Monday, July 30, 2012

Not far from where I live...

So blog time again. Hopefully you'll see a few more next week as I will be heading off for around 10 days. It's school holidays here so I get a bit of a break too. Will I escape the heat though? That's the real question!
School kids parade at the Senmaya Festival
I had a few thoughts I want to share with my devoted readers, but I will save that for the next blog post. Last weekend I headed to a place called Senmaya, where I teach, as it was festival time! In Japan every small town seems to have its own festival. It seems almost mandatory in fact! Ichinoseki has its festival this coming Friday, and many other places in the area have been getting into the festival spirit. In Senmaya's case it seemed to be for the elderly people, put on by the school children. Poor kids, it was around 34 degrees with 90% humidity and they found themselves dancing in these thick traditional costumes. No wonder none of them were smiling!
Still, it was interesting if a little under-patronised. Lots of drums but I had missed the majority of it, only deciding whether to go or not at the last minute. Good to get out there and see some of my community.
A factory in Kesenumma, The tsunami punched a hole right in the wall.
 After that I drove to the coast. It's about 50km away from where I live, a place called Kesennuma. It's a place that felt the force of the March 11th Tsunami last year in a devastating way.
The shells of destroyed buildings punctuate a wasteland at Kesenumma.
 When I was first told I was headed to Iwate, I was a little hesitant. We are talking about one of the most affected regions by one of the deadliest natural disasters on this planet in my lifetime. In fact, perhaps only the Boxing Day Tsunami was more devastating. Here in Japan, over 20,000 people dead or missing after March 2011. I was hesitant, but realised full well that Ichinoseki was not that close to the coast. In fact, Kesenumma is in Miyagi prefecture. I felt safe enough going to Ichinoseki. Would I have been brave enough to head to Kesenumma? I don't know. These days I'm not just thinking about myself too.
The stunning wasteland
Other English teaching folks around these parts said they visited Kesenumma, and I decided I wanted to too. For one thing, I wanted to just see the coast, the other was no doubt some sort of morbid curiosity. Living in the area though, I also wanted to get a handle on what exactly happened here 16 months earlier. We drove slowly into town. Things seemed normal...

This is the second floor of a building. The ground floor has been swept away. Somehow the second floor survived.

Then we noticed a bit of damage. It seemed to be on the ground floor of buildings. Some had perfectly intact second floors or higher, but the ground floor was just the supports and little else. Maybe a solid brick wall. Some of the more stable buildings had sort of open air shops inside the ground floor. One place was selling what looked like kites and other festival decorations.
Drove around and found this sort of wasteland area. We were now down at sea level, in what appeared to be an old industrial / port area. Kesenumma was a busy port town before, with a now defunct and sad looking 'Shark Museum'. It was hot and haunting. This wasteland area had a few strong factories still standing, and people working hard clearing debris everywhere. Shells of buildings here and there. One factory was notable as it stood three or four stories high, and had damage and missing walls on the top and bottom floors. I have heard the wave was up to thirty metres high. I saw damage up to at least half that. 

The old piers now sink into the water, but boats still enter the harbour.
The thing is, I didn't see the coast. Kesenumma is not on the coast. It's a harbour, a secluded bay area. It's somewhat protected. It's hilly, at the top of the hill sits houses seemingly untouched. Imagine the horror of watching from there. Boats shift in and out of the harbour, they seemed to be leisure boats of some kind. A small bus of Japanese people got off and took photos. Is this it? I was doing the same. Devastation tourism.

On the 11th of July I was at my other school. We had a minute's silence in remembrance. That was in Ichinoseki. I've been told there was no power for two weeks here and man hole covers burst up from the roads. I've seen one building the earthquake made 'unsafe', but generally, if you weren't looking closely, you mightn't know Ichinoseki was affected. But Kesenumma is another, horrifying story which is hard to comprehend. I saw the videos, the footage of the wave that took cars up and deposited them kilometres away. But now I have a little more of an idea how real it was.

I hope I never get to understand what it was like to experience first hand.

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