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Travel Detective Blog: Japan’s Private Grief

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Two years ago today, a massive earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. It was — as it soon developed — one of the strongest and most devastating in history. Nearly 19,000 people died or were missing forever.

It was also the most visually recorded natural disaster in history, and those images of the surging, rapidly moving water taking everything in its path are indelibly etched forever in our memories.

Today marks the second anniversary of the event. Throughout Japan, people took time out to privately express their remembrance, and their grief. A year ago, on the first anniversary, I was in Sendai, near ground zero. I was instantly reminded of the destruction since the cleanup was still going on 12 months after the event.

Today, I was in Kyoto and my thoughts are once again with those who lost loved ones, and In some cases entire families. My thoughts — in fact my admiration — is directed at the amazing resilience of the Japanese, who don’t often express their emotions publicly, but feel intensely.

The rebuilding continues, but this kind of rebuilding isn’t about bricks or mortar, or buildings or replacement cars or boats. This is the rebuilding of the social and emotional fabric of community and family. slowly, but surely, Japan is coming back. people are smiling again. They have regained hope. They return to the spots where they lost their loved ones and pray quietly. Their dedication to moving forward, their resolve to continue against formidable physical and emotional obstacles, is nothing short of amazing.

I encourage you to visit Japan, not just for the iconic spots of Tokyo or Kyoto, but go to the Sendai area and see not just the memorials to a disaster but what the Japanese are doing to ensure their future. Talk about role models. I am humbled by their strength and their resolve. And, if you are like me and define a country not just by its natural beauty but by its people, then Japan — just in terms of the recovery of its people — is one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Watch my video shot in Sendai 14 months after the Tsunami.

For more information on the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, keep reading:

By Peter Greenberg for Peter

Video by filmmaker and photojournalist Mark Wexler. Edited by Alyssa Caverley.