On March 11, 2011, at 2:46 pm, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck northeastern Japan. The epicenter was approximately 43 miles east of the Oshika peninsula of Tohoku, at a depth of 19 miles. The earth shook for 6 minutes and was followed within 30-40 minutes by powerful tsunami waves that reached heights of up to 133 feet, and which in Sendai traveled up to 6 miles inland. The earthquake reportedly moved Honshu (the main island of Japan) 8 feet east and shifted the earth on its axis between 4 and 10 inches. Tsunami waves reached as far as Alaska and Chile, and debris from Japanese coastal areas has washed up on the Pacific beaches in the US and Canada over the following two years.

In Japan this is known as the Great East Japan Earthquake. Just as 9-11 is a date that is meaningful to all Americans, 3-11 is a date that will live in the memories of all Japanese citizens and friends of Japan.

According to Wikipedia: On February 10, 2014, a Japanese National Police Agency report confirmed 15,884 deaths, 6,147 injured, and 2,636 people missing across twenty prefectures, as well as 127,290 buildings totally collapsed, with a further 272,788 buildings ‘half collapsed,’ and another 747,989 buildings partially damaged. The World Bank estimates the economic cost of the earthquake and tsunami at $235 billion, making it the costliest natural disaster in world history. The tsunami caused serious nuclear accidents, primarily the level 7 meltdowns at three reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, and resulted in the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of residents. Japan relies on nuclear power; many of the country’s nuclear reactors remain closed, and significant safety concerns continue.

The TOMODACHI Initiative was created in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake. Part of the purpose of this U.S.-Japan Youth Exchange is to educate the DC and Japanese students about the events of 3-11; to expose them to the work that citizens, organizations, businesses, and government are doing to rebuild the affected communities in Tohoku; and to inspire these young leaders to contribute in their own ways to these recovery efforts.