It’s been a year since the tsunami of March 11th 20111 devastated the north-eastern regions (Tōhoku, 「東北」, lit. East-North) of Japan’s main island Honshu. Last week I have been on my second trip up into the north, and yet again I have left Ishinomaki for my home in Kyoto with mixed feelings. I am trapped thinking: I have not helped enough! I should have stayed longer, helped more and worked harder, because it’s so incredibly far from being finished.
If you take a look at before and after photography, which is very abundant in the recent days, you might be caught into thinking: the debris has been cleared, back to normal… but this is certainly not true. Once the debris is gone, the cities, towns and villages show how much more is gone forever. Every house missing on a plot of land is the possibility of looking at a gravesite. Even many survivors have gone for good, maybe because of the loss of infra-structure, maybe because of the loss of loved ones. The people who stayed had to find a temporary shelter, not much more than a ship-container sized home among hundreds, many people are old, most people do not know their new neighbors. Even if you manage to make new friends, the maximum time of stay for the temporary shelters has been set to three years by the government.
When we arrived in Ishinomaki, even I thought a lot had changed to the better since last August. I was in for a change in my way of thinking in the coming days. Our volunteer work with It’s not just mud (INJM) didn’t focus as much on houses and neighborhoods in Ishinomaki, but outskirts (Onosaki) along the coastline in the north-east and the Oshika peninsula (Ayukawa) in the east. Back in August I thought towns like Onagawa, which had been destroyed up to 90% were a sad exception. However, I have learned that most smaller fishing towns along the coastline have more or less vanished of the map with a 100% of destruction. The tsunami often reached twice its height in the small bays of the peninsula. Many of these areas are lacking behind the development of bigger cities. This is what is far from finished, this is where I need to stay longer, help more and work harder. This is were even a random guy (like me) without a carpenters knowledge can still make a worthwhile difference. Give me a crowbar, a sledgehamer, a shovel, a broom, … give me hammer and nails. I want to go, and I want to try to help those people, who are sometimes still without gas or electricity up to a year after the tsunami.
Onosaki has become well-known post-tsunami for a very sad story, which happened at the local Ōkawa Elementary School. 70 young school children and their teachers died in the oncoming tsunami, based on a decision to flee onto the neighboring bridge, instead of adjacent hills. INJM’s effort was giving a helping hand at a memorial service for those childrens who have died, and supporting an event for those who have survived. In the end of that day we set afloat little paper lanterns with messages and condolences for the victims of the tsunami. The other days in Onosaki I was helping out sorting, drilling and constructing groups of bamboo, which were lit up with small LED lights during a memorial service on March 11th, 2012.
Ayukawa is a former whaling town, and once was one of the biggest whaling ports in Japan. A group of INJM and US Marines were tearing down dry-wall, removing floors and cleaning out an old warehouse, right next to the Oshika Whaleland Museum. The US Marines had come off-duty, all the way up from Iwakuni, Hiroshima in order to volunteer in Tōhoku. Ayukawa once being a whaling hotspot of Japan, or the nearby museum might explain the over-abundance of whale-teeth (sperm and killer whale) scattered in the tsunami-sludge in and around the warehouse. I even found a fist-sized tympanic bone, which is part of a whales inner ear-complex.
Apart from my personal eagerness to have a set of tools at my disposal, there’s also a lot of others things needed in Tōhoku, love; laughter and happiness help, too! If you want to contribute to the rebuilding of Tōhoku, there’s many ways! Please take a look at the website of INJM to see what we have been doing, and how you could possibly contribute to our cause! Thank you!
You can see the full set of my last trip’s photos here.