Photo by Author, The Pacific Ocean
March 11 of this year marked the tenth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake that devastated Japan’s northeast region. It wasn’t just the earthquake but the subsequent tsunamis that took 20,000 lives; today, over two thousand people remain missing. Cleaning up one of the tsunami’s aftermath, the nuclear core wastes’ meltdown will take another 30 to 40 years. After the earthquake and tsunamis, many thousands of people moved away from the regions to other parts of Japan. Hope for the future has now slowly begun to rebuild the once-destroyed communities.
Before the tenth anniversary of the disasters, I received an email from a friend in Japan who has had opportunities to visit temples in several prefectures where these disasters affected people’s lives. He sent me a link on YouTube to a performance by a children’s choir group from one of those regions.
They were a group of students from one of the junior high schools near the damaged nuclear reactor, who had lost some classmates and family members in the disasters. They first sang the song “Azure” at their graduation from school, two years after the earthquake and the tsunamis shattered their lives. A handful of students and the music teacher, who had remained in the region during that devastating time, had created the song through their collaborative efforts. After they recorded and published “Azure,” it became a major sensation in Japan. It expressed their shared love, memories, care, tenderness, and friendship for the loved ones they lost or missed and their unyielding hope for the future.
As I listened to the students singing, tears streamed down from my eyes. I kept crying and didn’t try to stop it. I allowed myself to be, to cry as freely as I needed. Their voices moved me as if they were tsunamis; the shock waves vibrated me profoundly. The song became my song, yours, and anyone’s song.
My mind drifted to looking back on my memories. When I lost my late husband, Patrick, on Independence Day in 2016, it was the beginning of my total losses. It was too unbearable and unspeakable to feel anything back then. Though I’d spent the previous three years caregiving for him, that didn’t mean I’d had enough, nor that I was prepared at all for his passing. Losing him put me underwater; it was like I was living a life of all possible impairments—vision, hearing, feeling, and comprehension—for a while. I was in a state of total apathy.
A year or so after his passing, however, I realized that I was living a dual life: one totally broken and one perfectly pretended. I knew I was helplessly lying to myself.
Soon, I returned to writing. For a long time, I’d literally moaned and fought against myself. I cried a lot aloud as I dug into the depth of my abysses. I did this as many times as I needed to— find myself again—until I came out of the cave. Finally, during the year of the pandemic, I became determined to stay the course of excavating my truths as my spiritual practice, and that led me to complete the revisions of my forthcoming book. I felt like I’d come out of the cave and was standing on the sand overlooking the light on the ocean’s calm tides.
Now I am here writing this article. I do sometimes listen to music as I write. Being moved by the lyrics and the music and crying has become natural over the years. Since the first time I listened to it, the song “Azure” has been a reminder to me of the importance of self-compassion and of my love for the deceased and everyone else as I sing along, sometimes in tears. Healing takes time, or even may not be fully achievable in this life. But that’s okay. Life brings whatever it does. And we all are with it. To love life fully, I allow myself to be full with every feeling—sad, tender, longing, loving, and caring.
The song “Azure” is not only good for those who lost loved ones in the disasters in Japan but for all of us. When I listen to it, I cry not only for myself or Patrick but for all of us—those who have died and those who are still alive. I would like you, too, to feel how your own life and others’ precious lives are interconnected in this special moment.
Another unforgettable episode around the earthquake and the tsunamis is “The Wind Phone.” Perhaps many of you have heard of it from the National Public Radio (NPR) program in 2016 or BBC television in 2019.
“The Wind Phone” (Kaze no Denwa in Japanese) is a metaphor for communication with our loved ones in the spiritual realm. A resident of a small town called Otsuchi, Mr. Itaru Sasaki, who had lost his cousin one year before the disasters, installed a British-style phone booth in his garden on the hilltop overlooking the Pacific Ocean. He dressed it with glass windowpanes and painted it in all white, and placed an old-fashioned black rotary phone on the shelf inside. The phone had no connection; it carried voices only into the wind. On that phone, Itaru began to talk to and share various things with his late cousin.
Then the tsunamis swallowed more than two thousand residents in Otsuchi, and Itaru opened his garden to anyone to use “The Wind Phone.” Since then, people have come to whisper, cry aloud, or stay in silence in the phone booth. In the last ten years, more than 35,000 people have visited and used the phone, according to Itaru. Many of the visitors are local repeaters. But some are not even related to the 2011 disasters. They just visit the phone for their personal reasons. Overseas visitors from the US, Australia, Europe, and other Asian countries have also experienced the phone. The Wind Phone allows those who use it to communicate with those in the invisible world through the wind.
These active processes of seeking, grieving, and healing, the conversations, and integration between us and the invisible, will continue. It is not because we still live in the past but because we live together with those beyond visibility—and through that connection, like a breeze in our hearts, we are inspired at every moment of our lives.
Join me in this place where the wind comes through our hearts and souls, brushing them gently and bringing out our love and collective hope for the future.