Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Tsunami videos made Japan's disaster a global event

By Kyung Lah, CNN
March 2, 2012 -- Updated 0651 GMT (1451 HKT)
  • Mao Takahashi recorded moment tsunami struck his home town of Ishinomaki
  • Teenager's video watched over two million times on YouTube
  • Amount of footage of last year's disaster made it more comprehensible for people across the world

(CNN) -- A blue car rushes by in the raging brown water. Moments later a whole family house is carried down the center of the flooded street before an even more frightening sight: a young man trapped in the rising water clinging to a telephone wire.

"Gambatte kudasai!" screams out a young voice to the stranded victim, which means "stay strong" in Japanese.

That voice belongs to 16 year old Mao Takahashi, who used his camera to record the moment the tsunami struck his neighborhood in Ishinomaki, Japan, on March 11, 2011.

Send in your memories of Japan's tsunami

It is riveting to watch and has been viewed more than two million times on YouTube.

2011: Moving on post-tsunami difficult
2011: Running from tsunami's destruction
2011: 'I thought Japan would disappear'

When asked if he felt as if he was recording history for a global audience, Takahashi said he did not think about what he was doing or that he might be recording a piece of history.

"I was simply panicking," he explained.

In Japan every person in the country has at least one mobile phone and when the tsunami tore across northern Japan, thousands like Takahashi pulled out a device from their pockets and started filming, making last year's disaster one of the most recorded in history.

"Because you had all of this very real footage, it made the incident much more real in people's minds. They no longer have to imagine what a tsunami is, they saw it live," said Tokyo-based technology consultant Steve Nagata.

Nagata points out that Japan is recognizable to many people, even if they haven't visited the country. That familiarity helped people around the world connect to the disaster.

The personal nature of the video also brought the disaster home to people around the world and compelled nations and individuals to engage and want to help, said Nagata.

"To be able to do this in near real time and to do it to audiences across the globe is unprecedented in how much power it's giving to individuals," Nagata said.

In Takahashi's case, what his video doesn't show when he stopped recording is the most important part of his story.

Takahashi took off his clothes, fearing their weight when they got wet and waded into the frigid waters, which had subsided as the tsunami retreated. He then grabbed the young man clinging to the telephone wire -- who was just a few years older than himself -- and carried him back into his house.

He doesn't know what happened to the young man, other than he survived.

Takahashi and his family are now living in temporary housing and their future is still uncertain; he doesn't know where they will finally end up. He still likes to look at the video that's still on his camera, even though it shows the fury of that traumatizing day.

"It has a happy ending for me," he said.

Part of complete coverage on
June 21, 2012 -- Updated 0240 GMT (1040 HKT)
Mikio Watanabe's Fukushima home is contaminated with radiation and filled with the nightmares of his wife's horrific suicide.
February 28, 2012 -- Updated 1624 GMT (0024 HKT)
CNN gets its first tour inside the Fukushima nuclear plant. CNN's Kyung Lah reports from the meltdown zone.
Did events on March 11, 2011 affect your life? Share before and after photos of your area, or grab a video camera and let us know what life is like today.
May 28, 2012 -- Updated 1045 GMT (1845 HKT)
Former Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said he was overwhelmed and afraid during last year's nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
May 29, 2012 -- Updated 1801 GMT (0201 HKT)
A Fukushima Prefecture evacuee made a brief visit to his radiation-contaminated home, walked to his shuttered shop, and then hanged himself.
See how areas hit by the tsunami looked just after the disaster and how they look today.
March 11, 2012 -- Updated 0519 GMT (1319 HKT)
Scientist Ken Buesseler looks at what's known -- and not known -- about the largest accidental release of radioactivity into the ocean.
February 29, 2012 -- Updated 1046 GMT (1846 HKT)
Twisted metal beams still jut from the top of Japan's Fukushima Daiichi stricken reactors, almost one year after a massive tsunami triggered nuclear meltdown.