Japan Society of Boston celebrates tenth anniversary of deadly earthquake and tsunami

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The Japan Society of Boston is among several groups holding events Thursday to mark the 10th anniversary of the strongest earthquake to ever hit Japan on March 11, 2011. The magnitude 9.0 quake was tracked a tsunami and a collapse of the nuclear power plant; at least 16,000 people lost their lives and thousands were displaced as the entire Tohuku region was devastated.

“People were really, genuinely concerned about our families and friends,” said Yuko Handa, executive director of the Japan Society of Boston.

Handa said Boston had a close relationship with Japan through its sister city Kyoto, and after the disaster the Japanese call 3/11, Bostonians stepped in to help people.

“I really, really remember how people from local neighborhoods where a lot of Japanese people lived came to help with fundraising and donations,” Handa said.

The quake triggered a massive tsunami that inundated more than 200 miles of coastline and forced the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people. It also triggered a nuclear emergency.

Every year since 2013, Boston Public Schools Japanese teacher Timothy Nagaoka has programmed a memory of the anniversary of the earthquake in downtown Boston with an origami piece of art he calls “Cranes on the Square” in Copley Square.

“We fold paper cranes to honor people who lost their lives and suffered in northeast Japan,” Nagaoka said.

According to a Japanese tradition, Nagaoka says that when you make 1,000 paper cranes, it brings good fortune and sometimes a wish can be granted. In previous years, with the help of passers-by, Nagaoka would fold up and display 1,000 colorful cranes.

But because of the pandemic, this year’s exhibit held last weekend in Copley Square featured 10 large origami whooping cranes and a six-foot-tall giant crane with a 10-foot wingspan, which Nagaoka folded himself.

Handa said the Japan Society of Boston will post two special messages on 3/11 from members who lived far from the disaster but were affected by it.

“They have a message to say that there are things they learned,” Handa said, particularly “the resilience of the Japanese people and the way they rebuilt cities and towns.”

Harvard and MIT also have memorial events scheduled for Thursday.

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