A message to the people of the worldwide Anglican Communion
Two weeks have passed since the devastating earthquake on the 11th March. At least I have been able to visit the devastated area in Sendai. The night of the 26th March I flew from Tokyo to Yamagata Airport. The next morning I entered Sendai City. Sendai is the main city of the Tohoku region where the Cathedral of Tohoku Diocese of Nippon Sei Ko Kai (the Anglican Church in Japan) is located.
On Sunday morning, I visited the Cathedral (Sendai Christ Church) and saw that parts of the walls had fallen down, the walls were cracked. It looked to me as the whole building was lopsided. On the floor of the Cathedral there were various piles of goods sent from churches in different parts of Japan such as foodstuff, fuel and clothing. Because of the frequent aftershocks, the church council members have decided that it is too dangerous to use the Cathedral for worship, so they are having services in the nearby church hall.
In Sendai City they have restored water and electricity supplies, but the supply of gas to houses has not been restored. Although food is available it is still very difficult to get hold of petrol and other fuel. So some of the parishioners who gathered for worship on the Sunday walked a long distance to get there. Due to the continuing aftershocks, some people go to bed fully clothed, wearing shoes. There are those who have not slept at all since the earthquake and look exhausted. The Bishop of Tohoku Hiromichi Kato who preached at eucharist, he tried to encourage the congregation by saying that their faith would lead them to hope even through the hardship and difficulties of the present situation.
For many in the congregation this was their first visit to church since the tsunami. Following the service parishioners shared updates from their dioceses and gave updates about those parishioners killed by the tsunami, parishioners who are still missing, those whose houses were swept away. They also talked about what relief activites were taking place in the churches and at the diocesan level. Afterwards Bp Kato and I went to look at the devastated area along the coastline of Sendai City. The devastation caused by the tsunami was simply beyond our imagination. The tsunami reached the fourth floor of building destroying everything. The wreckage of houses and the huge number of cars are simply still lying there. Police and members of the Japan Defence Regiment were still looking for corpses. There was no sign of life there. Standing in that are area surrounded by nothing but wreckage, all we could do was silently look at the scene in front of us and pray.
Next I would like to report the situation in the devastated area and the relief activities of Nippon Sei Ko Kai. As of 29th March, there are around 30,000 people who died or who are still missing after this disaster. The most damage was caused by the tsunami. Villages and towns along the coastline of Tohoku region were almost all annihalated. In addition, because of the fear of the radiation leak as a result of the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor, people who live in the 30 km radius of the reactor were told to evacuate. They are having a difficult life in evacuation centres in places far away from their homes. In fact, the fear of nuclear contamination is felt not only by those people who live within the 30km radius, but also by people in Tokyo, which is more than 100 km away. Many people are living with uncertainty.
Earthquake relief centres have not only been set up at the Provincial Office and Tohoku diocese, but also at some of the other dioceses around Japan. They have started to collect some relief goods and to transport them to the affected area. Konahama St Thomas Church is near the coast, however, fortunately it escaped damage by the tsunami. This church has been used as a central point for a number of evacuation centres in the area. It is quite far from the Fukushima nuclear reactor, but because of the worry of the radiation contamination, people are wary of deliver to that area. As a result, the evacuees are in real dire straits because they are not receive enough food. To support these people priests of the area and from the Kobe diocese are helping these people by bringing what supplies they can. From Tokyo diocese and Chubu diocese has also provided food supplies and other goods.
Japan is a wealthy country and I imagine that once the transport infrastructure is restored and fuel is once again available that local supplies will reach the affected areas. Though much appreciated, we should therefore not have to rely on overseas aid. However, in order to transport relief goods and to clear out the huge volume of wreckage in the affected areas Japan will need many volunteers. I believe that the church will also be asked to provide pastoral support for victims and their families.
In Nippon Sei Ko Kai, we are planning a meeting at the Provincial Office with the people involved with relief activities in Tohoku diocese and other dioceses. At this meeting we will explore the most efficient ways of responding to the emergency in the future.
Now, above all, what we really would like the church across the world to do is support us by praying. The Japanese Church is a small church, but knowing that brothers and sisters in the worldwide Communion are praying for victims and the church's relief activities, that gives them strength. I would also be very grateful if they would support us financially now and in the future so that we can help restore people's lives and our church communities.
The Most Revd Nathaniel Makoto Uematsu
Primate of Nippon Sei Ko Kai (The Anglican Church in Japan) and Bishop of Hokkaido.