Point of Passage

Shinozaki Yoko, 37, Nanny, Takarazuka-shi

The earthquake destroyed the house where my uncle, aunt and cousin lived, and killed them. They were my only relatives, and I used to visit them when I was a child. My father, a patient at the Nishimiya Hospital, was transferred out to Osaka because the former hospital could not function due to the quake. Four months later, he too passed away. Losing four loved ones at such a short interval has given me a sense of indescribable loneliness.

It has been a year and nine months since the quake struck. Still, I cannot seem to escape from quake-related news and my own memories of the catastrophe. I try not to go to Mitsumiya. I sometimes have nightmares. People around me seem to have buried their past, but I have always felt frustrated for not being able to put a period to it. I have even come to consider myself weird for clinging on to the past.

I had believed before the quake that human culture and science were fantastic, and that human beings were the most important existence on the earth, but this belief was crushed when people died like fragile ants, and buildings and roads were destroyed following a tremor of merely several tens of seconds. Before nature, it really does not matter whether one is a good or bad person, or how rich or reputable one is. Immediately after the quake, the survivors were panic-stricken simply because the gas and water supplies, telephone service and traffic had broken down. I can no longer see the value or meaning of life.

I am also bitter about the distance that exists between people. It is natural that those who did not experience this earthquake fail to understand how I feel. Yet, there is big gap between those who have lost a great deal of things and those who have not lost too many things. This gap has not been narrowed with the passage of time. On the contrary, it has become increasingly huge. People are hurt by the causal words of the other parties. Only people who have lost their family or home can truly share one anotherfs sorrow.

Last spring (1996), my varsity friend from a correspondence course asked me to help with the compilation of the Great Hanshin Earthquake-related articles. She had lost her house too and her family members were hospitalized. I agreed to help because I thought it would help me sort out my feelings. Although I sometimes had to dig out painful memories, I put a lot of effort into the compilation. The task was completed last July. It might not have been very well done, but I think I had done my best.

From the articles collected, I understood that everyone looks at the quake from a different angle. While those adversely affected still live in its effects, the memories of the disaster have faded for those who did not suffered much. The same can be said of the readers. Some did not respond well to the compilation. Others even questioned the wisdom of bringing up the quake issue again. They made me feel that I have been abandoned.

That said, I have not lost my house or work. Once I get rid of the lingering psychological effects, I will lead a life similar to that in the pre-quake days, and before I know it, I will have put it all behind me. Sometimes, I am attacked by the fear of another earthquake, a feeling not dissimilar to a physiological feeling of disgust. Other times, I am under the illusion that I have become at ease with my past. This being the case, my mind is all the more disturbed when I try to bury the unpleasant past. Constant struggle in this vicious cycle is where I find myself in.

I had prayed that I came out of this cycle fast. So, when I saw the advertisement recruiting helpers to compile the articles, I felt as if I had been saved. It showed that I shared the feelings of many survivors. And I believe many more are fighting against the influence of the quake even now.

It is all right that I have not had my thoughts sorted out. I can simply take the experience as a point of passage. This notion of treating my past as a point of passage is a step forward. With restoration and recovery in progress, and the damaged buildings being replaced by new ones, the memories of the quake will fade away sooner or later. Even though this catastrophe has thrown billions of people into a struggle with their lives, it will go the way of history eventually. Somehow, we have to nurse our own wounds and make small steps forward. However small our steps may be, we shall inch forward all the same. I have finally come to view life in this perspective.