I had just finished dinner on Friday, March 11, when a friend called me with the news that Japan had been hit by a massive earthquake. I had been busy all afternoon and hadn’t heard. I immediately turned on my computer and watched in horror as streamed video from various news networks showed the tsunami racing across Japan’s northeastern coastline, washing away everything in its path. It was an incredible sight.
Unfortunately, this was only the beginning as damage to four of Japan’s six nuclear reactors caused by the earthquake threatened to create an even greater disaster. Daily warnings about radiation levels followed. And then, just when it looked like things couldn’t get any worse for Japan, it began to snow.
Nearly two weeks have past since Japan suffered its worst crisis since World War II. A stream of photos from the disaster-stricken area shows the magnitude of the catastrophe. One image shows rescue workers sifting through the rubble of a destroyed factory looking for survivors as snow falls heavily around them. Another shows an old woman staring at empty shelves as she pushes a cart along the aisle of a supermarket. A third picture shows a group of men sitting in dirty lawn chairs around a camp fire, cooking noodles and reading tattered newspapers while another shows a lone aid worker on a bicycle speeding through what was once a bustling city, piles of rubble on either side of the mangled road.
Over 7,000 people have died, thousands more are missing, about 450,000 people are now homeless, and more than 1 million people have no drinking water.
▲ Photo by Douglas MacDonald
Having lived in Japan for many years in the 1990s, it saddened me to see such a terrible thing happen to such a wonderful country. So, when I heard that Gwaneumsa Temple here in Jeju was going to do a special ceremony for the people of Japan on March 20, I jumped at the chance to take part.
I arrived at the parking a lot in front of Ora stadium at 8 a.m. and hopped onto the bus bound for the temple. Nearly every seat was taken. A good sign that Japan is in the hearts of many Korean people. Within 10 minutes we had arrived at Daewonjeongsa Temple, the starting point for our approximately 7-kilometer meditation walk to Gwaneumsa. As we headed out, rain started falling. And it rained... and rained... and rained.
Two rain-soaked hours later, we finally arrived at Gwaneumsa. Not wasting any time, the monks shepherded us to a pagoda in the central courtyard. Around the pagoda we went, a sort of “cleansing” ritual for the soul that removes bad spirits.
Next we headed inside for the main ceremony. It was packed with people. The temple’s senior members entered the room, and the ceremony quickly began. The next hour was similar to what most Buddhist ceremonies look like in Korea, but, about half way through the priest began to pray for Japan, calling for health, happiness, and a strong future for the country. Then, near the end of the ceremony, another priest called out the names of Japanese people and prayed for their strength in the face of such trying times. It was a touching moment.
A blanket of fog had moved in while we were inside, creating a wonderful atmosphere around Gwaneumsa and prompting me take a few extra minutes to walk around the complex and gather my thoughts before heading back to the bus. I rounded a corner and saw a young monk make his way across a courtyard and between two buildings. I took one photo before he disappeared into the foggy unknown.
It brought my thoughts back to Japan, its future also unknown. Rebuilding the tsunami-ravaged areas will take time. It will be difficult, and there will be a lot of pain. My thoughts go out to the people of Japan and I pray for the country's speedy recovery.
▲ Photo by Douglas MacDonald
Douglas MacDonald is a Canadian-born English teacher and freelance photographer. He has spent 10 years documenting life and landscapes in Jeju and is a regular contributor to The Jeju Weekly. He won a “Fine Arts" prize in the 2010 Jeju UN World Heritage International photo contest. You can see more of his work at flickr.com/photos/dmacs_photos.
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