March 11, 2021, marks 10 years since the triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident hit Tohoku in 2011, and while arguments over the government’s response and the future of nuclear energy in Japan continue, it’s worth taking time to remember the individual lives that were thrown into turmoil that day. In “When the Waves Came,” M.W. Larson provides a somber and moving look at four experiences of the disaster and its aftermath.
Larson had first come to Japan with the Japan Exchange Teaching (JET) Programme in Mutsu, Aomori Prefecture, but was in the U.S. studying at the time of the quake. The book opens with his partner, Junko, calling from Mutsu. The power is out, people are evacuating, but it’s not yet clear how serious things are. The scene perfectly captures the moment that many still remember — caught between a complacent assurance that “earthquakes happen all the time” and a fear that this was “the big one.”