on hara, flesh of the earth

This 11 March marks the ten year anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. It was the first day of my exams at Oxford, and two weeks before I flew to Beijing for my course. Half my family, including my parents, were in Tokyo and Akita. I was meant to be studying, but all I could do was watch footage of the swell inundating and destroying the coastal towns on repeat.

A vending machine carried inland by the tsunami, in an abandoned rice field near Minamisoma

Photograph: Damir Sagolj/Reuters

I was 19 and didn't feel particularly connected to Japan at the time. I hadn't lived there in seven years, and had only visited twice since. But I had enough childhood references from Japan to feel a personal connection to the architecture and topography, the vending machines and cars picked up like toys by the wave, the noodle shops and post offices being swept away. I could understand the words of terror spilling from their lips, howls of grief as everything they ever knew was dissolved into chaos, the monstrous power of Water, Mother ocean. There was something