Reliving the Japan 2011 Earthquake

Wang Hui Ling, a Singaporean ALT and Prefectural Advisor in Iwate Prefecture, shares:

On Friday, 11 March 2011, I was at Hong Kong Disneyland. A friend living in Hong Kong called suddenly before 8 pm and informed me that an earthquake had occurred in Japan. “It’s very serious. You might want to check on your friends.”

I immediately cancelled all my plans that night and called all the friends I could think of. I used my Japanese cellphone and my Singapore handphone, but I couldn’t get anyone due to the telecommunications breakdown in Japan. The next day, I managed to get through to my supervisor and I also got messages from friends in Japan and Iwate who were worried about me. My supervisor said Morioka (where I live) was all right but the areas along the coast were ‘大変’. One of my friends in Hachimantai (inland Iwate) managed to charge her phone in her car and messaged me a few times. I was very lost about whether I should return to Iwate as planned on 15 March. She said, ‘No, don’t return. It’s very messy in Iwate now.’ I asked my supervisor if I should get back to Narita anyways and try to stay in Tokyo until there was a way home. He said that sounded like a sensible plan.

I spent the remaining days in Hong Kong buying newspapers and standing on the streets watching the huge plasma tvs on buildings, or sitting in cafes calling people and making plans, while my travelling partners went about their touristy business. At night, when everyone was asleep, I was up till 3 am almost every night, watching the news and videos online, and crying as I saw my previous towns destroyed by the tsunami.

In my first two years as a JET in Iwate, I lived in Sumita Town, which is adjacent to Ofunato, Rikuzentakata (Takata) and Kamaishi, which were all coastal towns and all badly damaged and almost wiped out by the tsunami. I used to do my grocery shopping, went to karaokes and had yakiniku parties in Ofunato and Takata all the time.

Ofunato's Goishi Kaigan 2008 2
Ofunato’s Goishi Kaigan, 2008

I checked with two friends in Tokyo, both of whom used to be Iwate JETs, and they were both really generous about letting me stay in their apartments should I get stranded in Tokyo on the way back. Eventually, I decided to return to Singapore for two weeks, because there was still no way of knowing how long I had to wait to be able to return to Iwate from Tokyo. Moreover, I knew I would be fighting for water, food, electricity, petrol and kerosene if I went back anyway. My Singaporean friends were asking me to return home as well, citing fears of aftershocks and radiation scares.

Ever since I returned home to Singapore, I have kept in touch with friends back in Iwate everyday. Most are well and safe, but they have all endured days in darkness without electricity and telecommunications. Food is also scarce, with supermarkets almost empty and with long queues. I have friends who stayed in long car queues for a few hours to get a few litres of petrol. The aftershocks also don’t seem to be stopping, and though tremors of magnitudes one to three are common in Iwate, they are now experiencing bad aftershocks that are bigger.

After having lived through the worst, these aftershocks are not helping with their fears and anxieties. My colleagues are hard at work now and I really feel bad that I am not there with them during this tough period. Two ex-students from Iwate also emailed me. They are safe in Tokyo and Yokohama respectively, but it seemed that the food supply situation is equally difficult there.

As for the bad news, one of the Iwate JETs is still missing. He is my friend and I pray that he is safe. A student from my previous school and a teacher from a neighbouring school I know are still missing. A number of friends I know have lost their homes. Some lost their ryokans and business office branches. There are also friends I heard are safe, but whom I have not managed to contact. I wonder how they are doing and I can’t wait to see them when I get back. A friend said her husband refused to let her see Takata. He wanted to protect her eyes. He felt that if we saw for ourselves what our beloved cities had turned into, we might break down and be emotionally damaged forever. He said that it is more important that we remember the beauty of these places we know so well.

First visit to Takata beach 2007
First visit to Takata beach, 2007

Right now, I have no clear idea on relief aid, except that I want to return to do my job and help. Reports have been confusing, contradicting and misleading, and I just want to be physically there in Iwate, because it is my second home, and I know there is so much I can do. I am saving up my money because I know the affected areas need all the donations they can get.

I feel that Singaporeans in general are just too lucky, the way we are able to live in comfortable flats, have a high disposable income and be able to indulge in luxury and riches. This event has changed my life forever. Although I have always been very environmentally-conscious, I think there is still so much more I can do. I used to feel detached when I hear about disasters and poverty in other countries, but I will be able to empathize a lot more now.

I think Singaporeans can really help by always contributing to charity, not indulging in unnecessary material possessions, being thrifty with using water, food, electricity and petrol, and never stopping to appreciate how lucky we are in this part of the world. We have so much to be thankful for, and we should never take each day for granted.


Oshaberi Cafe #4

This time, we had our 4th Oshaberi Cafe at Cafe Le Caire.

Message of Hope 希望のメッセージ

Calling all teachers and anyone who has access to groups of children!

photo of four girls wearing school uniform doing hand signs
Photo by 周 康 on

Put a smile on a Japanese student’s face.

Send a message of hope希望のメッセージを送ろう!

(For more information, take a look at Kibou_no_Noto)

JETAA Singapore seeks your assistance to boost the morale of Japanese children stricken by the recent disaster.

We wish to send handmade cards with short encouraging messages to the affected schools when the postal services are functioning again.

We hope that your class/group can make 1 card for a class of Japanese students (who may be from the Elementary, Junior High or Senior High Schools). We have prepared a powerpoint presentation that you can use to facilitate this activity. Do feel free to request for it.

Some possibilities:

  1. Encouraging messages on a decorated piece of construction paper (with perhaps a class/group photo, if possible)
  2. A thin booklet of drawings and simple messages
  3. Origami with short messages on them, etc…

Please ensure that the cards are not more than A4 in size, to facilitate easy delivery.

We hope that your students will use their creativity and sincerity to spread some joy. We’ll be collecting your special messages between late April and early May.

For more details, please drop an email to Jillian at with the subject “Message of Hope”.

Thank you for your kindness and generosity!

Japan Relief Aid Donation

Japan Relief Aid
From Morning Manga, YOVOVAさん『Canned Town ─缶詰の街─』より

Dear members,

In view of the recent earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan, we are organising an informal donation drive with all proceeds to be donated to the Japan Red Cross Society for the Japan Disaster Relief 2011 efforts.

I’m sure many of you feel very strongly for the land that you called home for several years. We’re counting very much on your generosity and sincerity in helping to raise funds for the Japanese people whom we had lived and worked with.

  • Contact Olivia at
  • Please indicate “Japan Relief Aid Donation” in the subject
  • Deadline for submission of funds to Olivia is 6th April (Wed)
  • ETAA will submit total collection for delivery to Japan Red Cross Society by 11th April

Please refer to the Embassy of Japan website for more information on alternative ways of donating:

On behalf of the people stricken in Japan, we thank you for your kindness and generosity!

Yours sincerely,

Jillian Cheng

President, JETAA Singapore