Today was spent in the Minamisanriku area of Tohoku (refers to northeast), one of the most heavily hit areas of the earthquake and tsunami. Japan’s Honshu (main land mass) Island northeast section has many bays. The Japanese describe the coastline like that of a saw blade with many points and pockets. When the tsunami hit, these pockets acted like funnels that siphoned the water deep into the valleys causing all the massive destruction.
We took two trucks full of supplies and visited about 6 or 7 different sites. We had a scout, Ryuichi, that helped us find each location. Each time we stopped to do a drop-off, we spent time speaking with the head of household and Chad or one of his volunteers would sometimes hold a prayer as well. Each location showed gratitude and were happy to see the greatly needed supplies. There was never hoarding and people basically asked for what they needed. The faster items picked up were the red Ace 33 gal trash can and Ace buckets. So if you happen to see a news clip from this area and see a red Ace trash can (‘must be American size, so big’), you will know where it came from!
Two interesting people we met were Uechi-san (maybe late 60’s) and Mr Sato (Sato-san, 70’s). Uechi-san was living in a community that helped people that lost their homes and/or families. Uechi-san lost her entire family (husband, children, & grandchildren). She related her story of how the wave came, the terrible sound it made, and how she survived (it was emotional for all of us). She told us that she was tossed out of her house while everyone remained. She thought she was going to die, but she somehow landed on her feet and scrambled up hill as fast as she could. She said the water going back into the sea was worse than the wave that brought the water. She was with her mother (90’s) whose body was found a few days later.
Mr Sato (the unofficial community leader) was Uechi-san’s guardian angel and took her in, as well as many of the same circumstance, to the community where she became the chief cook. The cooking helped her cope with her losses. Mr. Sato also lost his sister, so he must know how deep a loss people like Uechi-san have. As we were getting ready to leave, she ran into the center and brought out something cold to drink for all of us. Almost every place we stopped they would offer a drink or something which we couldn’t refuse. Uechi-san will be moving into an interim housing very shortly, we were lucky to have met her.
Tomorrow we are returning to Minamisanriku to continue looking up the list of sites we missed from today. There will be at least 6 places we need to go besides those that we just stopped and asked if they could use some of the things we had to offer.
This was probably the most inspiring day, filled with many stories, people struggling for a sense of normalcy and the reality of seeing mass destruction everywhere. It’s still hard to take it in one breath. They also had a huge mound of debris at Minamisanriku and someone in our group said that besides all the belongings, businesses and dreams that have piled up there; the spirit of all those lost are still within the debris. The spirituality of our group helps to temper all that we’re taking in.