Japanese living outside Japan for many years, currently residing in Hawaii. Wants to clean up tsunami debris when it reaches Hawaii after traveling on ocean currents.
The phone rang around 9 p.m. on March 10th. I heard a recorded message, “A tsunami warning was issued for Hawaii. The tsunami waves are estimated to reach Hawaii at 3:07 a.m. on 3/11.” At first, I thought “another tsunami warning”. Being located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaiian Islands could get tsunami waves from Alaska, North and South Americas, Oceania, Asia as well as Japan as its history shows. We had a tsunami warning after a Chilean earthquake last year, but it was just a warning and we did not see any big waves. I turned on TV and was ashamed of myself that even momentarily I thought “another tsunami warning”.
From that day, I could not stop watching news on the Internet and TV, but could not stand just watching it. “I wish I could be there doing something” without knowing what I could do. I do not have any transportation, place to stay overnight, or any special skills. After a few months of searching on the Internet, I decided to volunteer with RQ in June.
Although I saw devastated areas many times on TV and on the Internet, standing there and seeing actual places made me feel very sad and scared of what nature could do—a car on a roof top of a building, fishing boats far from water, washed away houses barely hanging on railroad tracks and sea break water, railroad tracks bent like a candy cane and cut, a bridge with only foundations left, trees turning brown because of sea water, and border lines between those destroyed and those survived.
I set 20 days as my goal, if I could survive, and wanted to do a variety of things (whatever I could do): I participated in organizing donated supply inventory; listening to people living in shelters or temporary housing; administration help; debris clean-up in rice paddies, sidewalks, around houses, underneath a tsunami damaged house, gutters; cleaning items found during debris removal. I also participated in making anchors for floats to aquaculture “wakame” sea weed; putting rocks into a bag was very tough and I might not have been a help, though. I have to thank fishermen for letting us do something like this.
Imagine what you see in front of you and around you is all gone within a few minutes. I found all sorts of things from small to very large while removing debris—rice bowls, blankets, futons, pants, unopened beer cans, soy sauce, glass pieces, VHS tapes, trees, a washing machine, wood pieces, doors, tractors, part of a roof, etc. etc. All may be called debris now, but somebody owned it and was using it. When I found a mud-covered school notebook with a boy’s name on it, I could not hold my tears. Is the boy safe somewhere? I felt the same when I was removing photos from a photo album to be cleaned and also when I was cleaning bank books, school IDs, driver’s license, etc. found during debris clean-up. Did they survive and eventually they can get these things back?
destroyed bridge and houses left on the bridge by Tsunami
beautiful bay vs. houses that survived Tsunami and debris, Karakuwa, Kesennuma-shi
photo cleaning, Utatsu, Minami-Sanriku-cho
eamwork cleaning up debris, Koizumi, Kesennuma-shi
making anchors for floats, Karakuwa, Kesennuma-shi
I met people with different backgrounds and from many different places—students, people working and took days off, home makers, retirees, students studying in Japan coming from China and Mongolia, groups and individuals from Korea, Japanese living outside Japan like myself. What everybody said is that they wanted to do something. It was amazing to see that everybody found his or her role during volunteer work without being told by anybody. Everybody’s wish to do something built a team very quick although we did not know each other or even names. I also met several volunteers who had been working since soon after the disaster. I have a lot of respect to everyone.
When I told my friends here about my volunteer experience, I was asked “Was there any looting or riot?” Sadly, looting or riot is sometimes reported after a disaster in this country. I said “On the contrary, people are trying to help each other and share whatever they have.”. People living near RQ brought fresh and cooked vegetables, freshly caught sea foods to augment our meals. Even a retired fisherman living in a shelter, who lost everything, brought some foods he received at the shelter to share. I had to accept his offer although I felt guilty. There are families who make their baths available for RQ volunteers to use. Can you imagine total strangers come to your house and take a bath? People who offer foods or bath to RQ volunteers say that is all they can do because of their health reason or time. I kept thinking “Can we do this if something happens?”
I found the Tohoku region to be very beautiful with mountains, rice paddies, forests, complicated coastal lines. I heard “uguisu” or Japanese bush warbler, whose singing Japanese people cherish and we do not hear that often, everywhere I went to. I was also fortunate to see “genji botaru” or fireflies—they looked like creatures from a different world. I went to the Tohoku region to do something, but I ended up getting more than I gave; finding the beauty of the region, seeing people’s will to do something without expecting anything in return, caring for other people and sharing (which, I thought, had been disappearing in Japan until I went to Tohoku this time), finding unity and link with people. I have to thank RQ for providing an opportunity like this although it was because of the awful disaster. I also wish to have a link with the Tohoku region.