July 23, 2011

Students will: consider different natural disasters look at events in Japan since the massive earthquake on March 11, 2011 read and discuss quotes from Japanese people and others about the disaster make cranes and create messages for the people of Japan


Students will:

  • consider different natural disasters
  • look at events in Japan since the massive earthquake on March 11, 2011
  • read and discuss quotes from Japanese people and others about the disaster
  • make cranes and create messages for the people of Japan

Social and Emotional Skills:

  • exploring feelings
  • stepping into other people's shoes
  • compassion

Materials needed:


Background Materials for the Teacher


(5 minutes)

Ask students: When you think of natural disasters, what kind of disasters come to mind? Create a list on chart paper or on the board. Ask students which of these natural disasters hit Japan over the past week.

Introduction and Background

(10 minutes)

Elicit and explain that on Friday, March 11, 2011, at 2:46 pm, a massive earthquake struck the island nation of Japan. Measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale, it was one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded.

Many aftershocks followed, including a second massive one with a magnitude of 7.4. As if that wasn't enough to deal with, the quakes triggered a devastating "tsunami" that hit the northeast coast of Japan soon after. (A tsunami is a giant ocean wave that a powerful earthquake can generate. The word originated in Japan.) With 30-foot waves overwhelming the country's coastal barriers, the surge of water swept 10 miles inland, dragging with it entire buildings and homes, cars, boats, trains, planes, farming equipment, and anything else in its path. Floodwaters continue to trap people who managed to find a safe place to sit out the tsunami.

Japan is part of the "Ring of Fire," an arc stretching around the Pacific basin that is associated with the vast majority of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions around the world. Japan is a wealthy nation, and has been able to prepare itself by constructing and maintaining a resilient infrastructure, including earthquake-proof buildings. The country also maintains an emergency response capability that has already saved many lives over the past few days and will continue to do so in the following weeks and months as the country starts its recovery process. Japanese citizens, including schoolchildren, regularly participate in earthquake drills.

What made this particular disaster so destructive was the tsunami that the earthquake triggered. The tsunami caused the massive damage and chaos, sweeping away whole towns and large swaths of farmland, exploding oil refineries and rupturing gas lines in its path, and perhaps worst of all, causing explosions and a partial meltdown at a nuclear power plant in the town of Fukushima. Thousands of people were ordered to evacuate the area as result, though officials said it was a precautionary measure at this time. High levels of radiation have leaked from the plant, but we don't yet know the extent of the nuclear danger. However we do know that the nuclear plant crisis has renewed a global discussion about the safety of nuclear power. Japan has relied heavily on nuclear power.

About the Richter Scale

In 1935 Charles F. Richter developed what is known as The Richter magnitude scale. The Richter scale assigns a number to the amount of seismic energy released by an earthquake. Seismic waves are the vibrations from earthquakes that travel through the earth's crust. They are recorded on seismographs.

On the scale, earthquakes with a magnitude of 4.5 and up are felt. At magnitude 6, poorly constructed buildings are damaged, at magnitude 7-7.8 very serious damage occurs anywhere, and at magnitude 7.8 or up there is generally tremendous damage, destruction and loss of life, depending of course how densely populated the area is. For a graphic showing the Richter scale: UN Dispatch, United Nations News & Commentary Global News Forum.

The Japan quake measured 8.9 on the scale.



(20 minutes)

Ask different volunteers to read from the handout (below) the messages from the days immediately following the earthquake that hit Japan on March 11.

Consider asking your students some or all of the following questions as you discuss the messages:

1) As you listen to these messages what are your first thoughts?

2) What are the people who experienced the recent disasters in Japan telling us?

3) How do they feel?

4) What are the officials (internationally and in Japan itself) telling us?

5) What do you think their objectives are?

6) What are the international organizations telling us?

7) What do you think their objectives are?

8) What are your feelings about what has been happening in Japan?



(15 minutes)

The crane in Japan is a mystical or holy creature, which is said to live for a thousand years. According to an old Japanese legend anyone who folds a thousand paper cranes is granted a wish. Paper cranes can also be given as gfits as a symbol of long life and good luck.

Have students make an origami crane by following the instructions on this website: http://www.origami-resource-center.com/paper-crane.html

Ask students to think of a short message that they can write on their crane to the people of Japan. Ask a few volunteers to share their messages.

Helping the people of Japan:

If you and your students want to help out the people of Japan in other ways, consider supporting some of the non profit organizations mentioned on the Causes Blog at:

http://exchange.causes.com (no longer active)




Message 1:

"I was on the ground floor of a building in Tokyo that began to shake, gently at first and then vigorously. Some people were going out into the streets, others were going under tables. The aftershocks were still hitting us three hours lateR."

—Gavin Blair, a freelance journalist in Tokyo



Message 2:

"Tall buildings were swaying like palm trees - their window dressings smacking the windows and lights swaying wildly. There is a building under construction across from mine with cranes on the roof. The cranes were clanking against each other and making an awful sound. It seemed they would fall any minute."

—Attorney Clint Conner in Tokyo



Message 3:

"I've been kept informed all day long about the tsunami in Japan, the earthquake and tsunami. .... We obviously have huge sympathy for the people of Japan and we are prepared to help them in any way we possibly can. It's obviously a very sophisticated country, but this is a huge disaster and we will do all, anything we are asked to do to help out."

—State Department spokesman Philip Crowley



Message 4:

"Japan is one of the most generous and strongest benefactors, coming to the assistance of those in need the world over. In that spirit, the United Nations stands by the people of Japan and we will do anything and everything we can at this very difficult time."

—United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon



Message 5:

"[We] offer.... our sincere condolences for the loss of life and damage caused by the earthquake and tsunamis in Japan. We are closely monitoring the tsunamis that may impact other parts the world, including Hawaii and the West Coast of the United States."

—Secretary of State Hillary Clinton



Message 6:

"For children, reunifying them with their families is key. And to get them back into a routine, as the trauma can be very significant. In Japan, I think we will do a lot of that work - but immediately, it's about getting people what they need to survive, such as drinking water."

—Carolyn Miles of Save the Children



Message 7:

"Many school, university and government buildings are open for people who cannot go home in Tokyo."

—Hyogo resident Ritsuko Allen



Message 8:

"Today's events remind us of just how fragile life can be. Our hearts go out to our friends in Japan and across the region and we're going to stand with them as they recover and rebuild from this tragedy."

—President Obama



Message 9:

"Thousands of people in Japan and elsewhere have lost contact with family members because of the earthquake and tsunami ... the main areas affected are the prefectures of Miyagi, Fukushima, Tochigi and Ibaraki."

—Statement from the International Red Cross



Message 10:

"Came back home at 8 in the morning after the depressing night ... Now, the nuclear power plant has exploded and we might already be exposed to radioactivity. I just don't know what to do, what's coming next, and will I be alive tomorrow?"

—A 23-year-old office worker from Tokyo



Message 11:

"Some parts of Japan have started power failure rotations ... each place will have 3 hours of powering down on purpose to save energy."

—Hyogo resident Ritsuko Allen



Message 12:

"It's possible that radioactive material in the reactor vessel could leak outside but the amount is expected to be small and the wind blowing towards the sea will be considered. Residents are safe, after those within a 3-kilometer radius were evacuated, and those within a 10-kilometer radius staying indoors - so we want people to be calm."

—Japanese Cabinet chief Yukio Edanotol



Message 13:

"Officials said 10 kilometers or 20 kilometers away is safe - but the radiation may change and go out wider. It's very disturbing. There is no way to get out of here."

—Ryuichi Kikuchi, a 24-year-old factory worker in Fukushima



Message 14:

"I think it's safe at the moment, but I am worried that the radiation might have already reached us."

—42-year-old motorist Noboru Uehara in Fukushima



Message 15:

"By taking firm measures, we will do our best not to have even a single person suffer from health problems ... From the bottom of my heart, I would like everybody to listen to the government and to media reports and to act calmly."

—Japan's prime minister Naoto Kan




This lesson was written by Marieke van Woerkom for TeachableMoment.Org, a project of Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. We welcome your comments. Please email us at info@morningsidecenter.org.

Marieke van Woerkom is an educator and trainer who works with Morningside Center. She has helped young people and adults around the world learn skills to resolve conflict and foster cross-cultural understanding.