Monday, January 26, 2015

Tsunami 4

Days would go by, but would never be the same. Lunch could be purchased in a convenient store such as 7 eleven. On the way, the bus would stop and we would have time to by it. We could also decide to go to the restaurant and have a nicer meal, even if more expensive (and not that more).
Many restaurants and stores were in those prefabricated temporary buildings, forming shopping centers

Soup from a different restaurant. This was not the only meal, but it was quite good
Over there, eating in those temporary houses was the only option as the town was in ruin.
And this is two years later
There is a tragic story about that building. The day of the tsunami, many people went to take refuge in there.
They went to the first floor, thinking it would be safe (shown below).

Pay attention to the exposed beams ceiling
The wave height was, in this area, about 20 meters, and up to 30 meters in some localized areas. The water reached the level of the exposed beam ceiling bottom, leaving a tiny space of air between the water level and the ceiling. Those, who were not already drowned, swam toward that space trying to get a puff of air. Mothers were holding their child head in that small space, so they could breath, while themselves were drowning. And with their mother no longer supporting them, many of these kids followed the same path... May their soul rest in peace. 
Only those who went on the roof survived
that story was told to me by that man on the right (picture above). 
The torn cage of an elevator. Behind the door, on the right, it is said there is a ghost...
Ground floor
Strange outfits in a solitary ground level room
April was the month of the cherry blossom. The Japanese call that event Haname. The tree are named Sakura. It's a quite nice event that marks the beginning of spring.
It comes later than in Tokyo in this region. 
And yet, we also had a day of snow.

Sometime, after work, I would come to this place to buy some taiyaki (over there they call it by another name, which I forgot). It's a kind of cake with a nice shape, like a fish shape, stuffed with red bean paste. They also stuff it with custard cream which I found yummy. The restaurant was run (and probably still is) by two charming ladies.

I said I would talk about a festival in the previous post, but I'll talk about it next time. That and other stuffs.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Tsunami 3

In 2013, I decided to volunteer again. I contacted a local NGO: Magokoro, based in Tono, a town in the south-west of Morioka in northern Honshu.

Tono, in the circle.
I took a night bus from Ikebukuro, north of Tokyo, and the next day, early in the morning, I arrived in Tono.
Tono is a very nice and lively town in the middle of a large valley.

Even, it looks small from here, over there is quite large
The center was located on the outskirt of the town and was standing near a river. It was quite big.
The lobby (do you see the panels?)
 We were lodged, but we had to get ourself our daily meals.
The men's dormitory
The Tarami (those large rectangles on the floor) were considered to be our bed. One per person. But by then, there were not too many people (15 at most), so we had plenty of space.
In the evening time, they would write on the panels (see the lobby picture) next day daily activities (usually 4 or 5), and we would write our name under the activity we would choose.
The next day, after breakfast, we would meet in front of the center, each of us joining the group of the chosen activity, then we would wait. When the leaders would come, we would first do some fitting exercises (for about 5 to 10mns) and then, they would give a speech about the daily activities (which, of course I would not understand a word). I was the only foreigner, and no one was speaking English (not even to mention French...), and everything was written in Japanese. After two weeks my Japanese improved greatly (but not to the bilingual level).
After the speech, each group would join a minibus, then we would go toward the coast. The center was in Tono, but the disaster area were, of course, on the sea shore.
Tono in the square; in the circle, were we operated
First I worked in a factory treating seaweed (wakame in Japanese).

Here is the factory

 I also dig trench,
And there
This was to plant flower
I washed and waxed the floor of a school gymnasium,
I put a fence around a field, which I dig afterward (not by myself of course),

 I cleared a field,

etc, etc...

Despite the fact that the area has been long cleared of its heavy debris, their was still signs of destruction.

The remain of a government building
The platform of a train station

Next: I will talk about my daily life, some stories and the how the place has become and a festival.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Tsnunami 2

At lunch, we would sit by the lake and enjoy the view.
During a brake, we would go to a nearby place which would offer us some cold tea. despite the hardship they endured, having lost everything for most of them, their spirit remained high. They were so optimistic, so good humored so great. A humbling lesson that I learned. For example, one woman, was planning to make a guest house of her home, when thing who return to 'normality'.
Look at the 2 clocks on the wall, and pay attention to the biggest one
Between 2  and 3 you can see a dark line. This is the top level at which the wave came through that village/
If you think about it, the wave was much smaller than the one that destroyed that school (they're both the same). But, if you remember the Google Earth photo, on my previous article, you could see that the village lies on the mountain side, turning its back on the sea. The area, it faces, is quite wide open. The combination of these two factors shortened the wave height and made it go slower, reducing the destruction. While the school is situated in a narrower area, the wave was then higher and faster (this is, at least, the explanations I understood when I was told about it).

You can see the new and clean temporary road, built only 4 months after the tsunami
This was not just a tsunami, that wiped out the whole coastline of its villages. Actually the land of northeastern Japan collapsed two or three meters down. So, many of the coastal towns were at or below sea level. The people could not live there anymore. They had to be removed to safer ground. The village would be destroyed (I heard of the possibility to move the houses to higher ground).

The small town, opposite side of the lake, was completely destroyed. Some of its houses got wiped out of their foundation and ended up in the lake. In the lake (at the time, I took that photo), there were still some unfounded corpses lying in the bottom (not too many). The lake, after the tsunami, gained in size. 

The river, also, was enlarged. Before, it was only on the left side of the road. But after,  you could see it on the right side.
Volunteers from all around the world
Notice the dead trees around that shrine gate, killed by the sea salt

This car was taken down a roof by that crane
The town on the other side of the lake

Sorry no sound.

After two days, I left. My Japanese friends could not stay any longer. And it was thanks to them, I could come and get into a NGO to help. 

Next: In 2013, I volunteered again for two weeks in the Tono area (near Morioka.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Tsunami 1

We all remember the tragic event that occurred in Japan, on March 11, 2011. That big earthquake, followed by a gigantic tsunami that devastated the country north-east coast and killed so many people and left so many others with nothing .
I was in France when that happened. It was terrible for me to see this happening. For personal reason, I like very much Japan and its people.
In July 2011, I was in Japan, and I decided to volunteer to help the people. I did it twice. First (this) time, two days and a second time in 2013 for over two weeks. 
With a French friend, we went to the north to meet to Japanese friends who also were volunteering. They were living in the Fukushima prefecture, but on the west side, near the mountains, far away from the nuclear power plant. Even though, many people already left the area, and many more, including my friends, left afterward. While there, they showed us a shopping mall, completely empty (it was full, the previous year). 
We left then to Ishonomaki, near Sendai.  This area was one of the hardest hit by the tsunami.

We crossed a radioactive area. We got some iodine pills. In Ishinomaki, we joined a local N.G.O and camped near their site.
This is a refugee camp. Notice how well built and maintained, it is.
Ishinomaki is a big harbor town. It was more preserved from the tsunami, being further west and protected by a eastern peninsula.
Ishinomaki was protected by the mountains, more east. The village, we went to help, is located on upper right end of this photo (at the level of Oppa-wan)
A larger size picture of the area. The village lies exactly where you see that blue hexagonal button marked 238
On the way to go to that village, I could not help to notice the destruction around.

What is left of some houses.
The blue buses carried police. They came to search for more children bodies, still not found.
The two photos above show a school (what's left of it). As you can see, the school is located next to the mountain. It actually between the mountain and the river.
The local tsunami specialists said that, in case of a tsunami alert, it would take about 30mns for the wave to come to the coast and that its size would not be more than 2 or 3 meters high. 
So the teachers, with this in mind, decided to take it easy. The mountain, being that close, they had plenty of time to run toward it and gain the high ground to safety. Instead, they thought it would be tiering to the kids and decided to go to the bridge that was crossing the river next to the school. They got caught by the giant wave (10 to 15 meters high which had a height of up to 30 meters in some areas). 99% of the kids died. The one percent who survived runned to the school roof. The wave reached the school roof, but did not covered it. (Believe me, every time I think about it, my heart is shrinking). 
The 'safety bridge' was also damaged and being repaired when I was there
We arrived in the village.
The village, on the other side of the lake
First, we were assigned to clean a house. but it was almost done when we arrived.
A 150 years old house

Animals were not forgotten

House next door
We were then assigned to another house to clean.

We were putting all the trash into wheelbarrows.

Then we would bring the wheelbarrows over there (above picture) and empty them in those piles. Everything was recycled. One pile for wood, one for metal, one for paper and fabric. 
There were many N.G.O beside ours. Each had a specific house to clean. Often we would go to each other's house to help one another. It was a great time of solidarity. 
The owner of that house (the second house we cleaned) was there trying to help us. But he was a bit spaced out. His wife was there too, silent and smiling to us, watching us clearing her life away. From what I learned about them, it seems that their child was in that school...

Next : second and last part of this (too) short volunteering journey.