Rikuzentakata’s Symbol of Hope and Recovery

Rikuzentakata Diary — Continued71025 Tree into the skies Tuesday Evening, December 2 — 17:15  Bath Time During my entire stay at the Capital Hotel 1000, I made ample use of the hotel’s well appointed ofuro on the ground floor to soak in the hot bathtub water. The size of the tub was large enough for 30 people to lie on their backs and stretch their legs while resting their heads on the tub’s edge. Subliminal background music flowed from overhead speakers. Ken and Karen Carpenter tunes played on a loop insinuated their way into my mind. During my walks around Rikuzentakata, I found myself humming “We’ve only just begun”.

At 17:15, I had the tub to myself. After I had showered and washed my matted hair, I soaked in the hot water to soothe in my tired legs, and I gave my feet a much needed massage. They deserved pampering. I had walked four and a half hours in a rectangular route.

The rippling sound of water falling gently from the tub’s spigot reminded me of the sound of the waves lapping on the beach near the Miracle Pine Memorial. On the path leading to the memorial, I stood for a while watching the waves wash ashore in gentle flows and ebbs. For a moment I visualized my grandchildren romping in the playful water splashing each other and squealing with delight.

The placid scene blurred and was juxtaposed with the youtube videos clips of the tsunami raging over seawalls and demolishing everything and everyone trapped in its ferocious drive inland. For the survivors the raging black seawater will no doubt remain etched in their memories until the day they die.

I must confess, the news broadcasts of the tsunami at the time made little impact on me for two reasons. First, I was only mildly inconvenienced by the earthquake.  I watched the news on a TV in the comfort of my apartment as though I were watching a Hollywood produced disaster film. My neighborhood was not targeted for the rolling blackouts scheduled by TEPCO. Tokyo Gas provided me with gas to brew my morning coffee. And the city’s water company continued the flow of water for my morning showers and evening baths.

The minor inconveniences proved vexing. The supermarkets in my neighborhood ran out of critical supplies of food and drinks. The earthquake had disrupted the distribution system. Can goods, fresh vegetables, meat and poultry products, dairy products, beverages, bottled water and toilet paper disappeared from shelves. In their place, the management placed signs with apologetic words promising to keep customers informed of when deliveries would start up again.

Second, the nuclear plant disaster in Fukushima dominated the media news. I watched with trepidation as TEPCO people struggled to prevent a nuclear meltdown. The fear of radiation prompted many foreigners to leave Japan. Many Japanese and those foreigners who remained downloaded apps for their smart phones that measured levels of radiation in the air. Fears of radiation contamination in the agricultural products in Fukushima raised the concerns of consumers. They wanted to make sure the products they bought came from prefectures far from the disaster areas. Even I succumbed to the fear. On the sign with the prices of vegetables the place of origin was also written in small letters. Before selecting a head of lettuce, I squinted my eyes to read the name of the prefecture. I certainly did not want my Caesar salad made with radiated lettuce leaves.

National elections also were taking place. Political debates centered on whether to stop the use of nuclear generated electricity and shift to other sources. Editorials, news analysts, talking heads, tweets, and the internet streamed with comments pro and con about the closure of Japan’s nuclear plants. In the heat of the debate, the fate of the survivors living in the disaster areas faded into the background: Survivors were those nebulous beings living in temporary housing. As the months became years, the sense of crisis and urgency dissipated. In my case, I grew increasingly more preoccupied with concerns that were relevant to my personal and professional life.

21:00: The Story of the Miracle Pine Tree I sat before the computer reviewing the shots of the Miracle Pine I had taken earlier in the morning. “Finally, I got to see you in personal,” I mused as I examined each photo and video clip. A few photos showed the raindrops that had spotted the camera lens.“Whoever would have thought I would have been standing in front of you today?”Three years ago I had only scant knowledge about the tree. I was deeply involved in editing a major video project. Then fate stepped in.

Early in 2012 my friend from Israel Gal Vered and I were eating lunch at the Sparta Restaurant in Yokohama. Gal grew up in Yokohama and attended Yokohama International School. He returned to Israel with his parents, completed his military obligation, and afterwards embarked on his career in the diamond business. His business required him to make frequent business trips to Japan.

As we were eating he told me about the Miracle Pine of Rikuzentakata. “The tsunami uprooted and killed nearly 70,000 pine trees along the coastline Rikuzentakata. Only one tree remained.”

I recalled hearing and reading something about the trees. When he mentioned Rikuzentakata, I had no idea where it was located. I lived in Yokohama for so long that my world rarely extended beyond the city limits.

“From the driftwood and debris, Muneyuki Nakazawa made two violins.”

“Who?” I asked. Not being a musician nor a particular fan of classical music, I confessed I hadn’t a clue about this Nakazawa fellow.

Gal explained briefly that Nakazawa was a world renown maker and repairer of violins and had gone to Rikuzentakata to select Violinmaker wood from the driftwood and debris to make the two violins. Nakazawa’s hope was to have a thousand violinists worldwide — professional and amateur — play the violins. (Inspired by the Japanese tradition of folding 1,000 paper cranes to fulfill a wish, Nakazawa’s dream was to have the violins played by 1,000 people around the world. Taizo Oba worked with him to launch the project, named “The Bond Made of 1,000 Tones.”


Interesting, I thought. Another piece of information to store in one of the inactive files of my mind. A file which I might have deleted later to make room for other tidbits of information. But what Gal told me afterwards made the information more personal and definitely more fascinating.

“My children will give a concert in Tokyo. And they will play one of the violins.”

Now that bit of information struck a chord. I had known his children when they were little children. Gal was working in Tokyo at time. He and his wife Shirley with their children Jonathan and Eden lived in Yokohama. I remember visiting them nearly 15 years ago. While Gal and I watched a video movie on their big home entertainment screen, Shirley made sure the children practiced playing their violins.

“The Sukiyabashi Music Association has been sponsoring benefit concerts for the relief of survivors in the wake of the tsunami. Jonathan and Eden each have a chance to play the violin.” For a brief moment I imagined Jonathan and Eden as little children standing in front of the concert audience with violins almost as tall as they were and scraping away at the strings.

“Jonathan’s almost 19 and Eden’s 17,” Gal reminded me. I shook my head. Where had the years gone? His children had grown into young adults. Of course, I promised I would attend the concert — and that I would make a video of the performance. Poster 2




23:30 Bedtime

Shortly after 23:00 I turned off the computer and rubbed my aching eyes. I had spent nearly two hours manipulating Photoshop to remove the raindrops from some of the photos I took of the Miracle Pine.The task proved daunting. But with persistence I replaced the raindrops with less distracting cloned images.

Under the bedcovers, I lay awake and thought back to my conversation with Gal over two and a half years ago. He wondered when I would ever complete the video he asked me to make.

There was a combination of factors. Lethargy, greed (paying projects tempted me to forget from my good intentions), preoccupation with getting A Two-man Performance of A Christmas Carol completed, and coping with the reality I was heading toward the big 70 in my life.

Underlying my torpid attitude was the fact I lacked a solid concept. I was able to shoot Jonathan and Eden’s performances, but I was perplexed as to how to connect  the performances with Rikuzentakata.

From that moment when I said goodbye to full-time employment commitments, however, I had the time to complete the projects I preferred doing which included the Rikuzentakata Project.

One step was to take a trip to the devastated town — a step complicated by the lack of lodging facilities. Not an easy job making reservations to stay in Rikuzentakata. The town was wiped out in much the same way blanket aerial bombings destroy a city. Nothing remained in the wake of the tsunami. I finally succeeded and made reservations for a five-day stay during the first week of December 2014.

Toda Futoshi

Futoshi Toda – Rikuzentakata Mayor

At the same time, I studied background sources to become familiar with Rikuzentakata. I read the town’s Facebook postings. https://www.facebook.com/RikuzentakataCity. I bought Mayor Futoshi Toba’s book and read his story of the people who supported him and the challenges he faced in order to fight for and organize efforts for the town’s reconstruction. The underlying theme of his book stressed the need for residents to put sorrow and regrets behind them and to rebuild for future generations.

To flesh out my knowledge of the violinmaker Muneyuki Nakazawa, I browsed Internet resources and jotted down pertinent information. During my browsing, I came across the title of his autobiography: いのちのヴァイオリン:森から贈り物: Inochi no Violin: Mori Kara no Okurimono (loosely translated as The Life of the Violin: [Nature’s] Gift from the Forest.) The book provided me with a philosophical roadmap during my exploratory walks around Rikuzentakata.

(To be continued)

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