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How do you commemorate a special anniversary of a tragic triple disaster properly in the middle of a pandemic? That’s the question Japan is grappling with as March 11 approaches.

Annual ceremonies to mark the moment of the Great East Japan Earthquake will still take place, albeit on a smaller scale. A museum devoted to the quake, tsunami and nuclear disaster has also been established in Fukushima in advance of the 10th anniversary.

Online, meanwhile, a site has been set up with some 4,200 geotagged Japanese-language tweets that were posted after the quake superimposed on a world map, visually expressing the confusion felt in places such as the Tohoku and Tokyo areas at the time.

Residents of Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, watch helplessly as a wave approaches via the Heigawa estuary after the earthquake on March 11, 2011. | MIYAKO CITY OFFICE / VIA REUTERS
Residents of Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, watch helplessly as a wave approaches via the Heigawa estuary after the earthquake on March 11, 2011. | MIYAKO CITY OFFICE / VIA REUTERS

Memories of the disasters, the response and the resilience of the people of Tohoku are also being kept alive by those who lived through the ordeal. A rescue officer remembers the struggle to formulate a cohesive rescue effort in the blackout that followed the 9.0-magnitude quake. A Tokyo fire chief recalls the desperate effort to cool the reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

Matthew Ketchum, a teacher in Iwate Prefecture at the time, tells of fleeing his home for higher ground, and of the reality of the tsunami and its aftermath.

“Tsunamis are not as sexy as Hollywood likes to depict,” he writes. “A tsunami … creeps inland until suddenly it overwhelms you. It wasn’t a deep blue, sprinkled with white flecks of foam; it was muddy black, polluted with the remnants of what it has rolled over — dirt, rocks, trees, homes.”

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