On September 12 and 13, I joined Peace Boat relief activities in Ishinomaki. This was my fifth trip to the Tohoku region and the second one with Peace Boat. Having joined different volunteer tours, I have found that Peace Boat offers the most well-organized, efficient, and volunteer-friendly operation that involves unforgettable exchanges with the local people who survived through the earthquake and tsunami disasters.
The place where I worked with 11 other volunteers was Oginohama on Oshika Peninsular, about a 40 min. drive form the central Ishinamaki area. Oginohama is known for its oyster cultivation. This fishing village had grown oysters and even exported the young oyster shells outside Japan, until it was struck by the earthquake and tsunami on March 11.
Peace Boat and other organizations’ volunteers started cleaning up the Oginohama port at the beginning of the summer. They also collected the fishing and aquaculture tools and equipment that had been scattered everywhere, so the fishermen can reuse them. Thanks to earlier volunteers’ work we did not have to carry heavy sludge or debris and were able to walk around the port easily and safely. The port ground, however, became sunken due to the earthquake. During high tide, the ship landing area and nearby workshop were completely flooded. This was the time when we had to terminate our work on both days.
I and two other women worked inside the workshop, making loops to hook to the buoys for growing “wakame” seaweed. Although the Oginohama fishermen had been growing oysters, they have to give up the next cultivation as they lost most of their oyster shells. In order to survive as fishermen, they are now going to grow seaweed as well, because it can be harvested 6 months earlier than oysters. While making 1000 loops, we had a great opportunity to speak with the fishermen.
The fishermen were at first, very quiet and reserved to speak to us. But gradually, they began talking about what they were doing individually on March 11 and how the life at the evacuation center was. One of them was rescued while he was drifting on a boat, and the other still has a nightmare of being swallowed by the black cold tsunami. When they realized that they lost their oyster farms, they felt utterly hopeless about continuing their business. However, they were encouraged by volunteers who came everyday to clean up the port, hoping that they could help the fishermen resume fishing and aqua cultivation as quickly as possible. One week before our arrival, they celebrated an annual fishery festival with help of Peace Boat volunteers. They carried a “mikoshi” (portable shrine) and pulled floats for maritime safety and great catch of fish and seafood.
As the life of fishermen is slowing returning to normal, their smiles are coming back. In their Miyagi dialect the fishermen told us that they would welcome us back in spring when the seaweed is grown and in autumn when oysters are harvested. What they had gone through at the time of the disaster was beyond my imagination, but they are now ready to share with us their past experiences and talk about promising events in the future tense. Their resilient spirit moved and encouraged me so much. We made 1000 loops of rope in two days and I believe that each loop is blessed with our thoughts for the resting souls of the victims and the strong recovery of the Tohoku region the way 1000 cranes represent prayers.
Akiko Shimada, Tokyo