Tohoku Soka Gakkai Members Rebuilding Lives
In the aftermath of the earthquake and subsequent tsunamis that hit the northeast of Japan on March 11, 2011, local Soka Gakkai members in the devastated areas continue to take the initiative to provide support to those still suffering and struggling to rebuild their lives.
Following the initial earthquake, Masatoshi Suzuki, a young men’s leader in Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture, returned to his house as he was concerned about the safety of his parents. They weren’t there. He was about to leave when he felt an enormous jolt, as the tsunami hit his house and a torrent of water flooded in. Mr. Suzuki was tossed around in the water and knocked unconscious. The impact was so great that his wooden house was swept 500 meters from its original location.
When he regained consciousness he realized that the pile of debris and furniture that he was lying on top of had saved his life. Though the outer shell of the house barely remained, the roof was still intact. He was trapped between the rubble and the roof. As he is an electrician, he is familiar with the structure of houses and broke the central part of the roof to make his way out.
Despite his entire body being covered with cuts and bruises and an injured foot, he comforted many people and helped them to the safety of the local elementary school, where he was eventually reunited with his own parents. Some of the people he assisted were frozen with fear and others he carried on his back. He cannot remember how many people he helped.
At the beginning of April 2011, Mr. Suzuki started visiting a fellow Soka Gakkai member, Koji Endo. Mr. Endo was so traumatized by the loss of his parents, grandmother, his job and accommodation in the tsunami that he was unable to speak or express his feelings during the visits.
Mr. Suzuki was determined to support Mr. Endo, and drew strength from SGI President Daisaku Ikeda's March 16, 2011, message titled “Never Be Defeated! Have Courage! Have Hope!” In the message Mr. Ikeda writes, “Every adversity is but a trial for us to overcome so that we can attain eternal happiness. The Daishonin’s Buddhism, our practice of faith in the Mystic Law, enables us to transform all poison into medicine without fail.”
Two months after the visits began, Mr. Endo started to open up to and confide in Mr. Suzuki and began attending Soka Gakkai activities. His outlook became more positive, and three months after he started job hunting, Mr. Endo secured a job in a major company.
Mr. Suzuki attributes the fact that he was able to take action without hesitation to assist the people around him to his Buddhist faith and participation in Soka Gakkai activities which foster a sense of community by strengthening ties between people.
Mr. Suzuki says, “If what lies behind us is a mountain of debris and bitter disappointments, then we have no choice but to look ahead. In front of us lies a future brimming with hope.”
Noriko Sasaki is a young women’s leader and a school nurse at a high school in Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture. The school was so badly damaged by the tsunami, which engulfed the whole of the first floor, that classes could not be held there. In May 2011, classes resumed at another school and in September 2011 they moved to a prefabricated school building. Ms. Sasaki has been supporting students and teachers who have been struggling to come to terms with life after the earthquake and tsunami.
At first, students who visited Ms. Sasaki’s room were experiencing physical symptoms of discomfort linked to trauma. Several months later, when students were able to start speaking about their family problems, Ms. Sasaki heard of instances in which divorced parents had to live together, increasing the students’ stress levels. At times, unable to find words to encourage students, she just hugged them and silently shared their pain.
One girl, who had been unable to express her feelings after the disaster, confided in Ms. Sasaki: “Why did I survive? I want to die.” Ms. Sasaki responded, “You must not die. Life is the most precious gift. I won’t let you die.” Later, the student asked if she could sometimes come to talk to Ms. Sasaki.
Whenever Ms. Sasaki herself felt depressed or stressed, she remembered a passage from The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin: “If one lights a [lantern] for others, one will brighten one’s own way.” (WND-2, 1060)
A victim of the disaster herself, Ms. Sasaki found that the way to break through in her own struggles was to regard the suffering of others as her own. She learned that the will to live again is borne of encouragement and caring. She is determined to share the students’ pain and continue encouraging them until each and every one is able to start rebuilding their lives.
[Adapted from an article in Sublime and articles in the January 11 and February 23, 2012, issues of the Seikyo Shimbun, Soka Gakkai, Japan; photos courtesy of Masatoshi Suzuki and Seikyo Shimbun]