TODAY IS THE GREATEST DAY
My friend, Lea created this beautiful video from her visits to the evacuee centers, where she brought smiles to many children through crafts and fun with english.
I realize this website has exposed some un-imaginable sights and heart-breaking stories. I’d like to sum up this most recent visit to Yamada with some positive observations and thoughts. As hard as it may seem to be uplifted after a natural disaster (or man-made), if any nation can do that it is Japan and the Tohoku region is no exception.
I may be pushing it by saying that Yamada has some of the nicest people I know. I have thought a lot about why that is. They seem to have everything they need. They have the ocean, farm-land, mountains and the fresh air that goes with it. Their low rate of population growth relieves them of the accompanying stress that goes with growth and expansion. Their self sufficient (until recently) life-styles, living off local food and water, could also be the reason for their pleasant nature. They have history with each other and community. They take care of each other and share with one another. At least that is what I have noticed and I admit I may be biased.
Having said that, statements made (by Tokyo’s governor) blaming the March 11th disaster on the greed of the Japanese people (Divine Punishment), could not have been referring to this place. Mindless statements like that, are often made by people who are certain that God has a plan and attempt to explain and justify the often un-explainable, like AIDS and natural disasters. Certainly I will not attempt to make sense of natural disasters, however, Yamada and it’s people can give us some clues of how to go on with what you’ve got.
I noticed some subtle changes on this visit. The regular announcements (bellowed over loud-speakers) that I often heard in pre-tsunami times that were usually talked through, were now being greeted with shush’s by all and everyone listened carefully. No more ‘ boy who cried wolf’ attitudes. Most conversations had a pre-tsunami, post-tsunami frame of reference and most discussions worked their way back to March 11th. The bigger changes in the landscape was that the lower part of town was still primarily untouched, except for a few businesses. The higher landscapes had kasetsu (temporary housing) communities, strategically placed on every available piece of land. Neighborhoods instantly now have 50-100 new neighbors every couple of blocks.
I got several opportunities to bike around Yamada with Toshiaki and then on my own, once I got the lay of the land. “Follow the road until you reach the street with the only building left standing” or ” follow the signs past
the mountain of cars until you reach the 7-11 hut, recently constructed,” were some of the instructions I received. I passed block after block of tall, bright green weed-like plants growing where living rooms once were. Sunflowers were sprouting everywhere, known to soak up the salt in the soil (as well as radioactive chemicals), and efforts to grow new flowers and add life into the town were on every corner.
The main grocery store, ‘Bihan’ re-opened the week
I arrived and lines stretched to the back of the store. There were signs lining the new walls of the store with pictures of vendors and employees holding encouraging messages like ‘ don’t give up Yamada’ and ‘move forward.’ The produce section had pictures and names of local farmers above their products to encourage people to support their neighbours. A famous
singer came to help support the re- opening of the store. This has occurred all over the Tohoku area. Celebrities are showing up at schools, community centers, hospitals and evacuee centers to help lift spirits. The supermarket gave away gifts to all the costumers and has become the lone beacon in a flattened town.
Toshiaki’s classmate, Sasaki (mentioned in a previous post), wasted no time assembling a make-shift building on his property to continue selling shoes and other popular items (cigarettes to be truthful). As my friend, Michele, suggested, Toshiaki and I bought some shoes. When I asked him what he said to the authorities to get permission to build, his response as he shrugged his shoulders was an equivalent to “come on man, let me just do my business while you all figure out what to do next” (loose translation, of course). I started noticing other shops setting up around town in this temporary style.
One night while Toshiaki and I rode through the quiet streetlight-less town, I started wondering about what other key establishment like Bihan and Sasaki’s shoe store would be popping up first. Being a once-lover-of-sake (and other spirits) myself, I had a hard time imagining how a town could exist without drinking establishments. Sure enough, I spotted a temporary building with it’s door cracked open and a blue, night-club-light creeping out. I got close enough to see the cardboard sign which read ‘boarder bar,” like the boards the bar was quickly assembled with. After that, my keen eye detected a few more similar places that had blossomed in the night.
I finally was able to make contact with the Yamada volunteer center. A representative sat down with me and explained that regarding the second
tier of help, most of the evacuees have been assigned and moved into a kasetsu community. This past summer had brought Yamada plenty of help from many young students from all over Japan, who decided to relocate form the summer to camp ground like living conditions and help out wherever they could. This is the case in other towns too. I asked him what kind of help would be needed in the coming months and he explained about the new phase of salon katsudo (salon living). The plan is to try to have community building activities and sessions where the evacuees can gather and just talk or do some kind of activity. Eventually, they will try to have separate sessions for smaller groups, like children and teens. The majority of evacuees are however, elderly women.
- It turned out that they were doing a trial salon katsudo, and he invited me to join in. We greeted the people as they entered the newly constructed meeting room. We handed out tea and snacks. There were piles of re-claimed, photo albums, found in the debris, that the women could look through to see if anyone recognised faces in the photos. I tried to blend among the energetic volunteers and listened to a few people’s stories. One women, Mrs. Yamasaki(88),had lost her house and all her possessions and although she seemed grateful to be alive she did finally say that she often wishes she had been swept away with the house. My throat went dry of words.
Yamada and other towns are recovery. Some areas better and faster than others. The people’s spirits are strong. Some stronger than others. They have a lot of healing and re-building ahead of them. I will continue to report what progress I can as well as information regarding other issues surrounding this recovery.
In the mean time watch for various events and fundraisers to offer continued help and support. Renew Yamada will be participating in the Aki Matsuri, on October 15th held in China town in Las Vegas. There will also be an event on sunday in Tokyo, where many of the entertainment community in Tokyo will share their talents and raise funds. More of these type of events in the following postings.