Japan One Year Later

“Where were you when...?” Nearly a year after the Great East Japan Earthquake, it is still a common topic of conversation. As an old friend and I walk from the railway station near his home in Shin-kemigawa, Chiba City, I ask him where he was when the tremors began. He motions toward a building across the way: “I really thought it was the end,” he says simply. He then points to patches of new asphalt in the pavement, repairs to the damage caused by ekijōka: liquefaction. “After the first aftershock, I rode my bicycle home. But the pavement had all turned to mud. This is all reclaimed land, you know.” Luckily for him, he lives up the hill from the bay. His house suffered little damage.

Much of our area, including all of Chiba’s Mihama Ward, where my wife and I live, consists of just such reclaimed land, though our apartment complex was largely unaffected. Farther west along the shore lies Urayasu, just this side of the Edo River, which forms the boundary with Tokyo. Coming over the river on a homebound train in years past, I would often think how pleasant and convenient it would be to live in that area, which, after extensive landfill projects four to five decades ago, had become quite trendy. The name is taken from an old word for Japan, Urayasu no Kuni—more or less literally, “the land that soothes the heart.” The phrase first appears in the eighth-century Chronicles of Japan...

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About the Author

Charles De Wolf is a linguist and translator of Japanese literature. He is professor emeritus at Keio University, where he continues to teach linguistics and comparative culture.