One day during the volunteer trip, at around 2 o’clock in the afternoon, a 5.5 earthquake happened. Everyone had to go up to the
mountain and wait until the “no tsunami warning” notification came.
We went back to the village and were about to pick up our work again.
But the officials were afraid that bigger earthquakes could be coming.
Everyone had to leave the area.
Volunteers unwillingly stopped their work. No one had come all the way to Miyagi to leave work early.
In the past 2 days, we all knew rest was important especially for this kind of painstaking work. But sitting waiting while watching the
debris in front of my eyes, it was a patience test.
For the 2 nights before that day, many of us had been sitting around, drinking, and chatting. But that evening, the time we could do that
was a bit too long.
This volunteer trip somehow reminded me of the backpacking days – I was in a very unfamiliar environment, meeting and speaking with people
with different backgrounds.
Besides volunteers from all over Japan, there were also a few volunteers from Europe and America.
One of them was Thomas, from Switzerland. He used to be a marketing manager for a travel agency that focused on Japan. But since the
earthquake happened, all the Japan tour reservations got cancelled, and there was no new booking since. So he decided to quit his job and
starting from August of this year, began to walk all the way down from Hokkaido to Kyushu. He hoped this could help bring positive images and
messages to people.
And there was a couple from Denmark, the guy 20, the girl 19.
Also, there was a father and son from America. The boy was only 16 years old.
Everyone was upset by how news from their own countries only showed the negative side of this disaster. And quite often, the reports were
irresponsibly exaggerating the situation. But everyone also agreed that’s the reason why the whole world was looking at Japan and brought
them over to disaster area to help.
There were many Japanese I met who have done volunteering work more than once.
Mr. Kurihara, a 70 year-old man, who kept on thanking us, a group of foreigners, who came to help. He was also always buying us beer during
Another woman I talked with was already in her fourth time doing volunteer work. Both of her daughters were now volunteering in a
hospital near Fukushima nuclear plant for 3 months.
It took about 7 hours to come back to Tokyo from Miyagi. Since one person’s birthday was nearby, we bought a cake and drinks from a rest
area and had a little party on the bus.
While I was in Miyagi, I also found out that a friend of mine was doing volunteer work in Iwate.
There were also many other stories I heard during this trip. The joke that I quite like was, if you translate “Ishinomaki” into English, it
could be “Rock and Roll City.” (in Kanjis, “Ishi” is rock, and “Maki” is roll.)
When I was back in Tokyo, I looked at all these random things I had in my sitting room, thinking of their stories and histories. I pictured a
scene of volunteers finding my personal items in a big ruin.
Since I came back, I have talked to a couple of friends about this experience ( especially to the people who were originally from
Tohoku), they all thanked me for helping their homeland.
I was thankful for their compliments. They made me feel good about myself. But I also understood that, I went to Tohoku just to make
myself feel better. And during this trip, I got more than I gave.
Besides, there were many more volunteers who were devoting themselves to helping Tohoku, much harder than I did. There were many more people
doing something much more meaningful. What I did was small.
No matter how explosive or eventful the 311 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear plant crisis were, the most important part of this disaster
was the process of Japan standing up again.
I hope Tohoku will get well soon. I will go there again.
Sept 11th, 2011