I am surprised about how much work was done in the six months that I wasn’t in Ishinomaki. Some places were totally cleaned up and a lot of temporary shopping malls and restaurants are now properly built. It is always impressive to see how fast and efficiently Japanese people work. I believe I wouldn’t see that kind of progress in any other country.
But still, it is obvious that an enormous amount of work still needs to be done. Many places remain as they were a year ago and even in March we were still clearing sludge from houses.
I took on more of a leadership role this time but I do not think that being a leader impacts your work. Of course as a bilingual leader I had to translate but other than that we always worked as a team. Everyone was looking out for each other and taking care of each other.
Last September, when I visited Ishinomaki, I noticed that there was some kind of a turning point for the fishermen there. I was able to participate in a festival in Oginohama. Before this, many fishermen had given up hope and never wanted to work again. But at the festival we were told to come back next year and eat their fish. Now, I don’t feel much despair among the fishermen anymore. I am amazed by their strength and determination to get back to where they left off.
I talked to some people who lost their houses and workplaces but no one from their family. Even though everything they owned was washed away, every single person was grateful that they did not lose someone. They all seemed to be at peace with everything that has happened.
One thing that bothers me is that, in some areas, the government has not decided whether people will be able to rebuild their houses. It’s been over a year but some people still don’t know if they will be able to go back to their homes.
To be honest I don’t know what to expect or what I want to achieve when I next visit the area. I just hope I can make a difference for the people in Ishinomaki, even if it is just something small, and let them know that the world has not forgotten about them.
This was originally posted on the blog of volunteer Suzanne Jensen – please view her web site for the full entries and more information and photographs.
Because of these memories, and because I have lived here and experienced “the kindness of strangers” so often in this country, I resolved early on that when I returned to Japan I would join in the relief efforts and do all I could to give back some of what I have been given.
Achieving this goal took more time than I liked, and involved a search among a number of groups to find one that I could work with. Finally I found Peaceboat, which is making a point of including foreigners living in Japan, providing English information and interpretation, and putting foreigners together in small working groups.
The planning meeting was held on May 28, and the departure is June 3 (today!). We will be going to Ishinomaki, a small coastal town not far from Matsushima. On March 11, the tsunami came roaring up the Kitakami River, wiping out most of the town, several schools (one school lost 75% of its students), and even some of the emergency shelters where many people had gone after the earthquake.
As I put the finishing touches on this page, my 20-kilo mountaineering back pack (Jack Wolfskin: Born to be wild, it says on its front side. More like, Born to be an over-burdened pack animal, I say), my knee-high construction boots, head lamp, protective clothing, face masks, and my rolling carrier packed with all the food, utensils and cooking gear I think I will need for 8 days (how hard it is to estimate that!) waiting for me at the door. On site, we will be provided with goggles, hard hats, steel insoles for our boots, and protective gloves. Once we get there, we will not be able to bathe, drinking and cooking water will be closely rationed, there will be no electricity, and no access to supermarkets or any other conveniences. The only amenity still available, as far as I can see, will be cell phone service. If I wonder how I can survive 8 days of hard labour (we already know we will be on “mud busting” detail) under these conditions, I only have to remind myself that the people of Ishinomaki have been trying to get through their days every day for almost 3 months under these conditions.
From now until the end of the trip, I will be making posts through cell phone email. If they are rough in appearance or written expression, have pity. There is no doubt I will be doing the posts at the end of a long day…
Tokyo-based nanobiotechnology researcher Ellie Banwell’s report about her time volunteering in Ishinomaki was originally posted on her blog here.
Aaaaaand we’re back…
Sorry the moblogging stopped abruptly after 3 days, it turned out my pathetic little solar charger was NOT man enough for the job of charging my phone and so after 3 days, that was that.
Reading back what I wrote at the time; it’s not very positive sounding. I strongly suspect that has far more to do with the time of day I was writing (before 6am, bleh) than any actual unhappiness because, looking back on it, the week I spent in Tohoku was, quite simply, the best week of my life so far. It’s too hot for me up there now so I won’t be going back for a couple of months, but come October and you just try and keep me away.
Here’s the story:
Etsuko Nakamura volunteered with Peace Boat as a bilingual group leader in Ishinomaki from May 13, and will be returning again from July 1. This post is taken from her blog Tokyofoodcast – from the original page you can also see links to more ways you can support Tohoku (and how Etsuko is continuing to support!), as well as video and photo blogs by her fellow volunteers.
In my previous post from May, I reported Tokyo is back to normal. You may find the streets of Tokyo a bit dimmer than before, but the city is as busy and lively as ever. Ads for cars, laundry soap, and medicine have come back to primetime TV and sake events bring in big, enthusiastic crowds. It’s as if the time of self-restrain imposed by one city official never happened. I am so happy to see Tokyo in a state of what makes this vibrant city so attractive and truly hope it stays that way for a long time.
At the same time, I still tear up thinking how the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami changed so many people’s life in wide coastal areas of northern Japan. After one week of volunteer work with Peace Boat in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, and meeting locals, I think of how much more needs to be done. For me, the tsunami is no longer a remote devastating disaster we watched on TV. It has became real to me. Two months after the disaster, the impacted area of the huge fishing town were not anywhere close to normal. We cleared debris and mud from heavily damaged houses and unclogged seemingly bottomless gutters filled with stinky sludge. Recovery seemed impossible, or seemed so far away as to be unreachable in any foreseeable future. But, it has to happen.
Holly Thompson is a professional fiction writer and lecturer at Yokohama City University, where she teaches creative writing, academic writing, short stories and American culture. Holly spent a week volunteering in Ishinomaki with Peace Boat during Golden Week, and has posted day by day accounts of her experiences. Visit her blog here for dozens of photographs and detailed information about volunteer conditions and daily activities including clearing mud, debris and fish to support the recovery of tsunami-devastated Ishinomaki.
“I know that many of us who volunteered with Peace Boat during Golden Week will return to help again. The experience of working as teams, meeting volunteers from all over Japan and the world, working directly with very appreciative locals, and seeing progress day by day was life changing. We are keenly aware that many hands make, if not light work, lighter work, and that continued help and support is desperately needed in Ishinomaki, and in the many cities and small towns up and down the coast of Tohoku.
If you are able-bodied, live in or can visit Japan, please consider volunteering with Peace Boat. Tohoku definitely needs your help. “
Michael Valliant, 32, who has been living in Japan for one year, volunteered as part of Peace Boat’s emergency relief operations team. Having worked previously in a 911 centre (combined fire, paramedic and police centres as well as a department of emergency management); Michael had some experience of working in disaster situations. Graciously he agreed to answer a few questions about his experience.
What was your first impression when you arrived in Ishinomaki?
We didn’t see the bad part of town until after we had been there a few days. Initially where we were was a broken city, but it didn’t look like what we had seen on the news. People were cleaning out their businesses and getting life going again. It seemed it wasn’t as bad as we had been told. At the waterfront we saw the worst of it. My impression changed, this was a totally destroyed city.
I saw shoes with broken straps on them; I saw a lot of those. The straps wouldn’t break unless someone was wearing them.
After a week of tough work in the houses and streets of Ishinomaki, I feel extremely satisfied.
Compared to the total amount of mud, debris and devastation it is hardly anything that our group achieved, but for the people whose homes we cleaned, where we made sidewalks accessible again or making gutters or sewers flow again we did a great job.
Moreover, the joint work with our group but also the joint spirit of the whole Peace Boat corps made it a very worthwhile experience.
I am seriously considering to go to help Ishinomaki one more week, since the people in this area really need our support badly. And at the end of the week I really started to appreciate the gymnastic exercises in the morning!