Finding Hope in Broken Places

3.11 East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami

By Bonson Lam    - 4 min read

This year in preparation for a friend’s wedding I was looking at the poster at Sunday school, and was meditating on the words, you are blessed when you share what you have, so everyone has what they need to have a good life.

At the wedding the minister talked about love and shared with us the story of a couple on a sinking cruise ship, the Costa Concordia in Italy. They only had one life jacket between them, and as the wife could not swim, the husband gave it to her. She was scared to jump a long way down from the listing ship, so the husband jumped first, thinking that he can be with her when she landed. The water was dark and freezing at 8 degrees Celsius, and she never saw her husband again.

The story reminded me of the 18,000 people who were washed out and drowned at sea one freezing winter’s day on March 11, 2011. When I watched the movie, the Life of Pi, about a man shipwrecked in the Pacific, it brought home their bravery in the midst of fear.

In September 2011 a group of us went with our pastor to Miyagi and Iwate prefectures to visit people affected by the tsunami. Actually, we were scared, thinking that we might be overwhelmed by the suffering, but it was the opposite. I remember a widow whose face lit up when she saw us; she thanked us for coming all the way from Australia and remembering them. It was nearly 7 months since the tsunami, and much of the world had moved on as she was preparing to spend her winter alone in temporary housing. Sometimes poverty is not just material, it can be spiritual or emotional.

As I could only spend a few days in Japan, I wanted to do something longer term to help these communities, and together with a few like-minded men and women from around the world, became the founding partners for JapanTravel.

As part of our plans to build a foundation for a better future, JapanTravel started an internship program for young people to develop their communication, leadership and research skills. We want to train them to be effective communicators and leaders by supervised writing for Japantravel.com. They will develop skills to articulate stories of clarity and conviction, and in return we will mentor them and give them skills that will stand them in good stead in the community. By travelling in regional areas and meeting and interviewing people that they would not otherwise meet, they will build bridges of understanding and learn more about themselves and the world.

My work with JapanTravel has opened a lot of doors including representation at the IMF and World Bank Meetings in Tokyo. Encountering these leaders face to face has allowed me to see their passion in building resilience in a fragile world, one that depends on every individual. A minister from Costa Rica spoke about the need for every young person to be proficient in creative arts as well as basic skills, one that will give them opportunity in a creative and information economy. At the other end of the scale, Japan Travel gave me the opportunity of seeing innovation first hand, through interviewing the founder of a company that developed medical blankets to give people with dementia a second chance at life, as well as being a leader in wellbeing travel through the placement of the same blankets to aid sleep and reduce jet lag in a Tokyo hotel.

11 March 2018 marked the seventh anniversary of the tsunami. In Japan, there is an age-old festival called Shichi-go-san. This is a rite of passage for children, marking their third, fifth and seventh years on this earth, from an earlier time when many children did not survive these milestones. Shichi-go-san to me takes on an extra significance this year, as the first generation of children born since the tsunami turns seven this year. Most people, when they recall their childhood, find it difficult to recall their first years with clarity. What will this generation remember and learn from those tragic events, as well as the renewal and search for community building afterwards? I hope that the JapanTravel community initiatives and internships born as a response to those tragic days will leave a lasting contribution to the giving of our talents and resources, so everyone has what they need to have a good life.

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Bonson Lam

Bonson Lam @bonson.lam

I knew my future was destined to be with Japan the moment I flew from Sydney to experience the atmospheric lane ways of Kyoto last century. From the skies above Sapporo to the old charm of Naha's alleyways, I have been enchanted by the beauty and variety on every island. I am humbled to have met many distinguished people in my role as Regional Partner, especially the national living treasures of Japan, such as the doll maker to the Imperial Family. From sushi cooking classes to Ninja training grounds I welcome your ideas on what you like from JapanTravel.com. Please visit us in Kyoto or Osaka and have some green tea or sake with us. 

Join the discussion

Saskia Gilmour 4 years ago
This is tremendous, Bonson... I am forever impressed by the work that you are doing through JapanTravel - in many ways you are a hero :-)
Bonson Lam Author 4 years ago
Thank you Saskia, I hope you and our friends can celebrate the essence of life in places like Teshima. https://en.japantravel.com/kagawa/les-archives-du-coeur-teshima/21312
Bonson Lam Author 4 years ago
It brought a lot of people closer together and think about what is important in their lives.
Param Pon 4 years ago
Terrie Lloyd 4 years ago
Bonson: Great piece, and indeed, the team spirit that was born out of the disaster was THE ingredient that let us all go on to become the world's largest repository of travel stories about Japan. Last Friday serves to remind us that life is not about avoiding disasters but what you do after they happen. We were all deeply changed for the better after 3/11.
Bonson Lam Author 4 years ago
It is quite poignant that March 11 is again on a Friday, and I remember clearly where I was 5 years ago. It brings a tear to my eye hearing about people who lost their lives to save others. Thank you for remembering and for your comments.

I learnt a lot from JapanTravel and it have me a chance to see Japan in a much deeper way. Thank you for being part of my journey.