It's hard to believe that our trip has come to an end. It seems like only yesterday that we received last minute confirmation that we were officially invited to the UCCJ Tohoku Disaster Center. We hurriedly held logistical meetings, had a few fundraiser lunches, listened to language CDs, and off we were... and now the team is somewhere over the Pacific and headed to Sacramento as I type. I'm here for another 24 hours to visit with family and will return on Saturday morning. While our trip is ending, our mission continues. We have a great responsibility ahead of us to convey from our perspective how the recovery is progressing in the Tohoku region. We hope that despite an hour less of sleep, you'll join us at 1 PM (doors open at 12:30 PM) at the church on Sunday for an overview of our trip at the Sharing Hope: Japan 1 Year Later event.
Thank you again to each and every one of our supporters. Whether you thought about us, prayed for us, provided UMVIM training, donated money, bought fundraising lunch tickets, scooped rice and chili, helped boil water for our spaghetti and serve it, asked us questions, encouraged us, lent us warm clothes, made gifts for us to take, provided us with Japanese culture lessons, aired our story on the radio in Japan and the US, included our story in the newsletter, lent us cell phones, provided us with no or low cost housing, made sure that we were comfortable, fed us, sang with us, translated documents, looked up train schedules, provided us with leftover yen, read and/or commented on our blog, helped to process our paperwork and communicate with individuals in Japan, provided insurance coverage, provided us with updates from Japan, talked to us about our trip while in Japan, allowed us take extended time off of work, covered tasks in our absence, found alternate care for your kids, supported our loved ones while we were away, dog sat, and much, much more, one thing continues to be clear: this trip could not have been successful without your gracious support. We and the people of Tohoku thank you.
WE THANK YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF OUR HEARTS.
The team is safely back in Tokyo after our last morning at the UCCJ Tohoku Disaster Center. We were able to go and do morning calisthenics again at the temporary shelter, where we also had tea before saying goodbye. I hope that when another team comes back, these residents are able to have moved to a more permanent housing situation.
Before returning to the Center from the temporary housing site, we were able to see Arahama Bay again for a final view of the tsunami affected area. There, Shibata san asked us to never forget the events of 3.11.11. and to consider returning not just next year, but the year after, and in five years and ten years. He is worried like many others, that the general public will forget about the disasters and the on-going recovery.
We spent the Shinkansen ride from Sendai to Tokyo reflecting on how we will convey all of the information we have soaked in during our mission trip. We look forward to seeing everyone on Sunday and sharing our observations.
The team is split for the next 24 hours. Paul is showing the team around Tokyo and I am spending some time catching up with my family. The team will come to my parent's home tomorrow night for a closing dinner before heading back home on Friday.
Thanks for following our journey through this blog and keeping us in your thoughts and prayers.
Today we went to a new work location - Maiami Bay. It was about an hour away from Ishinomaki, in the Oshika area which is known for its whaling. During the drive we passed through several areas along the coast where only the foundations remained. At Maiami Bay, we were given instructions to pick debris out of the sand and put them into various bags (burnable, non-burnable, glass, ceramic, wood, metal). There were about 20 other volunteers from a different organzation at the worksite. We were told that the number of volunteers coming to this site has been decreasing so we were happy to be there to help, even if it was only for the day.
On the way back, we stopped at Oshikanorengai, a temporary mall in the Oshika region. There were only a few shops that were open while we were there. Mary and I each bought a t-shirt that says "Ganbattecha" which is the local way of saying "Hang in there, endure, persevere." It also has a picture of the peninsula where we worked.
As we approached Ishinomaki, we could see piles of debris which included cars stacked three high, appliances, and wood. Having seen the extent of the devastation and hearing about victims who want to rebuild but cannot because they were not given permission, it raises more questions in my mind. Where will they live? What will happen to the area? What will they do with all of this debris? I'm only one person so what can I do to help them? Coming here has taught me how large of an area was hit by the tsunami. I hope to provide some perspective on the magnitude of the Tohoku tsunami. If a similar tsunami hit the coast of California, all of the coastline from San Francisco to Los Angeles would be affected.
... the snow and rain let up today and we were able to go out and work in the community. I was with Joyce, so I won`t repeat what she wrote on her blog below. I just wanted to mention a few more things about what we did and what we saw today.
*The work we did today - replacing shoji screen paper and repairing fusuma covers was incredibly culturally specific and once again work that can only be done by hand. While our group of 8 felt like we had accomplished what were tasked to do - replace 12 or so screens and covering of a fusuma door - it`s difficult to think about our impact on a physical scale when we drive past an area that lost 800 or so homes. There is so much more to be done that we could send a group from the church every year for the next 10 years, and there would still be more to do.
*The home we were in was an old farm style house. As Joyce said, there were personal belongings left where you could imagine how lively this home was when the residents lived here. Sadly, an elderly resident of the home passed away during the tsunami. 5 or so others are waiting to return, but are unable to until carpenters repair some of the structural damage. Home owners have waited 8+ months for carpenters to become available to repair their home.
*Only some of the neighbors of Sasayashiki (the neighborhood we were in) have return to live there. The staff mentioned that those that have returned are so lonely that when the staff stop in on them, the residents often can talk for hours.
*We drove past a foundation of a home where the Center had once done work. In May, there was significant damage and the homeowner, thinking that the neighborhood would be determined to be uninhabitable, tore down his house. After he tore down his home, he received word that he could remain living in the neighborhood.
*One of the images that left the most impression on me today was a tsunami evacuation route sign that was toppled over and mangled on the ground. It was near the ocean and indicated that should a tsunami warning be in effect, that one should evacuate to the local elementary school about a mile away. As we drove by the elementary school, staff told us that the sea water came to the second level and parents and children and teachers had to evacuate to the third floor and eventually the roof, where they were rescued by helicpoters. The elementary school parking lot was now filled with motorcycles that had been found in the debris. The children now attend different schools with different friends. Families and neighbors are spread apart and it`s difficult to know how they will maintain a community.
*Joyce mentioned the pine trees that had been growing as a wind barrier from the ocean. The pine trees were so thick that before the tsunami, you could not see the ocean. Now, only the thin ones were left. We were told that for some residents of Arahama, they did not realize how close they lived to the ocean until the trees were taken down by the tsunami. Their neighborhood has now been determined as uninhabitable.
*As we walked towards the beach, I saw utility poles that were snapped in half. Cement utility poles. Waves at this beach were probably 10 m high. North of here in Rikuzentakata and Ofunato, it is said that waves were 30 m high.
*Up a ways from where we were standing is a Kirin Beer brewery. Many things including beer kegs washed up in the river which flooded and the kegs among other personal items were stolen during the chaos following the tsunami.
*While some homes were left standing following the tsunami, the first floor of many are uninhabitable. As we drove around, we saw many with blue tarps hanging to protect them from the elements.
*Roads continue to be uneven and under repair.
*Rice paddies and fields were innundated with salt water. In an effort to remove the water, bulldozers were used. Farmers are now upset as the bulldozers also removed the rich top soil. As far as I could tell, nothing was growing.
*On a more positive note, I spoke with one of the staff who has been working here since May and asked him what the most significant change he has seen over that time. After some thought, he indicated that in May, people were helpless. There were many problems and no solutions. Now, despite continuing challenges, people seem to at least be moving forward. They have an understanding that while the pace/progress might be slow, there is progress one step at a time. He felt that was a good thing. I`ve seen bits and pieces that also give me hope about the future here. It will take time, but I know that Japan and the Tokhoku region will endure.
It`s hard to believe that our journey is nearing its end. Tomorrow morning we`ll return to do Calisthenics/ministry of presence with those who are living in temporary housing. Rumor has it that they missed us the day after we were there and asked us to come back again. The Center is accomodating us specially so that the six of us can spend the morning there. Then we`re off to Tokyo! The Ishinomaki crew has returned, so I`m goign to see how they are doing and hopefully you`ll read about their adventures soon. Thanks for your on going support!
Yuri, Betty and I went to a home to repair shoji doors today. Since it was raining, the Center drove us to the worksite. Even after the disaster, the home we were at is a beautiful one.
We stripped the old paper and glue off the frames before gluing new paper in place. We also helped to replace the decorative covering of doors. While Betty and I worked with other volunteers to glue paper, Yuri helped repair and recover the door panels. While in the home, I couldn`t help but notice personal pictures in one of the rooms. I thought that even though I contribute so little to the restoration of the home, I am helping this one family return to their family home.
After we finished work for the day, we drove towards Arahama Bay. As we entered the devastated area, the Center staff person driving said that this area once consisted of 700 - 800 homes. As we drove, all that was visible were the foundations. As I looked at foundation after foundation, I thought about the pictures on the wall of the home we had just left and thought each foundation has a family. Tall trees line the coast just before the beach. The portion of the trees below the tsunami water line were dead but the trees looked alive above that. I`m not very good at estimating distances but I think it must have been about 25-30` above the ground. The restroom building was still standing. The force of the ocean created a huge hole in the ground in front of and beside the building. It was maybe 10` wide and 8` deep.
The ocean waves crested and fell as it has every other time I`ve looked at a beach. As I stood there looking inland with my back to the sea, I thought of the power of nature and the cost to the people of the Tohoku region.
The staff person pointed out smoke in the distance. He said that it was from the burning of debris. In my Ishinomaki entry, I mentioned the sorted debris piles and received a question regarding potential recycling. The Ishinomaki staff person said that they are still in the process of determining disposal for all the waste. But, I`m sure that if anything can be recycled, it will be. I`m still trying to figure out how trash is sorted here. I think I counted 7 containers for trash downstairs in the Center kitchen. There`s plastic, burnables, food scraps... I`m not even sure what some of them are. It takes some real thought for me to throw something away.
Since we were driven to and from the worksite and it`s our last full day, I`ll miss out on the opportunity to ride one of the center bikes. The last time I could have was last night. We went to the public bath. But, since it snowed most of the morning and rained in the afternoon, we decided to walk and cab instead of biking. Part of me feels that I`m missing part of the experience. But, after Yvonne`s adventure, the rest of me feels fortunate.
We finished dinner and are waiting for the others to return from Ishinomaki.
Today was a day to test our flexibility as volunteers as we woke up to heavy snow and plans to work outdoors were halted. Mary, Paul, and Yvonne left for Ishinomaki while Betty, Joyce and I remained at Sendai. Among other things, it was determined that volunteers were needed to help shovel snow. Crews were sent out to various sites. Our team of three remained near the center to clear the area there. Other volunteers were sent out to help a survivor with storage needs while another crew was sent out to help clean an area (set up by the ecumenical organization Tohoku Help) where residents bring items for radiation testing. Mothers who are nursing have their breast milk tested as well as the urine of their young children. Others bring food. When I asked staff about how many people actually used the facility, he stated that probably not too many people know of it.
He also relayed the following story: Staff at the UCCJ Tohoku Disaster Center where we are staying, had received a box of apples from Fukushima Prefecture - infamous for its destroyed nuclear power plant. In the box was an official note indicating that the apples had been tested for radiation and had met the limit of what was acceptable to consume per the government. They cut the apples up and all were enjoying a few slices when a staff member decided to go next door to test one of the remaining apples. The staff relayed that there was an acceptable range of radiation per kilogram, but that the one apple exceeded the kilogram range. He laughed a little at the end when he said the he was radiation man, but he was also seriously stating that he had been exposed to radiation because he believed the message issued by the officials. It made me wonder about how many others had consumed the apples (or similar products) with the errouneous message.
From Joyce and Yvonne: After the service that Mary mentioned, we took the local train to Matsushima. This line sustained serious damage during the tsunami. Today, the train stops at Matsushima and passengers wishing to continue the route must do so by bus. We heard that Matsushima is one of the top 3 scenic sights in Japan. There are about 260 islands in the bay. Another reason we wanted to go to Matsushima was because we learned that tourism is down so we wanted to contribute to the local economy.
It was a cold, clear day. After we arrived we took the boat cruise (50 min). In order to get a better view, we stood on the back deck. Other passengers were feeding the seagulls by holding out shrimp chips. The seagulls would swoop close to the boat and snatch the chip from the person's hand. It was like a scene from Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds."
After the cruise we had ramen for lunch. Joyce tried the wakame ramen (noodles) which also had the famous oysters from Matsushima Bay. She, Yuri and Mary all enjoyed this special ramen. We continued to contribute to the local economy by shopping for souvenirs and snacks. In one shop, the store owner started talking with Yuri about how the tsunami affected him and his shop. We took a picture of Paul standing next to the water line at the tenegui and senbei shop. Paul and Mary bought the original Zundamochi (a type of soy bean mochi that Sendai is known for). Yvonne and Mary each bought a Hagi no Tsuki (Paul said it was very popular and said it was kind of like a twinkie). As we were leaving we went to buy some Taiyaki (waffle with tsubu an in the middle - these were in the shape of a fish) and since it was closing time, she gave us their remaining taiyaki. That was very kind of her to do.
After returning to Sendai, we had dinner at Rikyu which is famous for their Gyutan (another Sendai delicacy). Gyutan is beef tongue. Everyone tried it and seemed to like it. Yvonne thought it tasted like steak. It was a wonderfully relaxing day that rejuvenated us so that we could return to work tomorrow.
Looks like I was signed in as Joyce when I wrote this. This is Yuri:
I feel very blessed to be on this mission trip translating for such an important cause. As we travel as a group, we sometimes get quizzical looks from people about who we are, where we're from, and what we're doing. As we answer the questions, they often lead to further questions about how it is that I live in the U.S. and speak Japanese. (For those who don't know, I was born in Japan, but have only lived there for three years in my childhood. From age 7 on, I have lived in the US. I kept up my Japanese through my family life and involvement in Japanese Saturday School, which I disliked then, but appreciate now.) Traveling with this group has offered many opportunities to enter into conversations with people that I might not converse with if I were traveling on my own or with my Japanese speaking family and friends in Japan.
In Matsushima today, a store owner took interest in the group as we were sightseeing/shopping on our day off. He began asking the standard questions and we shared that we were volunteers. As the others shopped, he pulled out a photo album from a drawer and shared photos of what his store looked like after the tsunami. His inventory was all of the floor, muddied and ruined. Dressers and shelves were knocked over. He shared that the photos were taken when the electricity came on a week after the tsunami around the time that the water receded. Until then, the water was about 3+ feet high. He talked about the months it took to get his store back in a condition good enough to open. Matsushima was actually "lucky" as it was protected somewhat by the Bay. Most of the buildings along the coast are still standing, although we did see several going under construction from earthquake or tsunami damage.
As we sat and talked by the heater, I asked if he would be willing to say anything into our Capital Public Radio recorder we were carrying around. Although initially shy, he agreed and said a few things. First, he shared that about 1500 children in a three-prefecture area had lost a parent or both parents in the tsunami and asked that we do what we can to support these young people as they grow up. Secondly, he shared that he was very appreciative of America's joint forces responding to the disaster and hoped that America and Japan continue to be friendly nations to promote peace in this world. Thirdly, he wanted to convey that Japan is safe and open for travel and encouraged people to come and visit - he will be waiting.
At a taiyaki (fish shaped cake w/sweet red bean curd) store, the woman saw one of the members fumbling around to get the correct change to buy a couple of taiyaki for the group. She explained that unfortunately, the selection was limited due to closing time. We chatted a little about the group being from California, bought a couple and walked away from the booth before returning to take a photo by the lit store. When we walked towards the store, she called us back and said that since they were closing they would give us the five remaining ones for free. I know that I haven't encountered free taiyaki giveaways when traveling Japan on my own ( :
Whether it's the woman Yvonne encountered at the bath, the souvenir shop owner who helped Mary find a "Ganbare Tohoku" t-shirt, the greeter at church, or others we have met along the way, everyone has been very open and very appreciative about the volunteer efforts to help the Tohoku region. It's been an honor to be able to translate these words back and forth and to experience Japan in a different way.
On a side note, I traveled through this region 4 years ago and stayed in a small town a few stops from Matsushima called Nobiru, which I had read had been hard hit by the tsunami. I have been trying to find out more information about it as I had stayed in an inn right along the ocean. A student I spoke with who has a friend there reported to me yesterday that he had traveled there and the devastation was quite significant. When I asked the store owner about it today, he said that many houses on the coast and inland were destroyed. The Senseki Line which we took today is the same line that I took to Nobiru - but it no longer travels there due to the damage of the tracks. The station master said that it will take at least three years before the train is able to travel there again. We hear about the "bigger" cities and towns that were lost and we must not forget about the smaller towns in between who were also in the direct line of the tsunami. They likely have fewer resources for the recovery and will also need on-going support as the recovery continues. While I did not make it there on this journey, I hope to return to Nobiru someday to support the on-going recovery.
Thank you again for this opportunity to serve and share.
I wanted to share about the two worship services I have attended while in Japan. When we arrived at the Emmaus Center I noticed a blue half sheet notice about an upcoming Taize Prayer service. Rev. Jeffrey Mensediek was kind enough to offer me a ride to the service. So on Friday night, I rode with Rev. Jeffrey and Ms. Yumi (she teaches guitar at the Emmaus Center) to the Sisters of Charity of Ottowa which is about 20 minutes away by car from the Center. I was first introduced to Taize by Rev. Nobuaki Hanaoka when he was the pastor of our church and have enjoyed attending Taize services led by our SJUMC Choir Director, Eileen Boyd. I was eager to experience Taize in Japanese. It was still snowing when we arrived at the monastery. The trees and the ground were covered with white. Inside the chapel, tealights provided a soft, warm glow. Jeffrey-Sensei and Ms. Yumi played guitar and Ms. Eiri Takahashi sang with Jeffrey-Sensei. I was able to hear them practice together before the service and was entranced with her beautiful voice. Although all but one of the songs were in Japanese, I was able to sing because they were written in hiragana! I was definitely blessed to have participated in this beautiful prayer service and I appreciated Jeffrey-Sensei's kind hospitality.
This morning we attended worship at the church next to the Emmaus Center. I felt a connection with SJUMC as it was the first Sunday of the month and they had Communion. I understood bits and pieces of the service but it was wonderful to have been able to worship with my team and with other members of the community. We gave the pastor some of the bookmarks that students and teachers from Sayuri's school made last year and asked if they could give them to the children. Thank you to Sayuri and the students and children from Samuel Jackman Middle School! After service we were given a tour of the church and were especially impressed with their organ. One year before the earthquake, they decided to secure the large organ to the walls because they knew this area was prone to earthquakes and the likelihood of having a big earthquake in this area was high.
I'll let someone else share about what we did later in the day =)
As others have mentioned below, we spent this day at the Shichigo Chuo Kouen Kasetsu Jyutaku, a temporary housing site for those whose houses were completely destroyed or washed away to sea. Our purpose today was to interact with the residents and provide social support. When we walked in, a woman began to talk to me about the shock and stress that she continues to be under following the tsunami of last year. She shared that she lost her son and his wife in the disaster and that without their help, understanding the logistics of life including filling out many forms has been difficult. She said she wondered at times whether it would have been better for her to have gone with her son and daughter. Another woman shared that she used to live close to her family, but now her family was split into several different temporary housing sites and that she saw her brothers less frequently. Conversations started about the upcoming anniversary of the Earthquake/Tsunami and various updates they had received in the community about how to mark this day including the possibility of spreading ashes into the sea. Some residents expressed anger as they shared that their loved ones lives were already taken by the sea - so why would they want to participate in such an event.
The heavy topic was broken up when a man Mary met yesterday showed up with his ballroom dancing CD so that he could dance the Waltz with Mary as promised. Mary did a wonderful job following his lead... As they were dancing, I saw that his wife was looking like she also wanted to dance and she asked Paul whether he would join her. Paul began to dance, but wasn't sure of the steps and so she decided to dance with her husband. The dance was among the most beautiful things I have seen on this trip. I've uploaded a video, but I'm not sure that it does it justice to the moment. (**Edited: As I was falling asleep after writing this blog, it occurred to me that I had asked for the couple's permission to take their photo and video, but had not asked to post it on this public site. Out of respect for them and their on line privacy, I've decided to take it down for now. I think I will have an opportunity to see them again next week and will ask them about posting it on our blog.**)
This couple lost their home entirely to the tsunami. They now live in an apartment near the temporary housing, but still come to participate in the daily activities. Prior to dancing, the woman had expressed how hopeless she felt after she lost everything. However, she heard that victims clung to the trees before they perished and she realized how lucky she and her husband were to have their lives. She has chosen "hope" over "despair" and has organized a movement to make origami balloons (seen in photos) to encourage other survivors to recover and rebuild.
During the boom of the "Shall We Dance" movie, this couple along with many others in Japan took ballroom dancing and danced competitively in advanced divisions. While she kept saying she forgot her steps as she had not danced in a long time, it was incredible to see her dance after she had just told us the story of her devastating loss. As we were watching, it was almost as if the dancing took her and her husband back to a time before the tsunami when they could simply enjoy dancing and not have other worries. She relayed to me afterwards that she and her husband won several awards - but there was nothing to show for it, as the trophies had also been washed out to sea.
This is just one couple's story in one town along the Tohoku coast. Tens of thousands of stories like it exist. While a full recovery is many years away, I did feel the hope that she is encouraging others to feel as she and her husband danced.
I thought I knew how to ride a bike, but I learned that riding a bike in Japan is very different. The Emmaus Center has no bathing facilities so everyone goes to the public bath which is about 2 miles away. The Center has bicycles available for volunteers to use. Two nights ago Mary and I decided to ride to the "sento" (public bath). Two girls (Yukiko and Shiori) who we became friends with offered to show us how to reserve the bikes and get to the sento by bike. The adventure began with Shiori leading, I was second, Mary was third, and Yukiko followed behind. In Japan, everyone rides on the sidewalk and seems to know which side to use when encountering oncoming bicyclists or pedestrians. Yukiko and Shiori were used to riding bikes in Japan, but Mary and I were not. Along the route, sometimes the sidewalks were narrow and I would start to freak out when I saw other cyclists and pedestrians approaching. I told myself I can do this, but a couple of times I lost my confidence and hit the guard rail, especially at one portion of the route where the construction partially obstructed the sidewalk. Mary later told me that she felt like she was riding a PeeWee Herman bicycle because the seat was so low - this also made it difficult for her to steer. We made it to the sento and had a nice soak. On the way back, I only hit the guard rail once!
Tonight, I decided to try again, even though the sidewalk was partially covered with snow and ice. Mary, Yuri and I checked out the bicycles and made it to the sento without any incidents!!! Yeah!!! While I was drying my hair, a woman started a conversation and asked me where I was from. I told her I was a volunteer and showed her the Emmaus Center t-shirt I was wearing. Yuri elaborated and explained that I came from America to help in the Tohoku region. She was very grateful and thanked me for coming to help. I was touched by her kind words.
I learned that although I may be scared to get out of my comfort zone to try something new, something good happens. In this experience I learned a new skill (riding a bicycle in Japan), I grew closer to Yukiko (we will be emailing each other), and discovered how much our presence affects the citizens of Sendai.
After Friday`s radio exercise program, we had tea and talked with residents in the temporary housing center. Unfortunately we did not bring the knitted items the Nichigo Bu ladies made for the residents and we signed up again for the Saturday radio exercise program.
We were a little disappointed in the beginning since some of the residents had errands to do such as doctor visits and shopping, but a few gathered and we spent a wonderful day together. After the exercise program, we reacquainted ourselves and began to talk about us.
When some of the ladies put out some Konbu Ame and fried sweetened crackers, we offered them some white chocolate covered almonds which went over very well. Then as Yvonne mentioned, the man who told Mary he would teach her the waltz, brought out and played his music, he began to teach Mary. After Joyce saw how much fun it is, she volunteered to take a lesson and finished her song.
Then Mary offered to teach the "Huki Lau" to them and they were hesitant at first but everyone was in tune at the end. The man who taught Mary and Joyce the waltz even offered some advice when walking from side to side. He said if you first step on one side of the foot and roll it is easier to step to the side.
Afterwards, some ladies said it is very good exercise to move both your arms and legs. But one lady commented that her lower back is sore and it was hard on her back.
Then we followed by singing our English song. "It is a Small World" Yuri chose this song since we are Americans in Japan proving how small the world really is.
Many had heard of the song and hummed along.
This seemed to open things up as one lady started teaching us how to make round balls with origami. Then she made a small ornament of small and large balls with messages at the bottom that hang as a symbol of hope and recovery.
Fortunatly, she required some materials so one of the staff at the Emau Center went to the nearby Daiso store. I thought it would be a good thing so I asked if Yvonne and Betty could go. Sure enough they came back with interesting things.
It was quite reassuring to see that even people that had lost their homes were thinking of those who may not be as fortunate as they were.
Another lady brought her knitting materials and started knitting a set of dolls for Girl`s Day.
The set includes two large dolls signifying the Parents and two small dolls signifying children.
For lunch, I went with the staff from Emau to the nearby "Obento" shop and we bought fried chicken and salmon, and Korean BBQ bentos. One the way there I asked if Yvonne and Betty enjoyed the visit to the Daiso store. She said Yes because the two ladies disappeared and went shopping.
After lunch Betty and I talked to some of the residents. Some were the same age as Betty and she commented that Betty looks young like 65 or 66. When I explained that Betty was a nurse, one lady commented that it is good that Betty looks so vibrant and healthy yet. Betty responded that she walks one mile everyday. They were very impressed. One lady commented that she only walks from her temporary house to the community room.
As a former nurse Betty also gave advice on proper diet. One lady told us the Japanese saying, "If you eat until your stomach is 80% full then you do not need to see a doctor.
Betty commented that if people eat chicken, they should take off the skin before cooking and eating. But one lady in her 80s jumped in and said, Yes I know that I should not eat the skin, but it tastes so good and I like it so much that I eat the skin. Another thing Betty said was the importance of eating Brown Rice. The ladies unfortunately do not eat Brown Rice.
While we were talking a City staff member was also in the room and he told us about his travels to Australia and New Zealand and started speaking a little English. When Mary and Joyce said they also visited these two countries, the man commented, "We have the same interests."
After speaking a little English, he joked and said he would like to visit the US next week.
When it was time to leave, everyone seemed to be in a happy mood. We all left with a feeling of satisfaction that we succeeded in our Ministry of Presence.
Last night many new volunteers came to the Center and some volunteers also returned from Ishinomaki. The afternoon meeting, Sharing Time, and dinner was very lively and fun.
Tomorrow is Sunday and one of the things I hope to do is introduce the other members to "Gyu tan" I hope they will enoy it. I am sure someone will write about it in their Journal.
Have a nice weekend everyone.
We all appreciate everyone reading our entries and making comments.
Our trip is possible from the generous donations from everyone. We hope all of you can feel the emotions and share in our travels and experiences.
We spent most of the day with residents displaced by the tsunami. All had lost their homes and many loved ones. Although, I was only able to communicate with most through Yuri and Paul, we share tea, refreshments, laughter and stories. Mary, Yvonne and Paul visited with some of the same people yesterday. Mary and I waltzed with a man who had lost his home. I only stepped on his foot three times. Then, he and his wife showed us all how it`s really done. Mary taught us all how to hula. Some of the ladies do origami; and string the balls and cubes on string much like a 1000 cranes. They are a message of Hope for those still recoverying from the disaster. The team sang It`s a Small World for the residents.
This time we shared together demonstrates that spending time with and supporting people is just as important as repairing their houses and land if not more so.
After we returned to the center, we helped with cleaning chores including scrubbing the floor and dusting.
Tomorrow is our rest day. I`m looking forward to sleeping in.
... I am having problems with the photo uploading part and am unable to show you the pictures that I could take in Ishinomaki (at the center). I'll keep trying. I was able to upload the best one of the day - Betty w/the Gals. Tomorrow, you'll hopefully see Betty with the Guys.
I know that many of you have expressed our thanks for being here - and that you yourself could not be here. Please know that each and everyone of you are with us on this journey and we very literally could not be physically, emotionally, and spiritually present without your support.
If anyone sees Keiko Kato, please let her know that we are providing the dish cloths that she and her friend knitted to individuals who are staying at a temporary shelter when we see them tomorrow.
It's snowed in Ishinomaki and Sendai. Despite the cold weather, we are feeling the warmth of the individuals and the work that we are doing here.
After breakfast and the morning meeting, we drove to the dump with the debris we collected yesterday. As Betty mentioned the piles were huge. As we collected the nails, glass and other trash, we separated it so we could put it in the right pile at the dump. We must have driven around 20 – 30 minutes to do this. We were in an endless line of trucks there for the same reason.
We returned to the same street that we work at yesterday to continue digging trash buried in the gravel road. As we worked, neighborhood residents went about their lives; walking and driving past our little street. On an intellectual level, I knew the magnitude of the disaster and the number of people affected. Working on this street helped me see the disaster differently. On the way back from lunch, it started raining. After a quick phone call, the Center staff decided that we would stop for the day. We drove to the hill Betty mentioned. From there, we could see a huge area that that had once been residential area. Only a few houses were still standing but were uninhabitable. The Center staff person said they survived the tsunami because they were built more recently and to higher standards. We drove down the hill past a destroyed elementary school; and damaged cemetery and hospital. As we drove though this area that had been a residential neighborhood one year ago, I couldn’t help but think of the little street we had worked on.
We returned to the Center. The rain turned to snow. After the end of day volunteer meeting, we returned to by van with other volunteers.
Our team is reunited!! We were only apart one night but in some ways it was so much more.
Although this By line is by Yuri, I am typing out what Betty Hirata's thoughts are. We are back from Ishinomaki and actually have a little free time before bed time!
Betty: It was so great to see the ages of all of the people helping. I believe I can say that there was one other person than I in their 70s helping. Then, there was the much younger generation than I - the college age students helping. They just had soooooo much energy. They were just bubbling over as they talked and laughed and rassled around, but they worked well with everybody. It was very great to see the younger generation and of course, they were all born in Japan. A couple of them have already been to our US colleges and plan to go back. They just amazed me. I did talk with them and asked them to continue to encourage their own country and help their own country to build it back up - and build up their economy as their parents and their grandparents did after the war. Now it's up to this genergation to build Japan up continually. This is a beautiful country and the Japanse have lots of pride in their country.
The tsunami was very, very devastating. We went up to the hill and looked down up on it and we could see the most terrible things that this tsunami did to Ishinomaki. So many houses had to be torn down between the earthquake and tsunami - so destroyed that they could not be built up again. We went to throw away the garbage we collected yesterday today - and as we drove to the dump, we could just see piles - I mean, big mountainous piles of garbage. Anywhere from metal, to wood, to material - just stacked up high. And I guess the great big tractors with the scoopers were trying to even things out a little bit so that it wasn't just all over the land. They also have great big pipes into the rubble/trash piles so that the gas can escape. They don't know even today what they will do with the trash. When summer comes, I am afraid it will start smelling. What can they do? There are so many piles. Can they make a great big pit and bury it? There is so much, I don't think they can't do that. That surely can't stay there though. The land is wated as well.
We went to a "danchi" neighborhood. The streets are so narrow, made with gravel and dirt - packed hard with tires. We went digging and scraping for an inch - and found many rusted nails and glass. They said that they have many cars having flat tires because of these nails. That's what we've done for the last few days - trying to help clean up their streets. You can imagine the windows got blasted, so you can see where the glass was shattered all over. You can't even let your little children run around.
The houses that are standing - there are very nice houses, whether they did some work already on these houses. It's strange. You see one or two houses down that are ruined and you go down a few houses the other way and they look like they were not touched. It was good to help them repair the soil to try to help them return to a new life.
One of the men was in the house and saw me working and he bowed to me and I bowed back. He seemed to be glad that we were there helping them.
Following our morning logistics meeting at the Center in Sendai, Joyce, Betty, and I headed off to Ishinomaki by freeway bus. It took about an hour and half and it gave us an opportunity to reflect on our trip thus far and catch up on some sleep as well.
Ishinomaki is one of the cities hardest hit by the tsunami and stories about it were publicized worldwide. I had seen many photos of the area, but was not sure what to expect upon arrival. As we entered the city, I saw some indication of the tsunami from a year ago - including bent over metal fences, some empty lots, etc. but I initially noticed a city that seemed to be functioning as normal. That was before the Ishinomaki staff drove us to the worksite for the day after picking us up at the bus station.
En route to the worksite, we traveled along the Ishinomaki coast. There, large bulldozers and machinery were working non-stop to continue to add rubble and debris to the junk piles which stood many stories high. To give a perspective on the amount of clean up that still needs to be done, the staff member driving us told us that it would take 5 years to complete the debris removal.
Even nearly a year after the disaster, there were cars piled three high and at least 5 across for a distance of nearly a mile on both sides of the street... An enormous oil tank (the size of two cement trucks) remained in the median of the road, crushed and lifeless. Joyce noticed that all of the trees in the median had been cut and that only stumps remained. I had seen the photos but seeing the area in this state a year later gave me a renewed perpective on the magnitute of this disaster.
Today was one of the busiest volunteer days for the Ishinomaki Center with volunteers numbering 30. We all worked in one small neighborhood where some team members were painting the side of cottages, while others worked on repairing the roof of the homes. Betty, Joyce, and I who arrived late due to traveling from Sendai were assigned to help clean a side street (mostly gravel) and ensure that it was free of embedded items like glass, metals, and other trash. In short, we operated almost as if we were conducting an archeological dig - on our hands and knees scraping the ground with a metal tool looking for anything that didn't belong. We collected many shards of glass, some with beautiful designs that made us wonder about the story attached to the things we were collecting. Glass with daisys, shards with gold brush painting on the side, clothespins, etc. This work cannot be done by a machine - and while tedious, is important work. As another volunteer commented, he would like to ensure that the children living in the neighborhood can run around barefoot without worry of rusty nails or glass on the ground.
Simultaneously, the Center was hosting a tea party on this day for residents of the Tsukishima neighborhood where the Center is located. They desired to invite neighbors whether they had been impacted by the tsunami or not in an effort to get people out of their homes and connected with the community. A long-term volunteer who also has talents as a singer (mezzo soprano) gave a concert for those attending the tea party. Some volunteers stayed back at the center to help prepare for the tea party by cleaning and decorating the home. Almost 20 people attended and the first tea party was a success. The Center hopes to do more community building as time goes on.
Lucky for us, the Singer - Jun san, also wanted to provide a mini Thank You Concert for the volunteers. After we returned to the Center (which is a home in a residential area hit hard by the tsunami), we had our own tea party as we listened to beautiful and inspiring songs including a rendition of Amazing Grace that had the room in tears. Due to the unusual schedule of the day, we had no Sharing Meeting this evening. Joyce, Betty, and I debriefed the day on our own and agreed that where we saw God today was through Jun-san's beautiful voice.
As Paul stated in his entry, we have also met many wonderful people volunteering along side us. Today, we met Bob Fujimura, a retired molecular biologist from Washington State who arrived two weeks ago to help coordinate efforts between Japan and volunteers from outside of Japan. We've had several opportunities to pull out our recorder on loan from Capital Public Radio and interview some young volunteers - many who are working with us are college students who are part of a volunteer club or felt moved to help after watching the disasters unfold on TV.
Tomorrow, the three of us head back to Sendai after another day of volunteering in Ishinomaki. This Center closes on the weekend. We will have one day of work on Saturday before resting on Sunday. We look forward to reuniting with our team tomorrow night.
Before I write about today`s events, I wish to extend Special Thanks to some people who have shown compassion for our group.
First is Joey Slick and Joint One Radio for playing announcements about our trip on the air and for placing our Press Release and Donation Letter on their Joint One Website.
Next, I wish to thank the 14 members of the Meguro Citizens Swimming Club who generously donated money for our trip. They said they were inspired by my Mission Trip to Sendai and Ishinomaki and they also shared concern for the area.
Next is Mr. Seiji Fukushima who came to meet us at the hotel where the airport bus took us. He offered to buy dinner for us after our long flight, but I politely declined. After we rode the taxi to the Wesley Center, he offered to find a place to buy some additional food. He suggested "Oden" which is a favorite food during the cold Winter Months and was a hit among our Team and he also bought strawberries, apples, tangerines, and bananas for us. He said he was worried about our travels during the cold Winter and wanted us to eat fruits to keep us healthy.
Today was our first day of work at the Sendai Center.
The Center will have a one year anniversary event and hand out snacks to people who come to the event. The Center recevied snacks from various parts of the country and also had people write encouraging messages on postcards. We prepared small bags of goodies and postcards for the event.
In the afternoon, we prepared flower beds and then transplanted flowers into them for display.
In Japan, Spring is a time that signifies a new year and a fresh start. Schools begin the new school year and companies also conduct entrance ceremonies for new employees in April. Since the blooming of flowers also helps signify Spring; we were very happy to plant flowers that would help signify new life and bring warmth and happiness to people viewing the flowers.
Today was also our second day here at the Center and we are getting to know more and more people. Everyone has been very nice and courteous to us.
Last night, some guys walked with me to the Church where I was assigned to sleep. But after entering the cold room, one guy became worried the room would be too cold and so he asked if he could sleep at the Church I was assigned to, and have me sleep in the apartment that he was staying at.
Everyday there is a time for the volunteers to comment about the day`s work. As people talk about their experiences, many say that they are very glad they came and helped out. Even though they may not say all of their feelings, you can tell by the expression on their faces that they were moved by the gratitude of the people they helped. All have clearly learned so much about people and have grown so much as individuals.
Everyday I see new friendships being formed among people who were strangers just a few days ago.
From Mary: We awoke this morning to find a blanket of snow on the ground. It was pretty amazing to be doing Taiso in the snow!!! Today I helped to feed the pigs and then worked in the feed room. Although we spent less than 24 hours at ARI, we met incredible people who are living with passion-their stories truly touched me. I learned so much there and I appreciated hearing the stories of the staff and volunteers who live and work there. Thank you very much to Jonathan and Takashi-san who braved the snow (by now even more snow was falling) and drove us to the eki where we caught the Shinkansen bound for Sendai. We stopped in Fukushima to pick up passengers.
One of the highlights for me at the Emmaus Center was meeting the other 18 volunteers who are doing volunteer work at this time. Most of the volunteers are young adults. The personal accounts shared during the evening meeting reminded me of something we practiced throughout our UMVIM mission trip to New Orleans - "Ministry of presence." Many of the volunteers shared about their interactions with the home/land owners and how it was their conversations with the individuals that seemed to mean more than the physical labor. Tomorrow we begin our assignment in Sendai (Paul, Yvonne, Mary) and Ishinomaki (Yuri, Betty, Joyce).
From Yuri: Another full day. It's hard to believe it's already Wednesday. My morning started w/a phone call from Paul (in the Men's wing) telling me to open the shoji in the room. When I did, I was shocked to find snow - and lots of it. It made an already peaceful and scenic area even more beautiful.
In the Capital Public Radio interview, I reflected that probably the most challenging task for me would be the translating of content filled with emotions. I found that to be true today as we integrated ourselves into life at our next stop, the Emmaus Center's Tohoku Disaster Relief Center's operations.
To give you an idea of flow of the day:
8:20 Morning Meeting and Departure for work site (buy lunch on the way), arrive at site and begin work
1:00 Resume work
3:00 Complete work and travel back to center
4:30 Operations Debrief Meeting and Sharing Meeting (Emotional Debrief)
6:00 Dinner (donated/made by local churches nightly, so that the volunteers do not have to make it after a long day's work)
Free Time (Today we went to the public bath house)
9:00 Building Closes
Volunteers come in and out daily - some stay only a day, others longer and information is shared about the work during the Operations Debrief Meeting. What worked? What didn't work? What would make things better for the next group? What progress did you make? Depending on the worksite, teams of 3-10+ worked on various projects and reported back the updates.
Joyce, Yvonne and I joined one of the two sharing groups where the volunteers spoke about their feelings related to the day's work. Overall, the individuals in our group were those that were still continuing to clear houses and fields of debris from the tsunami. A young man spent much of his day picking objects out of an elderly woman's field. He described that many things were deep in the ground and difficult to pull out but they were able to make significant progress on their work. He shared that more than the physical cleaning, the cleaning of the fields served the dual purpose of having the woman come out to interact with people rather than be home bound. The hope was that even if the cleared field could not produce as much as before the tsunami, that it could hopefully grow enough for the owner of the land to share with the neighbors - and thus build relationships.
While we're not sure exactly what our day will look like tomorrow in terms of actual volunteer work, we are excited to have finally arrived to our destination and are ready to work!
Contributions from multiple members today! We stopped at ARI in part because they are on the way to Sendai, but also because we wanted to learn more about the Institute and see how they were doing following last year's earthquake and nuclear disaster. They are far enough inland that they were not impacted by the tsunami at all.
YVONNE: We left the Wesley Center located in Tokyo early Tuesday morning. We boarded the train at Tokyo Station and headed to ARI on the Shinkansen (Bullet Train). Jonathan McCurley (United Methodist Church missionary and community coordinator) met us at the train station and we arrived at ARI at approximately 1pm. Jonathan gave us an orientation and explained the mission of ARI which is teaching sustainable agriculture including growing vegetables, raising pigs and chicken. We split into groups and helped ARI with their daily tasks. Paul and Betty buried carrots to help preserve them so they would not spoil. Mary and Yuri fed chickens, cleaned the water and washed chicken eggs. The best job was Joyce and mine. We fed the pigs and dumped left over rice and natto into big barrels so it could be fermented for pig and chicken feed.
YURI: The Asian Rural Institute is founded on the love of Jesus Christ and is also a community that invites all faiths and backgrounds to learn environmental stewardship, leadership and sustainable agriculture.
During the events of March 11th, they were significantly impacted by the earthquake as well as radiation. Jonathan took us on a tour of the campus and talked to us about the structural damage some buildings sustained - and showed us the construction site of the new main building which will also accomodate for some of the lost office spaces. Ironically during this tour, we experienced our first earthquake here. Everyone was calm, but it was a little unnerving as the light tremors lasted almost a minute (see video at about 1:24). While you can never tell whether it's going to get bigger - you can tell that the guy talking is not really phased by it at all and we were just going off of his cues. From what I understand, a lot of people didn't really feel earthquakes at this level in March last year because the after shocks were so much bigger...
Jonathan mentioned to us that after March 11th, ARI continued to function and contributed to the disaster relief efforts. Trains had stopped moving north right around where they were located, so the center became the staging ground for delivery of supplies to the Tohoku area. Because of its sustinable lifestyle, ARI was also able to provide many resources including food from their land to the local shelters. Radiation became a grave concern following the explosions at Fukushima (110km). Jonathan spoke about the efforts they made to ensure that radiation levels were reduced at the campus including removing the top layers of dirt/grass/leaves and sadly, getting rid of their cows.
MARY: We learned that all harvests in the Tohoku area were higher than normal this past season. For example they usually harvest five to six tons of rice but this year they got nine. There was some speculation that the earthquake mixed the ground which resulted in the soil becoming richer. We heard about their success in reducing radiation levels from the soil through growing soy beans. I apreciated hearing about the diversity of participants and how cultural sharing was an integral part of the nine-month training program.
I must admit I was a little hesitant to enter the chicken coop as the hens were hovering all around the entrance, but Jonathan was very supportive and I found that once I entered, it was fine. Fortunately, it was after I finished my job that he told me about the aggressive rooster in one of the coops.
After dinner we were invited to their Gospel choir rehearsal. They happened to be learning a praise and worship song in English tonight, so we were able to learn it and sing it together. This group is called Mingos (from Minna or "everyone" and "Gospel"), and they meet in the Jonathan's home.
PAUL: ARI's concept is also interesting in that it focuses on educating participants things which people anywhere can use. A good example is that even though the Institute has machinery, it does not teach participants how to use the machines. Instead it stresses the importance of using their hands and tools onhand to cultivate the land since the countries the participants are from may not necessarily have machines to use for agriculture.
Also it was very interesting to note that ARI uses nature instead of pesticides. When the participants are growing rice, there is naturally a problem with weeds. Instead of using pesticides to control the weeds, ARI uses both ducks and fish to eat algae before it grows into weeds. It saves ARI from having to weed the rice patties and also helps supply fish with some feed.
Even though we are in the Japan countryside, we learned that the current director of ARI, Mr. Ootsu has visited Sacramento in the past. In Japanese culture, people often talk about their hometown after they first meet one another. After Yuri Kimura presented Mr. Ootsu with gifts from SJUMC and Sacramento, Mr. Otsu mentioned meeting Rev. Motoe Yamada when she visited ARI. He went on to add that many years ago, he visited Sacramento and met with Rev. Horikoshi.
We were introduced to Tina Tajima through Paul's friend, DJ Joey Slick. Tina is a professor at Shirayuri College and has been very active in the disaster relief/recovery efforts since last March. Since we were introduced to her through e-mail, she has supported our team by helping to translate some materials into Japanese as well as offering local advice and support. Yuri and her mother met up with Tina at the Kyobunkan in Ginza prior to the team's arrival due to Tina's busy travel schedule. It was great to finally meet in person. Unfortunately, we forgot to snap a photo. Tina has very kindly donated the use of two of her cell phones during the team's stay in Japan. The phones will help not only help us to keep in touch with the places we are visiting/volunteering, but they will also help the team stay in touch with each other when we are split into two in a few days. Thank you so much for your generosity, Tina!
This is a link of Tina discussing her efforts in April of 2011:
The Friendly Airport Limousine bus rolled into the Roppongi Hyatt parking lot and off came a somewhat exhausted and yet excited group. My mother, Keiko, also helped to welcome the group. Paul met up with a few of his friends who had donated their efforts and monies to our cause (THANK YOU!) while the rest of us hopped on taxi for a short ride to the nearby Wesley Center (More info here: http://www.wesleyfoundationjp.com/en/aboutus.html ). Five of the team members are staying overnight at the Center, while I am "crashing" at my parent's home in Tokyo. The property is quite new according to Kathy Burton-Lewis, a missionary, who also resides in the building. As proof, there was a button in the kitchen that you could press to start filling up the tub in the bathroom, floors that warm up, and a toilet lid that opens up when you walk into the bathroom. Most of the team settled in, while Paul and Yvonne left in search of food for the group. We have plans to meet tomorrow morning at Tokyo Station so that we can head to the Asian Rural Institute. Thank you again to all who have contributed in many ways to make this trip possible!
The Sacramento Japanese UMC Mission Team with Steve Milne (left) of Capital Public Radio on February 12, 2012. Photos courtesy of the Sacramento Japanese UMC.
The Sacramento Japanese United Methodist Church (SJUMC) is sending a six-member Volunteers in Mission (VIM) team to Japan this month, to assist with the earthquake- and tsunami-relief effort.
Love that photo of Yvonne & Joyce. We are proud of the entire team. What special people you are on a blessed mission!