Posted by Ilse and Mogens
For a long time it has been our dream to visit Japan again. We are very fond of ancient Japanese culture, crafts, Zen culture, gardens and the friendly and helpful Japanese people.
The disastrous earthquake on 11th March 2011 releases a nuclear disaster and a huge tsunami that postpones our plans, but gives us the desire to help and to see the dimensions of the disaster with our own eyes.
In September, we choose to go to Japan with Japanspcialisten.dk. Which together with the “RQ Citizens Disaster Relief Network Japan” has organized aid work in connection with the clean-up after the tsunami?
After a few days in Tokyo, we meet with our RQ group: Three men from the USA, two unemployed female Japanese tour guides, our leader and interpreter Kyoko and my wife and me. John from United States participates, in return for the help he received after the “Katarina disaster” in New Orleans. Andrew from Dallas Texas dreams of working in Japan, and Lazaro would like to become an English teacher in Japan, and he is already good at Japanese which he learnt in the USA.
We are provided with rubber boots, helmets, masks, safety goggles, rubber gloves and go north by bus for 6 hours to Matsushima. On the way we pass the Fukushima Nuclear Power Station at a safe distance but still it gives food for thought.
(Area where dikes and most houses are completely gone)
We stay in a Ryokan – a Japanese inn with everything that it implies. The very hot shared bath, the exotic food and sleeping on a thin futon on top of tatami mats.
Early next morning we drive to a gym. It rains heavily, so our group works indoors. The task is to clean and sort personal belongings. For example toys, school bags, personal papers and photographs. It is a moving experience, especially the feeling that we do not know whether the owner is dead or alive, makes an impression.
(Cleaned school bags ready for pickup)
The next days we work in Onosaki, a small village on the shore of an inland sea. We clean up around the severely damaged houses. Some of them might be saved if someone dares to live there? On the other side of the lake all the houses are gone. The empty foundations are left in the shallow water; the dykes have been torn away.
The work consists in removing sand, mud and smashed wood, for one thing to find personal belongings, but also to make the area less overwhelming to return to. Sand and mud are shovelled into 15 kg sacks, which are used for the temporary dykes. There is a great enthusiasm, team spirit and a good mood in our group. Group leader Kyoko is attentive, helpful, cheerful and very motivating. A good friend to have in Japan! We still have contact with the group.
The QR-people and the people we meet on our way, express great gratitude that we have travelled the long way to help.
After the very touching and rewarding work with the group is completed, we stay in the Tsunami area.
Kyoko helps us to find a Minshuku in Ogatsucho in a small fishing village. Almost all their 100 houses exist, but all their 100 boats were lost. Now the fishermen meet on the pier with nothing else to do but to remove the timber that is still floating ashore.
Special thanks to Ilse-san, Mogens-san and Iizuka-san of JTA, who helped me publish this report.