Rikuzentakata’s Symbol of Hope and Recovery

Rikuzentakata Diary — Continued Day 4

0800: I was eating breakfast in the hotel restaurant when a Japanese couple stopped to talk on their way out.  The wife commented that I handled the chopsticks with dexterity. At which point a morsel of tofu slipped from the chopsticks’ iron grip. “Only if the food is not slippery,” I joked in embarrassment. They told me they had driven up from Saitama Prefecture. “Our third trip,” the wife said. “A lot of changes. You should have seen it when they were clearing away the debris.” “Did you come here shortly after the disaster?” I asked. “No, we couldn’t because the roads were blocked and only people with special passes could drive through. But after the roads opened up to regular traffic we took a trip through Rikuzentakata. There were still mountains of debris and they were tearing down buildings.” Eager to learn more, I invited them to join me, but the husband reminded his wife they still had packing to do before checking out. Too bad, I thought. They had seen Rikuzentakata in different stages of clean up and reconstruction. I arrived and have seen Rikuzentakata without any reference points to record the progress of reconstruction. My only reference points were YouTube photos and video clips.

0845: I decided to walk toward Yonegasaki, a direction I could see from my hotel room window.

The roads were muddy and I had to walk around puddles on sides of the road. I also had to watch out for the dump trucks driving over puddles on the road. Twice I was forced to step into soggy fields to avoid the splash of water. Though waterproof, my shoes somehow seeped water and dampened my heavy socks. But I was determined to squish my way forward.

0920:  I found a dirt road leading up to a clearing.Part 4 20003 Ladder up the Hill

On the left, I saw two houses with vegetable gardens and plants.  Farther upward the road led to another group of houses nestled among the trees. On the right I saw an old storage shed and a ladder leaning against an embankment.  I climbed up the ladder and discovered a sc50001 Two Housesenic view of Hirota Bay. As I shot videos and photos from this vantage point, I wondered if the people living in this isolated neighborhood clamoured up here to watch the tsunami surge inland.

I packed up the camera gear and climbed back down the ladder. Little did I know that a deer was observing my awkward descent. I must have interrupted her morning snack of garden grown fresh vegetables.  She looked at me, more perturbed than wary, before scampering off .

Deer perturbed

The perturbed deer

1030:  On the way back in the direction of the hotel, I saw a monument in a field near the road. As I trudged over the rain-soaked ground, a construction worker on his way to an excavator saw me and shouted, “Where you from?” He had a sun brown, wrinkled face encased in a hood covered by a hard hat. He looked to be in his early sixties. I told him and answered his follow up question of where I lived.  “Yokohama.”

“Thank you for coming.” A smile smoothed away a few of the his facial wrinkles. Obviously, he spent most of his working life outdoors. This was the second time someone had thanked me for coming up to Rikuzentakata — the taxi driver on the first day and now this construction worker.  He was about to continue walking toward the excavator when I asked him if I could take his picture. “Wait,” he said and ran to get his workmates.

Four Men 80014

Five Workmen welcoming a break for a photo op

1040: I took photos of the memorial stone.The inscription in brief stated that originally a 4.5 meter high statue of a Buddhist  Memorial Stonebodhisattva (who looked after children and travellers), had been erected in honor of Sandayu Niinuma, the sixth generation owner of the  Manninseshuku Inn located on this particular field. During the frequent famines that took place between 1830 and 1844, he opened the inn to the those who were suffering from hunger and deprivation and to travellers. The tsunami destroyed the bodhisattva statue. In its place, the Tokyo Association of Architectural Firms erected the memorial stone in support of the restoration of the memorial and the city.

1115: I reached a cross street where I found a sign with the familiar logo of a supermarket chain with stores nationwide including the one near my apartment in Yokohama. I could do a little shopping there and buy fruit and snacks for those in between meal hunger pangs.  I picked a narrow dirt road that paralleled the main highway on the way to the supermarket and the other shops. Quite a contrast! SupermarketSauntering along the dirt road I saw fields and heard the rippling flow of water. I had an unobstructed view of distant hills and mountains and I stopped from time to time to take in scenery.

In Yokohama, I often take the train to the supermarket. Outside the train windows, I see only densely packed buildings interrupted by a park and then more densely packed buildings. The buildings block the view beyond. Only the sky is visible above the roofs. In an urban environment, the view seems barely to extend beyond the nose.

Of course, sights not prevalent in Yokohama were the remains of the foundations of homes that once occupied the open fields. Somber scenes left in the wake of a wave that destroyed the lives and happiness of residents who had lived this neighborhood. Would they ever return to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives?

1230: I arrived at the supermarket, exhausted and ready to take a rest. Inside, the supermarket took on a familiarity. The meat counter was where it should be. The vegetables and fruits were easily found. I loaded a shopping basket with bananas, snacks, and sandwich meat. I was about amble over to the cashier when I heard a woman’s voice call out in English. “Do you like mikan?” In her hand covered with a disposable glove, she held out  peeled slices. “Try  one. It’s sweet.” She must have been in her late thirties or early forties. Dressed in the supermarket’s uniform, she had a smile that filled her entire face. Slightly bewildered by her exuberance and naturalness of the English language, I accepted one slice and bit into it. “Delicious,” I said. “On sale!” she said and proffered a net filled with mikans. I put the net into my basket and asked her a series of questions. “Where did you learn English?” “In school.” “Ever travelled overseas?” “I’ve been to San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Boston.” The ring on her finger indicated she was married. However, I didn’t get much chance to pursue forward with more questions. Other customers stopped and she went into her spiel in Japanese. And then an elderly woman hard of hearing asked her where she could find curry powder. The sales lady took the elderly woman by the arm to guide her to the spice counter. I walked to the checkout counter to pay for my groceries, after which  I went to the alcoholic beverage section to pick up a few cans of my favorite beer. When I hefted the rucksack filled with camera equipment and provisions on my back for the hike to the hotel, I regretted my enthusiasm to load up with the in-between-meal drinks and snacks. At the exit, the electric doors opened and I was about to step outside when the sales lady cried out: “Thank you for coming. Come again!” I turned and waved a goodbye to her. She beamed back a smile, and somehow my rucksack did not feel quite as heavy. I left the store and hiked back to the hotel.

Part 4 20039 Tangerines

Mikan that remind me of the beaming smile of the woman in the supermarket

1430:  In my hotel room, I dropped my rucksack on my bed and plopped down beside it. I unlaced my shoes and removed my wet socks.  The plan for the rest of the day was to soak in the hotel spa and to take a lengthy nap before dinner.  I wanted to make sure I recharged my  batteries to write up later that night the draft of an outline for my observations and conclusions.

2300: I read the words to the methodology I would follow in the iBook version of my first trip to Rikuzentakata. I based the  storyline on the lessons I gleaned from Muneyuki Nakazawa’s book.

Nakazawa was born in 1940 in a forest  in the mountains of Hyogo Prefecture. As a boy growing up, he woke up and saw the morning sun shining through the tree leaves. He could hear the river flowing nearby his home — the river where he and his friends fished and swam. Like many children growing up in a natural environment, he was curious about and familiar with the animals and insects he observed in his daily boyhood life. His father, who worked as a tree farmer, exerted a profound influence on him.  While helping his father care for and cut the trees, he gained the knowledge to evaluate the texture and quality of trees that would help him later in life as a violin maker.

Inspiration for the Rikuzentaka storyline Three incidents from Nakazawa’s book provided the model for the storyline.

Violinmaker1. His father explained the transformation of a caterpillar inside the chrysalis into a butterfly. Lesson: What appears to have died is merely transforming into something new

2. His father acted as a guarantor for a loan made by a friend. However, the friend was unable to pay back the loan and Nakazawa’s father in paying back the loan lost his property and money forcing him and his family into a poverty-stricken life. Depressed, his father considered murdering his wife and 8 children and then committing suicide. But when he saw the sleeping face of his son, he changed his mind. Instead, he hit upon the idea of constructing a water wheel. Once constructed he could build a lumber mill and thus create a new business that would help support him and his family. Lesson: With determination, people can rebuild something new from the wreckage in their lives.

3. After the finishing the construction of the water wheel, his father often played the violin at nights after dinner. The young Nakazawa and his siblings joined in by singing the songs he father played. Significant in this scenario is that his father made the violin himself. This encouraged the eight-year old Nakazawa to learn from his father and make his first violin. Lesson: Parents through their care and nurturing lay the foundation for the future of their children.

2315: Exhausted, I reviewed in my mind what I needed to accomplish on Day 5. 1) To collate the photos and videos and 2) to write a storyline based on the three points from Nakazawa’s book. There must have been something else, but I was too tired to force my mind to keep functioning. I fell asleep without turning out the light.

To be concluded (Observations and Conclusions)

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