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Sunday, March 11, 2012

SUNDAY TIMEOUT

Young hopes bloom eternal


By EDAN CORKILL and TOMOKO OTAKE
Staff writers

Illustration by Yuko Shimizu
Illustration by Yuko Shimizu

The first anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake is a time to commemorate the victims of that terrible tragedy. But it is also an opportunity to look to the future.

How will the events of March 11, 2011 — and the subsequent ongoing crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant — shape the rising generation? How will they influence their goals and dreams? What kind of country will they want for their children?

Although the disasters last March occurred in the Tohoku region of northeastern Honshu, their effects extend far beyond, both physically and through changed outlooks on life and changes in values among people throughout the country, from Hokkaido all the way to Kyushu, Shikoku and distant Okinawa.

For this special Timeout commemorative feature, The Japan Times asked school students from around the nation to share their thoughts, hopes and fears one year after the greatest disaster visited on their country since 1945.

News photo

Takumi Sato, 17

Sendai Seiryo Secondary School, Sendai, Miyagi Pref.

Enjoys baseball; aspires to be a science teacher at a junior high school.

My hope lies in the everyday smiles of children. Children affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake have gone through a lot — damage from the tsunami, loss of parents, friends and acquaintances, and the nuclear crisis. They have experienced sadness and sufferings beyond anyone's imagination. It wouldn't be surprising if they were in great despair, but the children are keeping such sad feelings to themselves and are trying to hang in there with the best smiles they can put on their faces. I think this will make them strong-minded, and they will be able to overcome any difficulty when they grow up.

I'm concerned about everything the government does. The government officials — at this very critical time when everyone has to help each other and tackle issues surrounding the earthquake together — are pointing fingers at each other and refusing to cooperate. I want government officials to think harder about Japan, because Japan can change in many ways if they do.

Following the earthquake, I have come to think that just being able to live every day is a great thing, and that I should cherish each day and live it with a purpose.

News photo

Kensuke Suzuki, 17

Sendai Seiryo Secondary School, Sendai, Miyagi Pref.

Favorite subject: classical Japanese studies. Wants to be a school teacher.

What concerns me most is the environment. People will continue to work on various development projects to "improve" our living conditions. As a result, the environment will be destroyed further. We already have enough environmental problems to deal with, such as global warming and holes in the ozone layer. And by the time I die, we will have had countless numbers of (environmental) problems.

I want to eventually leave behind the kind of Japan in which people speak the Japanese language correctly. Language changes over time, but that doesn't mean we should let correct Japanese go out of use. We should not create a future in which the variant use of yabai (which traditionally means "risky," though it is increasingly used by youths to mean "exciting" or "cool") would be accepted in society.

I felt so sad when I saw the news of so many people killed by the disaster. A couple of months later, when I saw the news of some murder case or a terrorist attack, I found myself comparing the number of casualties from those separate incidents with that from the quake, and thought to myself that those cases were not so serious. Then I realized how stupid I was to feel that way.

News photo

Yui Shigihara, 16

Soma High School, Soma, Fukushima Pref.

Enjoys world history and art. Wants to work in the psychology field.

In the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake, the actions of Japanese people were applauded by foreigners. People delivered food where there was no food; they never stole stuff from others during all the confusion; and they were considerate and helpful to each other. It convinced me that people cannot live alone. I think actions based on kindness, however tiny those actions, bring a small happiness to people, which I think is the most important thing.

I live in Fukushima Prefecture, which has been most severely victimized by the nuclear power crisis. The residents of Fukushima Prefecture did nothing wrong, but we have been affected by negative rumors (about being contaminated with radiation). We are all Japanese, but some are discriminated against by others. That's wrong. I'm worried about such "gaps within Japan." I'm saddened by the fact that parts of Japan are branded as bad, when it's the same nation. I want to eliminate discrimination and prejudice, and to create a Japan where everyone helps each other.

I myself have not lost my house or a family member, but I have experienced the horror of the quake and radiation leaks. "Ganbare" ("Hang in there") is not the right message, because the victims were already doing their best when the disasters struck, and they are still hanging in there every day to rebuild their lives.

News photo

Hiroki Matsushita, 16

Soma High School, Soma, Fukushima Pref.

Belongs to the guitar club; wants to be a public servant.

My biggest hope is for the success of people who are involved in improving decontamination methods and working to research and develop ways to reduce radiation levels. In addition to these technological advances, I have hopes for a greater use of renewable energy. We can live in a much safer society if such energies grow and replace energy supplied by nuclear power.

I want to leave a safe and secure country for my offspring. It might not be possible to expect the country to be 100 percent safe and secure, but it could be a country with such qualities to a considerable degree.

However, I wonder whether getting rid of nuclear power would allow happier lives for our children. Fukushima Prefecture has received ¥1 billion annually in subsidies since it started hosting nuclear power plants, and municipalities have raked in lots of money through property taxes and subsidies from Tokyo Electric Power Co. (operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant). If we went nuclear-power-free, we would lose all those benefits. So we might need nuclear power plants.

The biggest impact of the quake has been the psychological damage. I lost a friend and an acquaintance and it was my first experience of losing someone I was always with or used to talk to every day, and it made me feel sad in ways I had never felt.

CONTINUED ON PAGE 2 >>



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