After a few hours of sleep, we met Mr. Yamada at his office at 4:45 am. We packed up all of our bags and ice chests and headed to Tokyo station for a 6:00 am departure to Ishinoseki. Upon arrival, we got our car and headed to Rikuzentakata. Keiko Kikuchi drove up to Ishinoseki from Sendai to help transport our group.
There was much anticipation for all of us. It was the first trip for many (Kurt, Derek, kumu Mele, Lindsay, Emma, Karly and Kikuchi-san) except for me and Mr. Yamada. As we approached Rikuzentakata, it looked like nothing much had changed since last year. Yet, as we got closer, you saw that the land was being prepped for construction and pillars were being placed for a future highway that would run parallel to the coast. This was such a positive sign for me, that things were finally moving forward!
We made a short stop at the local super market to purchase the fresh produce needed to complete our menu for the luau. When we arrived at the community housing site, we were told that dinner would start an hour earlier than originally planned. Suddenly, it became like the Iron Chef, where we had to complete dinner within a certain (very short) time frame. We now had four hours to prepare dinner for about 150 people! In addition to cooking, kumu Mele and her dancers had to do a performance and we all had to attend a tea ceremony. Finally, the Hawaiian luau was the culmination of a day of ceremony, where individuals were being recognized for their support or skills (making finished products) that helped the people in this temporary housing unit.
What an accomplishment! We were able to finish the cooking and setting up of the room within minutes of the 4 pm deadline. We prepared a Hawaiian feast of chicken long rice, lomi salmon, kalua pig with cabbage, tako poke, ahi poke, poi, spam musubi, fresh pineapple, guava juice and cookies!
Five people from a beer distributor (Akeboshi Company) in Tokyo made the 9 hour drive and arrived just as we started serving dinner. They were giving out beer and the free drinks definitely added to the festive atmosphere. After serving most of the people, Mele and her dancers changed and performed several songs for the group. The men had huge smiles on their faces and many of the women stood up and joined the group in doing the hula. Before long, the karaoke machine magically appeared and the singing lasted through the night. It was so rewarding to hear the loud laughter and see smiling faces. Having come here for the past few years, I could not have imagined they’ve come this far! So many of them interacted with us and although most of us do not understand Japanese, we were still able to communicate and establish a special bond together.