On the first day of Japan Relief II we woke up early at approximately 4:30 am. We left our hotel which was located near the Asakusabashi station, and met Mr. Yamada at his office, DIYNA City located at Ochanomizu station at 6:00 am. Mr. Yamada, Milton, Troy, and I left his Tokyo office with our pizza party supplies and took a cab to the train station. We boarded the Tohoku Shinkansen (bullet train) Hayate 351, for Ishinoseki, located in the Tohoku region of the Iwata prefecture. We departed the train station and rented a car to go to a coastal city called Rikuzentakata. Rikuzentakata was “wiped off the map” following the tsunami from the Tohoku earthquake. Our destination was a temporary housing community called Rikuzen Takata-shi Yonesaki-cho Kamida Kasetsu Danchi. It is located on the campus of a junior high school called Yonesaki Junior High School.
Upon arriving at the temporary housing community we met with Mr. Konno, the community leader, his and wife. Mr. Konno is a retired government worker who retired a few years before the Tohoku earthquake. His stature was very humble and yet he had a strong grip when we shook hands. Mr. Konno has an aqua farm that harvests scallops and apple/pear orchards. We tried to talk to each other but I could not understand him. Dr. Sato was able to interpret what he said. He was very appreciative that we came to assist.
We also met Iku-chan who is incidentally, Mr. Yamada’s contact and Mrs. Konno’s best friend. Ms. Iku-chan was the busy bee. She was running all over the place and kept asking if everything was okay.
Another person we met was Mr. Yamada’s associate, Mr. Kimura from Tokyo, a master landscape designer. He was very creative in building an oven that we used that night. He took concrete blocks that were lying around and bricks which he brought up from Tokyo and made a simple brick oven in a short period of time. The oven worked perfectly. After the party, he cooled down the oven and threw the bricks back into his SUV. Unfortunately, his SUV broke down at the site and he caught a train ride back with us.
After the introductions, we started preparing for the pizza/spam musubi party. Milton and Mr. Yamada were making spam musubi while Troy, Mr. Kimura, and I were prepping the ingredients for the pizzas. Some of the residents were interested in prepping the food with us.
Iku-chan was very interested in how to make spam musubi. She and a few other ladies jumped at volunteering to make over 80 musubi. I had an opportunity to go to Iku-chan’s house to cook the spam. The temporary homes are modular and consist of an entryway/kitchen, family room, bedroom, and bathroom. It was about the size of a two car garage. In her humble home I felt very… humble standing in the kitchen. The space was approximately 4ft x 6ft. Unfortunately I am not a cook so after the women watched me try to cook spam they graciously took the cooking chopsticks away from me and pushed me out of the kitchen. They motioned me with their hands as if they were shooing me away and said “daijobu”. I got their notion and left.
After the food was cooked, we made over fifty pizzas and 80 musubi, the residents gathered in the parking lot to eat. The ages of the people ranged from infants to elderly. I would guess that at least 100 people attended the party. All the residents were happy to see us. We identified ourselves and shared our interest in helping them. We shared our food and mingled with the residents. I was lucky to meet more people and we all had some laughs. We were lucky to have a translator in our presence. Dr. Sato is a psychologist stationed nearby from the Yokohama City who assisted people with PTSD (post tsunami stress disorder). She heard that a group of “gaijins” (foreigners) were in the area, so she paid us a visit. We were very fortunate to have her along as she jumped right in when we had language challenges. She was very grateful that an American company would travel all the way from United States to assist the local people.
After the wonderful party we headed to an onsen, public bath, to clean up. This was the first time for me and I did not know what to expect (Milton was joking with me to use a small towel). The bath was very relaxing. The water was hot but not scalding. The onsen was located on the coast with the ocean less than 100 yds away and the view from there was beautiful. I, being the humble guy, kept my head down, but occasionally I would catch a local watching me. Later we moved to our hotel, a blue trailer that was also used as the community center. The trailer was clean and had a laminated floor with the only furniture being tables. The Japanese people use pillows to sit on instead of chairs.
Time for dinner! We were served the most incredible meal. Everything was fresh! The scallops came from the bay and the potatoes came from their gardens. I have never seen food like this before and it was every bit as delicious as it looked (the home cooked meal tasted so much better than the restaurants we ate at). Earlier that day, Iku-chan asked me what type of Japanese food I like so I said soba. She remembered and brought us all soba for dinner. I was very humbled and grateful. I did not expect to be treated like a king and it gave me warm feelings inside. The Japanese residents were more concerned with our well being than their current situation. The infrastructure is poor, the roads are in disrepair and structures are mostly dilapidated and need to be demolished. Apparently the debris piles are getting smaller but at what rate I wonder. The areas that were barren are now covered in weeds and the once productive rice fields were destroyed because the salt water has flooded the previously fresh water fields. I heard earlier that day the government informed the residents that they would have to vacate the community next April. I can’t ponder where they will go.
Overall, our group was sad and felt we could do so much more; but also happy that we did do something. Although what we did was small, it was well received. This trip has touched our hearts. I know it has made a permanent mark on me. I will never forget this opportunity.
That particular night was an eventful one. We had five men sleeping on the wooden floor. There was just enough room to turn over a couple times before you encroached in someone’s personal space. The traveling made us weary. We had a busy day and some of us knocked out shortly after the lights were turned off. Unfortunately, we also had three snorers. I hope I didn’t keep Milton up too much.