Experiencing the Great East Japan Earthquake March 11, 2011 - Atsushi Iida


Great East Japan Earthquake March 11, 2011.


A Fifteen-Year-Old Boy’s Experience of the Magnitude 9.0 Earthquake


Poetic Ethnographer: Atsushi Iida

Participant: Earthquake survivor

Project: Exploring earthquake and tsunami experiences


Source: Iida, A. (2021). ““I Feel Like I Can’t Avoid Dying”: A Poetic Representation of a Survivor’s Traumatic Experience in the Great East Japan Earthquake.” Qualitative Inquiry, 27(1), 45–58.


On March 11, 2011,

At 2:46,

In Hamadori-district, Fukushima


All of a sudden,

A giant tremor hits me, Jun, and two other friends

in his house.

Big quake which I cannot stand

Big quake which my friend cannot stand

Big quake which we cannot move


I look outside from a room on the second floor

 Houses are tumbling down,

  Roofs are falling down,

   Electronic poles are breaking down

     Right in front of me…

I look outside from a room on the second floor

 Cracks in the ground here and there

  Big houses shifting from one place to another

    Right in front of me…




I don’t know what to do

I don’t know how to run away

I don’t know what is happening

I don’t know anything at all


I’m about to walk toward a shelter


I don’t know where it is

I don’t know how far it is

I don’t know anything at all


Ground cracking and subsidence

No cars,

No transportation,

No way to move


In such a difficult situation,

I ask one of my friends,

“How can we escape?”

“How should we escape?”

“Should we find our family now?”

“Should we wait for them here?”


We have no answer, but four of us thought that

“If we don’t leave here NOW, we will die soon!!”

Our decision for survival is

to walk toward a shelter


But, a dark, cold, long night is about to begin.

No light,

No smartphones,

No clue to escape


NOTHING we can do now…

All we can do is just to wait here outside the house

silently and safely

until the sun rises.



Four of us are just standing

in the dark and cold garden outside the house.


Suddenly, a car comes close to us.

Lucky or not, it’s Toshi’s mother’s.

She’s just come home from work.

While I’m so relieved that she is with us,

this fatal situation never changes at all.


No idea where to go

No idea how to evacuate

No idea what is going on


We are all in panic.

My friends and I have no idea what to do

Toshi’s mother looks confused and even stressed

because she would have to take care of three more kids in addition to hers.


“I keep all of you safe”, she talks to us.

“We will sit up all night here, but not in the house”, she continues.


A continuous aftershock has us stay outside all night.

Bring blankets from the house

Make a fire outside

Save our energy

Sitting there till the next morning


“I will be able to go home tomorrow”, I talk to myself

“The situation will change and get better tomorrow”, I persuade myself.

I truly believe so.


But, it is only the beginning of the dark, cold, and hopeless days