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.
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
"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
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."
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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