37 Frames : Great Tohoku Earthquake & Tsunami 2011 Japan… Sweet Philosophy, that Ishihara and The Bath House Story
“If you have much, give your wealth; if you have little, give your heart.” Anonymous
So heart it will be as Tohoku voices, life lessons and humanity resonate for a bit above the heavy weight of dried waves and deep mourning. It is with much humility and a thousand mistakes that we try to tell the many, many stories we heard this past trip. Some told in whispers, others in groups, some in hugs, others outside temporary baths, some while sobbing watching children play, others still without words at all. Will share them here for the next week or so. Hope you don’t mind. Picking up in this post after we left the hopeful opening of Moriya Fruits previously.
With the morning spent in a pocket of normalcy, we reluctantly farewelled the frying fish and the first shop fanfare to visit some of the other volunteer groups in central Ishinomaki. To see what they were equally, definitely more muddily accomplishing. We passed through what was once a traditional Japanese restaurant, specializing in delicate, delicious kaiseki. The elegant interior now caked in the very latest mud-carpet. Inches and inches deep. Thick with ingredients never, ever served here before. The team were doing a remarkable job of clearing room by room. It was dark, dank and cold. Selfishly I preferred the sunshine and fish without chips. As the light beckoned we passed a room. Rows and boxes and stacks and stacks and stacks of crockery lay neatly. All tsunami coated. The volunteers had salvaged as many dishes, cups, plates, tea-cups as they could. They had then organized them here and would later clean them all hand by hand by hand. One by one. All we can do, help one. We left the sodden halls where kimono-clad servers perhaps once hurried, now simply ghosts from a month past replaced with loaded mud sacks, random mannequins and pretty tiles awaiting disposal.
Outside it was a warmish spring day but no less shocking than before. And I think that is something definitive I will never, ever quite get over. There is no way to ignore the wreckage, tune out, detach. Forget it’s now your landscape. Because every time you think you’ve seen it all, then you pass a home with a car shoved in a roof. And that is simply not normal. Or you come across art so colorful lining the streets, you are instantly pleased something so pretty has been saved. Only to really look at it and find so much darkness and heaviness therein. A mirror to a tidal soul.
While we were walking along the rubble strewn streets to our next assignment, my life changed forever.
A chance meeting with Mr Takahashi, outside, yet again… another fruit shop and I, we, the four of us, learnt more about the greatness of people, the kindness of strangers and just what being full and satisfied means. What it is to be alive. To be human. To simply give. I will try to convey the conversation as best as I remember, some of it I will muck up for sure but it went something along these lines.
Hello. This is my Fruit shop. Well it was my fruit shop. But now look. The tsunami you know, the building on top crashed down. My Fruit shop is now destroyed. Smashed. It is gone. Changed to Juice Shop.
Seriously. He guffawed with laughter. We smiled, wanting to laugh with him… but ummm… inappropriate? He repeated the story. Did we get it? Before fruit shop? Mix. Mix. Mix. Now juice shop! He cracked up again. We joined in. Crying with laughter took on a new meaning. Sobbing inside, smiling out.
See. It’s ok to smile, he said. What’s the alternative? We have cried so much. Smiling is easier. Thank you for all that you are doing. For all the help. For all the volunteers. Truly. I am ok. I have my car. Look. I have my keitai. See. Oh, and… pause…long… pause… oh, yes I have my wife. More hysteria.
When it settled down finally that’s when he fed us the world’s best diet. Guaranteed results immediately. In the shadow of the sad but once proud orange and yellow striped awning he told us this…his wife standing behind, head bowed, nodding in agreement. After the quake, tsunami and resulting carnage Mr Takahashi wondered how to live. How to repay what he had been given. His life. So he decided to go back to basics. We eat 3 meals a day. Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner. So he decided just like each meal he would do something for someone. In the morning he would think how could he help someone? And so he did. And that was his breakfast. At noon he wondered how to help another. And so he did. And that was his lunch. When dinner came round, he would find a way to reach out to someone in need, anyway, someway. Simply connect. That would be his dinner. If he could do just 3 things, then he would be full. That was how he wanted to live the rest of his life. To pay it forward for all that he had. His life. I know I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing. He asked if I understood. And while it wasn’t yet 12pm I held out my hand for him to hold if he wanted to and I said, yes, thank you. I do. I do understand. I am so full of thanks to you. I will try to do the same. He smiled a real smile. With my endless pit of a tummy I hope it won’t be too problematic.
I asked if it would be OK to take his photo. Sure, he said. Wife, come on. You, too. And so they stood beside the crushed, tangled remains of their beloved local fruit & vege shop. Proud, alive, a connection made. Oceans crossed. Fruit shop philosophy at it’s best. I asked him about his plans. Well, you know. We are not sure. Maybe we build again, maybe not. After 2 years, kana? The one thing that is certain is uncertainty. For us it was a little clearer. This brief collision with the remarkable Mr Takahashi outside his Ishinomaki M-Mart would not be forgotten. Ever.
We passed the water-cleaning area where at knock-off time every spade, barrow and muddy body comes for a good, thorough cleaning. Truly. Not much action right now. Come back after 4pm. The water incidentally is filtered from the river flowing parallel now back to it’s pre-tsunami size.
Just a few houses down that don’t exist anymore, was this one… equally dissolved. All that remains are the front steps leading up to the home that’s simply gone. The rest washed away then incinerated.
We pass muddy footprints, in stores with dangerously dangling remnants of windows. Indicating what it takes to get to the floor. On the way we pass more volunteers, soon to be friends with wheelbarrows full of tasks. For some it is break time, and a chance to refuel. For others it’s time to refuel those without means.
And so we go on our first takidashi. Relief supply deliveries. Meals on wheels served direct to the people. This takidashi was set-up in the neighboring grounds of a temple where the first cherry blossoms of the season were reluctantly blooming. Today’s menu was yakisoba – Japanese fried noodles. They were hot, you know. There was plenty, please line-up here to get some. And we have juice and snacks. Plus some other stuff. Brooms, marshmellows. Please take them as you need them.
I cannot tell you how many times I saw people say, ‘thank you, that is enough’ when given their portion of food. Please take some out. I don’t need it all. That will be sufficient. As people waited in line many came to talk and share stories and some practiced English greetings.
Trace, Corry & Jane connected with an elderly gentlemen survivor here who took great delight in addressing the countries we were from and sharing his experiences. He had been to them all as he proudly wore his Ishinomaki Fish Market cap. Fish Market is gone, he said. All gone. But I have been to Australia, Canada, England. Yes, Jane, he loved England, especially for the literature. And he saw an opera at the Sydney Opera House one visit. It was magnificent. We would have heard more but suddenly this mother and daughter combo arrived and while she gripped Trace’s hand her daughter encouraged her with several impatient taps on her elbow to say it like they had practiced. Remember how we renshued….And so she said blinded by tears ,“Thank you for your kindness, thank you for your kindness…” Then she prattled off something at terrific speed in Japanese and her daughter gently slapped her again…in English mother…oh, yes…thank you for your kindness. And so they left. In their matching outfits, walking tall, message received.
At this particular location another NPO had set-up a remarkable portable bath house. Giving a much needed comfort in the middle of despair. Would we like to see inside? Yes, sure. Here we met Maki and other new friends. The bath is open for women from 2-4pm for men from 4-6pm. On most regular days 40 people visit. On rainy days about 15. We marveled at how quickly it had been established and what a source of need it was to be clean… we fully understood as we were already heading into unchartered territory showerwise… We promised to come back and deliver hundreds of brand new hand towels we had been given.
The Bath House Story
This was when we met Chie. And she had a lot to say. The bath was indeed so wonderful and she is so thankful for it. It takes her 20-30 minutes walk to get there. She comes sometimes, when she can. She is happy today to meet us. But anyway, what about that Ishihara? The governor of Tokyo. And how about Tepco? And what about Tokyo worrying about it’s power when so many people are suffering. There should be more apologies. It is unbelievable, she said. Through her infectious smile and spirit, she certainly had a lot to say about radiation! We discussed age and both agreed being 21 was feeling good right now. And it was simply all we could do to just let her talk, get it all out. Be some fresh ears. She was so appreciative that people had come to help, … but what about the Fukushima situation? Surely it is serious, but Tohoku needs so much help. Please don’t forget us. It is not right to be forgotten. That Ishihara… We heard her, and could do nothing but agree. Would a hug help? Well perhaps not completely, but would it be OK to have a second one she enquired? That smile, those hands and that heart hurt but not broken, weary but strong. Her beautiful oba-chan repose, active gesturing indelible in our minds. Surely so unfair to have to endure this in the winter of one’s life. But don’t worry Chie, we forget you not.
“Somewhere there is someone that dreams of your smile, and finds in your presence that life is worthwhile, so when you are lonely remember it’s true, someone somewhere is thinking of you.” ~ Unknown…
Erring on the over-ryhming side, but deeply relevant all the same. More to follow.
More about The Great Tohoku Earthquake & Tsunami 2011 Japan:
Read The Black Mouth here…
Read Dead Zone Ganbaro & The Fruit Shop Story here…
Read Sweet Philosophy, that Ishihara and The Bath House Story here…
Read Graveyard Views & Grateful Thanks here…
Read Sequels, Smili’s & The Gumboot Story here…
Read Children of the Tsunami, Lady Gaga and the One about the Clock here…
Read Dark, Heavy & the one about the Drum here…
Read Strangled Blossoms, Trespassing & the One about Sinking towns here…