Today the five of us awoke in our community room. We cleaned up the area, stacking the seat cushions we slept on and prepared for the day. I certainly had no expectation of what was to come. After our morning rituals we met back in the small room and sat around talking story and noshing on the rice balls that were left over from the previous meal. Soon Kimiko and Iku-chan showed up with a breakfast feast.
The previous evening we had stayed up late talking story and they had asked many questions about family, and also about what we liked to eat. I was amazed at how well they had listened. Here was a group of people who are dealing with devastation and yet still they found a way to give back to us. There was hot rice, fresh raw egg and Natto. Just the right portions were brought. Bert said that he did not care for Natto and so he was not obligated to eat it. The other four of us could not help but dig into such a spread. There was cooked egg and cheese with tomato, Hotate or fresh scallop sushi from Mr. Konno’s sea farm. The scallops were so sweet and delicious that it was unmistakably harvested and served in the shell it just occupied. There was also a dish that was new to me, fresh scallops and Konbu seaweed served in a warm broth. Also prepared were miso soup, warabi, homemade yogurt with strawberry jam, honey sweet cantaloupe sliced and ready just for us. Every detail was looked into and the level of care was overwhelming. After breakfast Kimiko served us coffee, just to our liking.
Now was time for payback and we hit the ground running. Our goal for today was to take raw two by fours and turn them into tables the community could use. Mr. Yamada had planned it all out and we quickly found our functions to attain our goal. I measured, Bert ran the saw and Milton assisted by feeding us materials. Mr. Yamada, as foreman, kept us all ticking along and as soon as the first legs were cut Mr. Kimura started to screw them together. Soon, others came and joined our efforts and after several hours where there had been lumber, stood not two tables as originally planned, but three tables, for the community. In a last minute inspiration, Milton and Bert both concluded that if we modified our structures slightly we could produce another table.
Time to paint! We started with the legs and painted them brown and the tops we painted in a bright Baskin and Robbins’ pink (which looked purple to me, but then again I am not allowed to give my thoughts on colors due to my apparent color blindness). Three coats later we all felt satisfied at our accomplishments and proud of our achievements. Milton went on to paint the cubby where the shoes are stored when removed before entering the Community Center, an added bonus.
Once again, out came the food. The previous night Mr. Kimura and Mr. Yamada were talking about “hormone” what I learned was Japanese for Horumaon and means the internal parts of an animal such as the liver, kidneys and intestines. Yes, our new found friends had taken to heart our likings and prepared liver and intestines as a side for us! I am not a huge fan of liver but the deep dark richly flavored gravy gave the dish a delicious, just-one-more-bite appeal. They served it with fresh, locally grown lettuce, and the combination was one that won me over. There was also side pork sliced into thin bite sized pieces and served with fresh out-of-the-ground summer onions and cabbage that was cooked perfectly so that still it was moist yet cooked through. The main entrée was Miso marinated Buta. This is a pork loin that is very similar to the size of a piece of tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) that was char grilled and fantastic! There was also rice balls that Milton called Musubi-Shiba-Zuke, more fresh pickles of cucumber, radish and daikon. For dessert there were rich ruby red tomatoes that were just plucked from the garden and simply sliced. During the meal Kimiko, Mr. Konno’s wife, left the table and sped off to retrieve something. It seems she had remembered a story that Bert had told the previous evening about his first attempt to cook Ika, or squid. Not sure on how to do so he simply seared the entire animal without removing the internals, nasty. Kimiko returned with Ika-no shio-kara. This is miso fermented Ika tentacles that are marinated in the internals of the squid. The flavor is strong yet not overwhelming and surprisingly savory. What a great finish!
After lunch we drove to Mr. Kumagai’s former house right on the edge of the tsunami zone. Mr. Kumagai is a local Jr. High School teacher. Both he and his wife teach. The devastation was overwhelming and about all I could do was just take it in. From Mr. Kumagai’s house all the way to the coast, nothing was left standing. The only thing that told that there once was a community was the slabs of concrete foundations that remained.
On a much brighter note we went up the hillside to where he is currently constructing his new house. The construction of the new house was different from what I am used to seeing state side. Everything was bolted together and the corners are reinforced to provide additional stability. It seems these people are well aware of the forces that can come at a moment’s notice and prepare ahead to make it through. The corners of the walls are all finished lumber and are not only beautiful to look at but add to the overall strength of the house. I left very impressed.