I felt that this part of my trip deserved a post on its own, because it is something that is very important to me. Last year, I volunteered with peaceboat in Ishinomaki, a city in the north-east of Japan that was severely destroyed by tsunami that resulted from last year’s 03/11 earthquake.
My experience at the time is described here:
The photos of what it was like are here:
Ishinomaki is in Migayi-ken in Japan:
First we went to see minamisanriku, another town just north of Ishinomaki that also hit the headlines several times last year. It was so strange seeing all the housing foundations still there but no houses – it reminded me of looking out over mayan ruins. After a quick visit we went to see Ishinomaki.
A school now still in Minamisanriku, 1 year and 3 months after the disaster
View of Minamisanriku
How beautiful it’s gotten! All the tiled streets have been cleaned up! And the residents there are still eager to tell people what happened. It turns out that there was a group of volunteers from a university in Tokyo that came and took each tile out, cleaned them one by one, and then reused the ones that were still in good shape. There are clothes shops up and running, bakeries and restaurants. But it’s such a strange mix of what happened and what it is to become. There are still houses half falling down littering the town centre, that have been abandoned but are still strong enough not to have fallen down by itself. There are people building new buildings in the safe areas, whereas a lot of former residents will never return (this is a reference to those still alive). Trying to find some of the places I took photos of last year are either gone, or have had such a make-over they are unrecognisable.
A parking lot in 2011, and a different one in 2012:
The streets of Ishinomaki in 2011 and 2012:
If you walk up the hill where you can look out over the former port of the town, some of your view is blocked by trees that are in full growth, all green and healthy. Weeds also grow resiliently in areas that may never be built up again. How strong nature is! The view that you get from the top is one of an area that has been cleaned up as much as possible, with the appropriate word being ‘possible’. There are still piles of cars that other prefectures refuse to dispose of out by the water, seemingly used as a barricade if another tsunami were to come. Those few houses still standing have been carefully cornered off by screens, and there is still human litter amongst the weeds – a minidisc here, some pills there. The hospital is up and running, and so are the traffic lights, though they flash a steady orange. Amongst all the cars driving around you may also find a bus that now runs through the destroyed part of town. People are so hard to move on – a sign written on a house describing a body found last year has now been painted over, as if it was never written. Back up on the hill a tour bus stops and a big group of Japanese grannies & grandpas get out, touring the destroyed cities in the area. I think that’s a little bit sick really.
VIew in 2011 and 2012:
A house near the port, which was the fully-destroyed part of town:
A factory that had a massive dent high up in its chimney:
The house that painted over the sign:
But it’s not all bad news. The museum for kamen rider, whose author is from Ishinomaki, is undergoing big refurbishments. Kameshichi, the local kimono shop, is looking amazing. These people are very socially active in town, and have been able to get back on their feet amazingly well. The shop looks fantastic, using fabric that managed to survive the tsunami. They now also sell other little trinkets and around the back of their shop they have a big library of very old magazines, as well as 5 ipads and a big imac (sponsored by a Japanese magazine company) free for use by anyone, and that have a big back log of magazines for any interest on them, as well as internet connection. Only in Japan would someone get back on their feet in such style! The shop is named after turtles, as the lady loves turtles. Knowing that most of her collection was washed away, on my travels I sent her some, and they were there! They were displayed in the cabinet! I was so pleased to see that! And they also still had the doll our group of volunteers signed.
The new magazine corner, 2012:
And finally, something that I was most relieved about. Last year we helped out this really sweet, 69-year-old chef who had a fugu (pufferfish) restaurant. At the time no one knew what his plans were: he was staying with different friends every night, borrowing clothes too. He said he was too old to start a new business, but it turns out he’s done it. He’s managed to reopen a restaurant, still fish but probably no expensive fugu, just a little bit further along. I wasn’t able to see him because his shop is only open in the evenings. But just knowing that he’s still doing ok really made me feel happy.
With Toriko-san in 2011:
His old fugu shop:
His new fugu shop!
A short trip, too short. Next time I want to stay for a night or two, and really do some more exploring, revisiting, and remembering.