Recollections of the Tōhoku Earthquake


I am certain that the reason that I do what I do today is because of hot food and rear lights.


A fluorescent lamp smashed into the ground. A girl in the adjacent column screamed. The earth rumbled. The classroom floor became liquid, and the falling books and debris bereft me of any escape.

For the first time, I was met with the possibility of death. I prayed to whatever entity that presided over this world to keep my mother safe.

The shaking subsided after a minute or two. I was evacuated to and subsequently picked up from the front field. In my youthful naivety, I skipped home tugging on mother's hand, jubilant that my prayers were answered.

A few days passed without basic necessities. Meals consisted of water and bread. I spent my time reading with the lone streaks of golden light that shone through closed metal blinds. They illuminated every speck of dust in the air. The radio was our only source of information. I listened to the static, and within that noise I became observant, mindful of the world.

Eventually our supplies ran out, and we departed in search of more.

We found our way to a ration station. Standing in the water line, our drink bottles were dwarfed by the oil tanks of the well-prepared. Anxiety clouded mother's visage. It travelled through our interlocked hands into me: water was scarce.

As we approached the self-serve tap, I was greatly surprised. Nobody took more than what they needed. Only a silver lining was visible through the half-transparent containers. Everyone did their part, out of an inherent sense of collective survival.

When we got home, mother found a gas cooker. We heated up the rice balls rations, then seasoned them with a haphazard arrangement of spices and condiments. As I sat on the veranda wolfing down ghetto curry, I couldn't help but feel genuinely happy that I was alive and eating hot food for the first time in days.

"Mom, hot food is so delicious!"

The food, even to this date, seemed like the best thing I've ever had.

Upon learning of the radiation leakage from the plant nearby, mother planned to leave Japan. However, we didn't have a car, and public transport was nonfunctional. Eventually, mother managed to get into contact with an acquaintance. The young man, who had lived near the shore where the tsunami struck, had lost his home and all his colleagues. The only things that remained were the clothes on his back and his car.

The acquaintance dropped us off at a long-range bus station. I watched for a long time as he drove off. The rear lights of his car, fading into the pitch-black mountain pass, left an eternal impression on me. I thought that he was really cool, and aspired to one day do the same. He inspired me to strive for bravery and selflessness.

Today, I serve ghetto curry to those who are ravenous. I serve it in many forms - late night physics help, lectures at the Coding Club, rides to homeless old men riddled with fleas who are stuck in the middle of nowhere. I co-founded Chess Club, which is more than chess—it is a home to all those who seek.

I serve ghetto curry because the inexplicable feeling of warm food—being provided essentials in the direst of times—has never left my heart, and I wish to share it with others. I serve it because others have looked out for me, and I'll look out for them. I serve it because I believe that we can get through this together.

I'll continue to chase after those rear lights as they turn and drift down the mountain passes. I hope that I may one day overtake those lights and become a set of rear lights myself, illuminating the way for stragglers.

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