge earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2001 are worth mentioning, because had things gone differently, I would have been there to witness everything myself.
The preceding autumn I was in northern India, at the foothills of the Himalaya, in a place called Dharamsala. The idea was to eventually get out of the mountains and head south, to the famed beaches of Goa and Kerala. There was nothing but time and the world at our fingertips.
Our visas were good for half a year. Eva and I planned to stay in India for months — we’d leave whenever we liked, sometime after the new year. That was the plan. But as we travelled somewhere near the border of Pakistan, Eva caught some wicked dysentery. And by the time we made it up the mountain and arrived in Dharamsala, the first thing we did was check her into a hospital.
After the first few days spent in a mouse-ridden Tibetan hospital, Eva on a drip and unable to keep any liquid inside her, it became clear that our plans were about to change. She was going home, back to America. India, for now, had bested her.
Eva’s abrupt departure led me to re-configure my entire travel schedule. I left India early and wound up in Japan right around the start of the new year. Originally, my plans was to stay in India until the end of January, then get a visa and go to China for a while, ultimately winding up in Japan right about when a lot of people I knew there would be on spring vacation, in March. But everything got flip-flopped. I was in Japan for a month after I left India, then in China and Mongolia before I ran out of money and had to go home after nine months of traveling.
Plans change, for better or worse.
On March 9th, 2011 I was on a flight bound for Seattle. I woke up the next day to news of Japan in a state of chaos. The earthquake. The tsunami. The nuclear reactor. Fukushima. My home. My people.
I was just there. I should have been there. In an odd way, I wished I actually was there. But there was nothing I could do.
I’d watch the coverage on CNN until I became sick. I’d never felt so defeated, so helpless, so absorbed in death.
The place I called home for the last three years — in fact the last place I ever officially kept a residence — is literally being destroyed by the forces of nature and man. And all I could do was watch it on TV. Fukushima, a place that even some Japanese would have trouble finding on a map had suddenly and dramatically been catapulted to the top of the international news cycle.
As the days began to pass and the dust and rubble settled, a clearer picture began to take shape. Concerns over radiation were growing by the day.
And now here we are, nearly half a year later. I’m going back on Monday. To see it all for myself.