On the Anniversary of Japanese Earthquake, Ariyah Okamoto, A.K.A. Ravelstein, Describes Experience

You may know Ariyah Okamoto as Ravelstein, the Japanese Jew, former member of Shuttle Lounge, and South Florida music legend. A year ago, the musician found himself in Sendai, the city the closest to the epicenter of one of the most violent and devastating earthquakes that has ever affected Japan and the worst nuclear meltdown ever.

After many years, the Miami-raised Okamoto  visited the city where generations of his family were born and lived to care for his elderly mother. It was then that the Great Tohoku Earthquake and subsequent tsunami, and nuclear meltdown took place. 

Sendai is the hub of the Tohoku region in northeastern Japan. On March 9, the earthquakes began. "It really freaked us out. It was so strong," Okamoto related. Everyone was talking about the big one when it actually hit, a 9.0 earthquake on March 11, 2011.

"I have never felt anything of that power," he says.

In an instant, Japan moved four meters and sank one

and a half from the force of the quake. "The only reason I'm alive was

that I was on high ground," he noted and because of Japanese engineering

which places buildings on rollers. Emotionally, though, it was most

jarring. He thought he was going to die. "Walls are breathing and

curving, everything is falling around you." There were hundreds of aftershock

earthquakes reaching 5.0 or higher on the Richter scale.

"I was

shaking all the time." He couldn't sleep, and noted that there were, "nothing but sirens, no power, no heat." And then it started to

snow.

"It was so heartbreaking. Twenty minutes after the big

one, it started to

snow. The Siberian winds came off the ocean. It was snowing hard. I knew

every single night when I went to bed and the building would begin to

shake, people were freezing to death," he says, he thought of the

thousands that died every night in villages isolated by the devastation.

The 30-meter high tsunami hit not long after, but the only way they knew anything had happened was

through car radios. Sendai was also isolated with 300 roads and bridges

destroyed, a collapsed airport, and a non-functioning train station.

Sendai is mountainous

and coastal and a river runs through it from the mountains to the sea. "I

lived probably 75 yards from it. And dead bodies started to wash up on [the shore]." Villages were just wiped away, and with it all of their history and

15,000 lives.

The reason Okamoto has chosen to speak up is

because of the third result of the earthquake: nuclear meltdown.

Fukushima Daiichi, the reactor that failed, is only one train stop away

from Sendai. He says that of the tsunami, only 5% of debris has been

taken care of since the disaster because it's radioactive. Four reactors

were compromised in the earthquake.

"It was difficult, because the

Japanese government was saying that everything was safe and contained

and not to panic. But I had reached out to my American friends." Through

them, he uncovered how dangerous their situation was. "Having gone

through Andrew and Katrina, once a disaster of this scope happens, governments and people make mistakes." He knew he had to get out of

the country and his family didn't believe him. People were scared and in

a state of shock.

"The most horrible part was the damage done

to the human spirit," he says. "We don't know how to wrap our heads

around this." On a half a tank of gas in a tiny car, he and his infirm mother

headed north away from Tokyo and the nuclear plume that hovered above

it. It took them around three weeks to evacuate the country. From Akita

they went to Korea, then San Francisco to Miami where they arrived on

April 16, 2011.

"Right now, I'm writing a book." He is collecting Information and stories. He is a musician who is now "converting to words."

It's

so important for him to educate people on radiation and its effects on

the population. Though tests are being done to gauge how toxic the

situation is, it's not enough. Earthquakes continue to deteriorate at

least one other Japanese nuclear reactor, and if another big one hits,

Japan is possibly in for it. On top of that, design flaws make them even more vulnerable. Food

supplies are contaminated and the results have been shown in children.

"In Tohoku, for generations upon generations, the land has been passed down

as a gift to support life, and now this land that was given to us to

take care of," he says, is essentially toxic. Okamoto will continue to talk about this to the public

and believes this is "the opening to change," and elimination of the use of nuclear energy. 


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