About two weeks ago I went up to Miyagi-ken (Yonekawa base) with three other Japanese students from the Sophia Volunteer Network. You probably all remember the great earthquake, tsunami, and following destruction of March 2011, but not heard much news recently. I learned a bit about how much work was still left to be done and decided to volunteer.
Unfortnately I do not have any photos to share because there was some rules againt photography, but I wish I could show you. It was amazing and really, a photograph wouldn't capture what you feel being there and seeing it all yourself.
Driving to the base, I saw scenery just like my hometown in Hillsboro, Oregon; there were trees and then fields and farms, then residential areas, then lots of shops like downtown, then more houses and trees - then nothing.
It was so sudden. I didn't register at first what I was seeing outside my window. There was no sign or blockade or gate or "entrance" of any kind. The landscape went from normal, untouched towns to the wreakage of the tsunami. Keep in mind this is well over a year and a half after the actual incident. There were cranes moving giant pieces of rubble and buildings' walls and unreckognizable cars. Nearby were hills and rises with groups of houses completely unharmed by the tsunami, sticking out like safe islands in the sea of debris and destruction all around. Apart from some tents and a quickly built 7 Eleven meant to supply the workers, there were no structures along the road. Just endless endless rubble, cranes, and foundation outlining where buildings once were.
We worked from morning to afternoon that Saturday and Sunday. Saturday rained but was much warmer than Sunday, when I got really sick. The cold and soberness were paired with after-work visits to onsen (hot springs bath) and vans that would drive past full of old women shouting or singing into megaphones thanking the volunteers for our work and encouraging us despite the early hours and weather conditions.
Our actual work was sorting through the smaller debris, leftover in houses after the cranes removed all the bigger pieces away. Most the time we had no idea what this little piece of glass or that little piece of blue plastic could've once been, but every once in a while we'd find mostly intact bits of someone's life that made me appreciate what we were doing. Some of my discovereries that left an impression were:
- an intact jar of salmon pieces that looked exactly like the one my host family brings out every night for dinner to put with our rice
- a DVD case and DVD of a rainforest animal documentary
- an entire, intact china cup wrapped in a cloth
- an umbrella
- and a small figure of a man playing a trumpet on a unicycle.
That weekend really put my life into perspective and has made me appreciate the fortune of my friends, my family, and myself - a thing I think everyone should reflect on this holiday season instead of getting annoyed that your parents keep nagging you about laundry (or if your kids keep ignoring you).
Thanks for reading (again, I'm sorry there were no photos to break up the wordiness) - and Happy Holidays from Tokyo!