Thursday, April 4, 2013

Sendai- Ishinomaki

The second day in Sendai was spent exploring the coast, and visiting the small city of Ishinomaki, in Miyagi prefecture. Sadly, Ishinomaki is one of the cities that were most seriously hit by the tsunami on 3.11, and it was almost completely washed out with waves of 10 meters in height that traveled for 5 km inland.

I had never been to Sendai before and seen the aftermath of that disaster, and I don't think I could even imagine the proportions of it until I saw it with my naked eye, and met some people with heartbreaking stories. We went into a small fish market called マリナパル in Onagawa (next town), right by the bay. There we met the loveliest lady, Abe-san, who warmly welcomed us in her booth, which suddenly materialized in a makeshift cafe. She generously served us some coffee, fish, salad, and miso soup, and she told us her painful story. Pre-earthquake, she used to own a successful fish business, complete with a fleet of ships. The tsunami washed away all of her belongings- her house, her shop, every possession she had- every single thing. Somehow, with help from volunteers and such, she got back on her feet and re-opened a fish market, along with a handful of other vendors. She told us that she felt so happy now, and there is no reason to not feel happiness if you have your life, as material belongings do not matter at all in the end. She was one of the warmest, friendliest people I have ever met in my whole life. We left the shop with an armful of seaweed and fish products, and I cannot get her out of my mind. Meeting someone who has been through so much hardships really puts things in perspective. It makes me want to help out and volunteer, and do something more than just sending the few supplies I had sent two years ago.

After meeting her, we drove closer to the ocean, where I saw the remains of what once was a town. Despite the Tohoku region being reconstructed quickly and doing a lot better two years later, it's not nearly as recovered as I thought it would be. The highway was lined with piles and piles of rusty cars that were hit by the waves, and kilometers of land were filled with debris. One of the most desolate sights was a school, that was damaged by the tsunami, yet still standing there, completely empty. Small shrines and flowers were set on land where once stood homes. I saw a few broken houses, cut in half, with personal belongings still inside: books, clothes, dishes, curtains. I kept trying to imagine the last seconds of those people's lives, before the water took them away.

It was a very emotional day, and I'm glad I had the chance to see the affected area, as it made me realize that Tohoku needs more than just enthusiastic "がんばろう!" (pretty much 'hang in there') scattered everywhere. There are people still living in temporary housing and people who lost everything, and who will forever be distressed by that event. Once again, if you wish to help out or visit that region to see what you can do, there are lots of organizations like this and this.

After meeting the lady from the fish market, some friends and I are trying to set up a way to sell her products and other Tohoku items in Tokyo. I wish I could have spent more time in that area, and I want to go back so badly. If you're ever visiting Japan for an extended period of time, I strongly suggest spending some time volunteering in that region, as Japan is not just all about the fun sights of Tokyo and Kyoto.

It was an eye-opening experience to say the least, and I cannot stop thinking about it, and about Abe-san.

**Here is a link to her shop if you wish to buy products from Miyagi and support the region.

Meeting Abe-san

Inside the fish market

Fresh fish from the Pacific Ocean

Herring rolled sea tangle

A photo of the fish market, pre-tsunami

That same fish market, much smaller, recently built, with half of the vendors

Abe-san's shop- she is a local celebrity!

Who would have thought that such powerful waves came from there.

Washed out cars lining up the roads

Too many cars to even count

Land is still filled with debris of homes

Pine trees and a lone shrine stand

This used to be an elementary school

Flowers were left where a house once stood

This house was left, still full of belongings

Hang in there, Ishinomaki... but they need more than just words.


Christine said...

This is so heartbreaking. I can't even imagine the devastation they went through.

locohama said...

Great pics!

Eddie said...

Thank you for sharing an insightful personal experience with someone that sounds like an amazing individual. Best wishes to Abe-san.

Have recently been considering making a trip up there (as I will be in Tokyo in a few weeks), but am uncertain about getting about.

Vivian said...

Eddie- Indeed, getting around can be tricky. We rented a car, but if this is impossible I think there are volunteer groups you can join who will have means of transportation. I'll look more into it!

Eddie said...

Thanks Vivian

Simon Norton said...

Hi, great post and photos. I used to be a regular volunteer while living in Japan, with INJM (thanks for posting the link!).

Eddie - if you contact INJM and arrange to volunteer with them, they'll pick you up from Ishinomaki station (easy to get to fro Sendai), provide a place to stay (and awesome food!) and make it very easy for you to help out. They are an awesome group, and you'll be surprised to find you can have such a good time in a disaster zone. If you're thinking about volunteering, Just Do It!

Same goes to anyone else reading this blog - get yourself to Ishinomaki and get stuck in, you won't regret it!

Vivian said...

Hi Simon, thanks for the information! So happy to hear you went, I'd love to hear more about your experience there. I think I'll go back to volunteer for a few days, I was very moved by my visit there.