pictures can speak louder than words, and this is clear in the photo entitled "U.S. Navy: An aerial view of damage to Wakuya, Japan after a 9 magnitude tsunami." The photo initially looks like picture of a tiny child's toy boat, which is floating in a muddy sea of debris. The boat looks brave and cheery, as it floats amidst the muck, garbage, and flotsam and jetsam of people's belongings. However, the first, deceptive glance of the photograph quickly ebbs away as the viewer becomes aware that he or she is bearing of witness to one of the greatest human tragedies to strike a nation, as a result of a natural disaster, in the 21st century. The photograph highlights the smallness and vulnerability of the human condition in the face of epic destruction beyond human control.
Japan's long national nightmare began when an 8.9-magnitude earthquake, the "fifth-largest recorded since 1900" hit the nation in 2011 (Naik 2011). It was the largest quake to strike Japan in over three centuries. An earthquake alone can be devastating, as was seen in the Haitian quake which was 1,000 smaller times in intensity than the Japanese event. And the Japanese quake generated a tsunami, due to the fact that the quake occurred "where shards of the earth's crust -- tectonic plates -- meet. Magma rises from deep inside the Earth, causing the plates to move. They slide past each other but sometimes get stuck. When they jerk forward again, they can trigger a quake," as transpired when the Pacific plate slid beneath the Eurasian plate (Naik 2011). "The jerking motion of one plate moving under the other caused a massive uplift of the seafloor, convulsing an area almost 200 miles long and 50 miles wide" (Naik 2011). The effects of the tsunami were felt as far away as California. The earthquake and tsunami were followed by a meltdown at the nearby Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, causing a "triple catastrophe" which was called "Japan's greatest crisis since World War II" and ultimately left"23,000 people dead or missing and caused more than $300 billion in damage" (Harlan 2012).
Japan, despite the fact that tsunamis are expected, given the nature of its location (one of the most famous Japanese woodblocks features a portrait of a tsunami) and a devastating 6.9-magnitude quake in Kobe in 1995, seemed unprepared (Naik 2011). The last major quake in the area primarily affected by the tsunami was in 1933, resulting in 3,000 deaths. Of course, Japan is a far more densely populated country than it was in 1933 today. One of the most horrifying aspects of the photograph of the U.S. Navy is that the litter generated by the tsunami is filled with vestiges of civilization. The boat looks like a toy because human beings were reduced to toys in the wake of the horror.
Some Japanese lost everything in the tsunami. An article in the Wall Street Journal chronicles an all too common case: a 35-year-old man "lost his mother, his grandmother, his home and most of the family business in Japan's tsunami" (Wakabayashi 2012). His lone surviving relative is his 61-year-old father, and both he and his father live in government-provided housing. Mr. Sasaki "wants to restore the family print shop but worries whether the hefty investment necessary will pay off if the city fails to rebound. His father wants to build a new home, but Mr. Sasaki doesn't know whether it should be a small one for the two of them, or something bigger in case he has his own family" (Wakabayashi 2012). Within literally a few, seismic shocks, Mr. Sasaki lost everything. His once stable world was reduced to rubble and flooded with misery, just like the lone boat in the photograph is floating in a sea of confusion and despair. In both the photograph and Mr. Sasaki's life, water has taken over everything terrestrial and vaguely resembling civilization. Mr. Sasaki's reality is emblematic of many Japanese people's suffering in the wake of the tragedy. "More than 300,000 people still live as evacuees, in temporary housing units, hotels or homes of relatives. A recent survey of evacuees by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper found that 40% had lost their jobs or sources of income.…