Friday, 13 July 2018

Guest Post - Roger Bray on Japan - Bookish World Cup - Japan

The central plot of The Picture is the 2011 earthquake and tsunami which struck the Tōhoku region of Japan and from which many stories of heroism sprung.  Not the false heroism of a sporting star scoring the winning points in the dying seconds of a game but normal people putting their lives on the line for others, often strangers, without thought of their own safety.   As I was writing, building the plot lines and deciding where the story was taking me I spent many hours researching what had happened and the effects of the event on the population in the area. 

While things like the devastation of the Fukushima nuclear reactor have continued in the headlines with the often seemingly impossible task of cleaning it up, there were many stories of heroism.  I have already blogged about some of the unassuming heroes of the disaster like Yasuteru Yamada, a 72 year old engineer, who had already survived cancer.

When the tsunami devastated the Fukushima nuclear facility he couldn’t watch younger men being subjected to radiation poisoning everyday as they struggled to clean up the aftermath.  He formed a volunteer corps and called for help. 400 elderly Japanese signed up straight away and took over tasks from the younger workforce. Knowing that the radiation would shorten their lives they are philosophical about the danger, rationalizing that they will probably die before the radiation poisoning affects them.

While the events and continued heroics of workers at Fukushima seem to be the mainstay of the stories from the region what struck me most was the resilience of the general Japanese people.  Of the workers who rebuilt a road in three days so rescue efforts wouldn’t be hampered to teachers who led their pupils to safety.  Of ordinary people doing what they had to.
One story which did strike me when I was doing my research was the matter of fact heroics of Miki Endo.  She worked for the Crisis Management Department in Minamisanriku, she was the voice of the warning and alarm system who broadcast warnings and alerts over the community loudspeaker system.

Miko told residents to get to higher ground, over and over, with an intensity that caused some residents to think twice about going back home.   Had it not been for her efforts continually cajoling the local population to evacuate many more people in the town would have died.  Such was the affect of Miko’s announcements many survivors have said they would have returned home, not realising the severity of the situation, instead of seeking higher ground.

Miko stayed at her post, continually alerting the population to the end. 

The three-story headquarters of the Crisis Management Department was completely gutted as the tsunami wave overwhelmed the building and even the workers who had made it to the roof.  Miko, inside with her boss, both still broadcasting were lost.  The red-coloured skeleton of the building was all that remained.  Even the workers who had made it to the roof didn’t realise how high the wave would come and some only survived by clinging to the rooftop antenna mast.

Why am I writing about the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami now with the emphasis of these blogs being the forthcoming World Cup (Go England and Australia!) and the events of 2011 fading into history a little?   When I started writing The Picture I had, like most people, a broad understanding of what had happened.  It was a disaster, many lives had been lost but is wasn’t until I started my research that my broad brush knowledge started to focus down onto individuals.  It was then I began to really understand the disaster which had struck the region.  When you begin to put names and faces on the missing and the dead they become real people.

When Stalin reputedly said ‘a single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic’ he was probably right but once the dead become a million individuals they are no longer statistics but someone’s mother, father, brother or sister.  That is what struck me when I began my research about the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami; the dead were no longer statistics but people. 

After this time there remains a duty for us to remember people like Miko who sacrificed their lives so others may live.  For all it’s pomp and ceremony and even with Bill Shankly’s view of it being more important than life and death it is, in the end, a game. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love football but as a lifelong Blackburn Rovers fan with all the ups and downs that has involved and having seen many of the more abysmal performances from the England squad I keep reminding myself there are more important things.

Then again, just to show the power of football. The best bit of news the Japanese received that year was the victory of the Japanese woman’s football team in the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup Final held in Frankfurt, Germany on 17 July 2011.  Japan won 3-1 on a penalty shoot-out following a 2–2 draw after extended time, becoming the first Asian team to win a FIFA World Cup final.
Such are the highs and lows of life from the devastation of a natural disaster to world cup victory all in three months.  I think Miko would have been cheering them along.

Miko Endo was 26 years old when she died, her body was recovered 700 meters from the coast in Shizugawa Bay on 23 April 2011.

Thank you so much Roger Bray for this fascinating post.

Amazon UK

A warehouse in Japan used as an emergency shelter in the aftermath of the 2011 Tsunami. A distraught, young Japanese woman in dishevelled clothes sits on a box, holding her infant daughter. Ben, a US rescue volunteer, kneels in front of her offering comfort. They hug, the baby between them. The moment turns into an hour as the woman sobs into his shoulder; mourning the loss of her husband, her home, the life she knew. A picture is taken, capturing the moment. It becomes a symbol; of help freely given and of the hope of the survivors. The faces in the picture cannot be recognised, and that is how Ben likes it. No celebrity, thanks not required.

But others believe that being identified as the person in the picture is their path to fame and fortune. Ben stands, unknowingly, in their way, but nothing a contract killing cannot fix.

Author Bio –  I have always loved writing; putting words onto a page and bringing characters to life. I can almost feel myself becoming immersed into their lives, living with their fears and triumphs. Thus, my writing process becomes an endless series of questions. What would she or he do, how would they react, is this in keeping with their character? Strange as it sounds, I don’t like leaving characters in cliffhanging situations without giving them an ending, whichever way it develops.
My life to date is what compels me to seek a just outcome, the good will overcome and the bad will be punished. More though, I tend to see my characters as everyday people in extraordinary circumstances, but in which we may all find our selves if the planets align wrongly or for whatever reason you might consider.

Of course, most novels are autobiographical in some way. You must draw on your own experiences of life and from events you have experienced to get the inspiration. My life has been an endless adventure. Serving in the Navy, fighting in wars, serving as a Police officer and the experiences each one of those have brought have all drawn me to this point, but it was a downside to my police service that was the catalyst for my writing.

Medically retired after being seriously injured while protecting a woman in a domestic violence situation I then experienced the other side of life. Depression and rejection. Giving truth to the oft said saying that when one door closes another opens I pulled myself up and enrolled in college gaining bachelor and master degrees, for my own development rather than any professional need. The process of learning, of getting words down onto the page again relit my passion for writing in a way that I hadn’t felt since high school.

So here we are, two books published and another on track.

Where it will take me I have no idea but I am going to enjoy getting there and if my writing can bring some small pleasure into people’s lives along the way, then I consider that I will have succeeded in life.

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