While things are improving for the survivors of that tsunami that may have killed upwards of 20,000 people that day, the scars still abound... both physical and emotional to the survivors and to the land itself.
A good friend of mine sent me a link from a site in Ishinomaki-shi (石巻市), a coastal city that was almost erased from the map when the tsunami wave crashed over its tiny sea wall designed to stop such waves.
It didn't after the Chilean earthquake of 8.8 Magnitude on February 27, 2010 spawned a tsunami that his the northeast coast of Japan, and it didn't work in 2011. They have constructed higher seawalls now... still shorter than the height of the tsunami wave that made landfall in parts of Japan... but the hope is that it will still be high enough to stop the brunt of it to give the populace enough time (unlike in 2011) to seek proper shelter.
But that's neither here nor there.
Three thousand and 97 people were confirmed dead, with 2,770 unaccounted for, with 29,000 people losing their homes. So... almost 6,000 people dead.
American assistant English teacher Taylor Anderson was killed by the tsunami. Since her death, her family has been active in supporting the Ishinomaki school district, and has set up programs to further English education...
The earthquake shifted the city southeast and downward, lowering it by as much as 1.2 meters (3.9 feet in some areas and causing it to flood twice daily at high tide. A once sandy beach in the Kadonowaki area completely disappeared and tides now reach the wall that once separated the beach from the road.
The website my friend directed me too has postings of commentary from some of the survivors at Ishinomaki... written in Japanese, and translated into English by Chiba Naomi (surname first), a teacher there. It's not perfect English... spellers (spelling mistakes) and some strange translations... but it's pretty good English. I commend her for her efforts. Bravo!
The commentary offers a mere glimpse into how people think nowadays about what happened that day in 2011, and how it affects them even now.
It's powerful, powerful stuff, people. It made me cry. Though I'm sure some of you realize that I seem to cry quite easily, and it's true, but this... this is both sad... and wonderful... and sad again.
My friend has been sending books to a library there... books he buys himself, and then pays the stupidly high shipping costs, and send them so that the kids there can read a book in English. He does this without any personal gain or support (except support from myself, perhaps). He does it because... well, he's a decent human being. I should point out he's not a rich person either, and to my eyes often sacrifices personal things to make sure his book donations keep on finding its target audience - sending out huge box-loads several times a year. He doesn't write in to the blog, but he does write in to my e-mail - every day that he can, helping me fix spellers et al, because he knows I tend to write off the cuff, with what little free time I have (community baseball, community hockey, work, and family-stuff).
Enough of that... I'll start crying again.
Here's the first batch of letters (there's more) penned by Ishinomaki survivors of the March 11, 2011 (3.11) tsunami, translated to English:
43) Ms. RS (a woman in her 60’s)
July 24, 2016
I believe experience and wisdom can tell us what the next step should be, which come from our inner self. Please don’t forget about 3.11 and all of us who are still living in Ishinomaki. Actual events could be different from what’s reported on TV or by news. I realize and accept that my life will not reach my goals 100%.
In November 2010, a year before the disaster, I retired in Tokyo and returned to Ishinomaki to live with my mother, where I grew up. Shortly after my move, I was hit by the disaster in the March of the following year. After my retirement at 60 years old, I was planning to spend good times doing what I have been fond of. Some of my moving packages were not yet unpacked, and books I was planning to read were swept away by the tsunami. I didn’t die and survived, but my classmates were missing. I couldn’t stay discouraged, so I must accept what had occurred.
Although I had only experienced cooking for family, I opened a café in August 2014 because I needed to do something. Volunteers were helpful to clean up the place. I wanted to create a space where people could gather, because what I witnessed was horrific. It was a relief to see that people were gathering at a beauty salon that had been re-opened in the neighborhood. I invited someone I knew who was isolated herself at a temporary housing, and she agreed to help me at my café. I used to work as a social worker in Tokyo and had experience meeting with many people and handling complains positively. It may be my personality to accept others. I think of 3.11 as something that could happen and something that you would experience. I stayed at a shelter for two weeks being totally stunned. In the grayness and debris, I thought of having a café to create a sign of life and to let the world know there are people here. It’s the image of the growing of new sprout from the dead plant in spring. I moved to a temporary housing from the shelter and had a duty of a look-around. I had small two rooms and wanted to do something as the place was too small to get comfortable if stayed all day.
The course of nature is immense. We shouldn’t even think about controlling it. Just avoid fearsome nature and escape when a Tsunami comes.
It used to be a beach where sea bathers’ voice flowed in the wind. There was only a small seawall. The ocean has days that are beautifully gentle and days that are rough. I am sad that a large fishing port was built a long time ago, and it made the water flow change that removed the sandy beach. When I was a child, long before 3.11, it was a shoaling beach filled with beautiful water. My feet got hot before reaching the water as the beach was so wide. I feel bitter for having the fishing port more than having the tsunami. I was watching the tsunami caused by the Great Chilean Earthquake from the seawall in 1960. So, we didn’t escape this time thinking we were safe here.
On 3.11, I saw the tsunami through the pine forest while I was driving. I thought this forest was deep, but I was mistaken. After the strong earthquake, I said to myself “As expected, a Tsunami is coming!” The car radio also said “It’s a tsunami!” I kept driving while checking my rearview mirror. When I turned left, there was someone I knew who was standing in water raised up to his ankles. He was waiting for a car to carry his mother who was bedridden. The tsunami rushed in when two of us just started to carry his mother upstairs by climbing the stairs. We hurried to go upstairs. I thought I didn’t want to die. We tried to keep his mother warm with many blankets. From upstairs, we watched the tsunami heading towards the mountain.
I cannot move forward unless I accept a situation. Imagination is also important not only having knowledge. Sometimes I tumble to an answer when I continue to stick to it. It may not be right away, but a flash moment of realization certainly comes. So, we must wait until something develops next by taking it as a preparation period. Someone was saying that there was an order just like a baby crawling. Crawling, standing up, then climbing stairs one step at a time. I wanted to have an easy life after retirement, but now I don’t even have my own time. It was a fun and joy to open the café within 5 years of the disaster. The sun rises tomorrow, and there is no such night that fails to dawn. It’s never stays the same just like when I was waiting for the morning in upstairs on March 11. We need messages like, “You are not the only one”, “Someone is thinking of you”, “You are not alone”, “There is someone who is worrying about you”. I believe that I was able to overcome this disaster because I was not the only one who was affected by the disaster. I’m thinking about my next step. Various people come to my café, who carried numerous issues, but they were trying very hard to live their life and to stand up.
I’m sick of Tokyo. High rises block the sunshine, and space is tight. It’s convenient with everything available, but I don’t want to live there again.
Volunteers come to my café to plant flowers. We even have yoga and picture letter classes. Café’s name is “ocean” in French. I had an obscurely image of the color blue, so it’s a café with blue sky and blue ocean. I will continue to deal with ocean even repining, and that’s my attitude.
44) Ms. YS (a woman in her 60’s)
July 27, 2016
It’s important to have awareness of disaster prevention on a regular basis. It’s important to have a creative education with a focus on children after reviewing the old education system which encourages just memorizing. When I was young, I thought of becoming a teacher was too difficult for the task at hand. I respected teachers. After graduating collage, I worked for an accounting department of a company for a year and half. One day, when I was using an abacus, my ears heard ringing of a school bell. Then I quit my job and became a substitute teacher. When I wanted to get more involved with children, the school principal advised me to become a full time teacher. Three girls who were alienated in school directly appealed to the principal that I should have been a teacher. The children mediated my career. I appreciated my husband as a good partner supporting my work. While having a threatened miscarriage and raising a child were challenging, I was fully motivated to take on advices from many seniors and learn from great teachers.
I ran the school with a focus on designing classes and events. It’s a safety education to protect own life. Teachers were united and communicated well, and I believe we made a good group of assembly with a whole school. When we changed the guidance plan, we could see that the children were changing as a result. This is a school that offers a place for children to be lively, while we tried to change the parents’ way of thinking as well in order to take care of the children together. On 3.11, we just followed a usual evacuation drill. Teachers and children were taking these routine drills quite seriously. We knew with certainty that a powerful earthquake was coming some day, so we had safety education. It’s an everyday effort to walk the hallway quietly, line up quickly at morning meetings and school assemblies and listen to what teachers have to say. I did this with the limited time of three years until my retirement but spent more and more time for this purpose. I passed on a Zen phrase “Cherry blossoms smile in the spring wind
as in the past” to children at the meeting on 3.11 and told them that they had to accept the hardships and continue to live. I tried to become a teacher who creates good things and enlighten hearts with clear vision of bringing up utmost of the children and a desirable school as a school principal. I might have been influenced by my father. I treasured the encounter and relationship while overcoming the obstacles by accepting them. My 33 years of teaching was full of learning experiences from the children. I appreciated the children because our teachings were mutual. Good classes nurture the ability to make decisions by thinking and expressing, stopping and looking back.
One child who moved to Kobe after the disaster told me about a teacher who shouted “Come up!” and desperately protected him. I want to preserve the school building that had been damaged as remains of the disaster. On 3.11, I heard Tsunami warning sirens in the schoolyard. With a split- second decision, I quickly evacuated to a higher ground with 230 children. Locals evacuated together, and we adults were also saved by the children. Later, we opened a safe that was at the school with a blowtorch and took out graduation diplomas that were stored there for the upcoming graduation ceremony.
The children born in the year of the disaster are now the first graders at elementary school. I want to carry out my mission to tell and pass on the facts. I wonder how harrowing it was for the teachers who lived through the wars. They were tough, weren’t they? We also must survive natural disasters.
45) Ms. MB (a woman in her 60’s)
August 10, 2016
It was a big shake, so I knew it was something unusual. But, I didn’t expect a Tsunami. I was working in the office. When I went to my car in a parking lot, there was a crow on the fence that wasn’t flying away. So I asked, “Is something going to happen?” I worried about my house in Ishinomaki and just drove following a car in front of me at 70 km/hour. In the city, people seemed carefree doing their cleaning after the earthquake or chatting. I went to a grocery store but there already was a long line. I saw the ocean from Hiyoriyama mountain. People were coming up to Hiyoriyama mountain chatting. I learned there was something unusual by listening to the radio reporting about Arahama. Radio was only reporting the news from Sendai. I lost myself when I heard the news that Onagawa was completely destroyed. I wanted to see it by myself as my husband was working there. I planned to stay up till 10 pm inside my car to stay warm, sleep in clothes then drive to Onagawa in the morning to pick up my husband. He was a school teacher there, and I wasn’t able to get a hold of him. I instantly knew that he wouldn’t be able to come home for a while because he had to take care of children after such a huge earthquake. The next day, a boat was up on the street blocking the way so that I couldn’t drive. I decided to walk to Onagawa. On the morning of 3/12, there was a soup kitchen in Tatemachi, and someone unknown called me in to eat. I was thankful. Someone I knew who had a sushi restaurant gave me rice cooked using propane gas. Neighbor shared rice also cooked using propane gas. In the morning of the 5th day, I was able to confirm that my husband was safe and I felt relieved knowing he was alive. I knew he, as a teacher would work for children and wouldn’t come home for a while.
In the night of 3.11, the burning ocean was coming towards the mountain. I didn’t turn on the radio afraid of listening to biased news. A friend told me to watch out for the tsunami just the day before, but she was killed. I wondered if ruins of war would have looked like this. Everyone
was walking in silence. I reunited with my husband after two weeks. I put him in a bath and cooked Tonjiru-soup for him. For a while, I concentrated on my work but was exhausted. I thought it would be nice to go to the ocean side in Akita and eat good fish.
I’m a person who acts before thinking. I felt I would be ok as I was not the only one and everyone around me were also hit by the disaster. I heard from my husband later that he could see a black wall of water coming towards the land from the school that was standing on a hill. They evacuated the children to even higher ground. The teachers didn’t release children even their parents came to pick them up. Five disaster prevention radios were not usable. He told me that the disaster manual of Onagawa indicated that there would be a tsunami after an earthquake. I married young and came from a town far away, but the neighbors helped me when I asked for. Even after the disaster, having ordinary relationships with people helped me. It’s important to talk to each other, to open your heart. Nowadays, young people have trouble dealing with people. They lack relationships, but I wonder if that’s ok?
I like people and I’m a type of person who takes the lead. I’m the commander of my family. I used to be negative and stayed away from people until my junior high school age but realized that it would be my loss if I had continued my attitude. I started to volunteer for the Red Cross and became a cheerful person in my high school days. I love caring for children.
I feel I’m not a victim because my husband was safe and I have a job and a house. I feel guilty about these gifts. There are many volunteers working, I pass by strangers, and the town that I was familiar with now looks like a different place. Are we ok to be the victims who are just waiting to receive something with an open mouth? What’s recovery? There is a difference in attitude of people in Ishinomaki. It might be about time to stop, think and stand up to become self-sufficient.
I picked up some Pacific Saury washed up to the land, carried them on my back to the mountain and cooked. I received fish cake and rice from others. I invited victims to my house and let them bathe and wash clothes. I’m not a type of person who thinks into the future. Living now is the most I can do. I’m happy if I’m satisfied for today while looking at the past and future. Each day is important with encounters and time. I have no worries. I know worrying won’t help or resolve anything. I read many books when I was little. My teacher took us to the mountain on a nice day when I was in elementary school. My home town had a tall mountain and I lived my life looking up the mountain. So, I think I can see something different by looking up.
Now, I’m recovered and enjoy telling people what I want to pass on.
46) Ms. AS (a woman in her 60’s)
August 21, 2016
I lost a lot but appreciated that I gained more than I lost. In the summer of 2011, we started repairing our home with the help of a carpenter we knew. In October, a lost cat showed up from a vent, which looked like an old rag full of hairballs. It must have belonged to someone before, because it snuggled up to me. This cat seemed to be a victim of PTSD. It occasionally panics to runs by looking up the sky. I can imagine the horror this cat must have experienced in the disaster.
The kindness and compassion of people that I felt during the disaster were something I could have never experienced in my ordinary life. My husband had been sick and in and out of bed for 3-4 years and taking strong medication. My daughter was in the middle of getting a divorce. When my husband became mostly bedridden, I had a fresh surprise that I could do mostly anything that we needed to do by myself. I didn’t have time to cry. I remember that a celebrity on the television once said, “Accept what comes to you without running away. Life is a training journey.” This was just before the 3.11 disaster.
The water from the Tsunami came in to our house from the main entrance and rose up to 2 meters. I went upstairs with my husband and cat immediately. Once we evacuated to upstairs, I realized that the whole neighboring area was under water. I was somewhat relieved to know that we were not the only victims. Later, I had a chance to visit Kobe where was hit by the Great Hanshin Earthquake 20 some years ago and was impressed by seeing the amazing recovery. It made me feel confident of human abilities, and I was convinced that Ishinomaki would be all right as long as we work hard and look forward. It was a touching experience to visit Kobe.
My next door neighbor had evacuated to a middle school. One day after 3.11, they came home to pick up some food and hit by the Tsunami on their way back to the school. We had bread, water, sweet buns and blankets. There were eight slices of bread in a package, and I suggested my husband that we would stretch them for one week. I asked my next door neighbor through the window if they had enough food. They didn’t. So, I packed some sweet buns in a plastic bag and passed it to them using a laundry pole. A little while later, they passed us some water in return but also seasoned rice and Natto which were many times more than what I had given them. I only wanted to help them without any expectations. We had some bags to collect dog’s pee and thought we could use them in lieu of a toilet for at least 10 days. Water didn’t withdraw even into March 14. After few days, I was finally able to go downstairs, stood on the shoe cabinet and collected shoes from the mud and debris. My son, who lives in Sendai, came to pick us up, and we lived in his house for about 10 days until the end of March. When we were leaving for Sendai, my next door neighbor’s daughter came out and gave us freshly made warm rice balls. Delicious! I thought it was the best one I’ve ever tasted in my life. In Sendai, I was able to receive medication free of charge from a hospital. Sendai still had power and we could watch TV. It seemed like a different world.
At the time of 3.11, I planned to lay my bedridden husband on a board that I found on top of the closet and release in to the water if the water came any higher. Having a cat was very comforting. She must have been holding her urine for a long time. On the third day, when I made a toilet out of torn papers, she released a lot.
The area surrounding my house was full of debris and overturned cars. We moved to my parents’ home from March 30 that was about 20 minutes away by car. I truly appreciated having parents and their home where I grew up. I used to visit them only once in two months. I commuted to Ishinomaki from my parents’ to clean my house. My brother and sister, with whom I hadn’t been associated so much, came to help me. I was so thankful to them, because it was entirely unexpected. We cooked cup noodles on a portable stove in upstairs and ate together. It was fan. My husband became slightly better since 3.11. Immediately after the disaster, I wondered why nobody came to rescue us. I realized that it was because there wasn’t any road that you could come. Then, I let go of that thought.
I had dreamt of working overseas as a volunteer when I was single. I always wanted to travel abroad. I had English speaking pen pals overseas when I was a junior high student. I worked as a dressmaker until I was 26 years old, married and then had a baby at 27. My daughter was bullied in grade school and withdrew from the society for 10 years. She entered college but quit shortly after. It was hard for me to accept that she was socially withdrawn, but I believed my ability to overcome it and understood that my daughter was suffering as well. I talked about my daughter’s condition openly because it’s better than hiding. I have such an open attitude. When I was looking for my daughter’s apartment in Tokyo, I talked to a stranger, “Life is tough, isn’t it?” when I was drinking coffee at the hotel I was staying. Then, that stranger replied to me, “Being at the bottom wouldn’t last too long and you’d come through. Better not think you are at the bottom.” This made me feel better and I was able to have hope. I attended meetings for the families with socially withdrawn children, which were helpful as well.
I’m a type of person who acts intuitively. I make immediate decisions on what needs to be done. I don’t believe in thinking too much. Since I watched Mother Teresa telling us to love your neighbor, I was eager and feeling impatient, even I was just a housewife, to help the poor. Being discouraged is never good. I’ve been blessed and remain happy for the past five years. I love the rainy days because it makes me feel at ease. When I exploded from the stress of caring my husband, someone I knew said “it’s good you exploded”. This made me happy.
I don’t have pain because I didn’t lose any family members. We can fix the house and material things, and other things will take care of themselves. I thought I didn’t need relief supplies from an early stage, so I declined to receive them after the 3rd time. A delivery person congratulated me for that. 3.11 is one of the pages of my life. I can surely overcome it as long as I look forward. Japan has become a peace stupor still pursuing materials. Why don’t we change even after being damaged so much? Why don’t we learn from it?
In 2013, I cooked bacon, sausage and eggs for breakfast for a young man who came as a volunteer from the USA. But, he was a vegetarian and only ate vegetables and fruits. I felt it was good that my dog died before the 3.11 disaster. I couldn’t have saved it.
47-52) Six women (two women in their 60’s, three women in their 70’s and one in her 80’s)
August 22, 2016
I have been repairing the roof which had a hole caused by the Tsunami. It is dangerous to depend on electricity only. The life in old times was better. Now everything is so convenient and we have no knowledge to survive. We need to learn by experiencing it. For example, Hemp palms were planted in order to clean the water of the rice paddy and wells years ago. When 3.11 happened, old landline phones connected immediately. Current senior citizens learned the survival skills from playing outside. Sometimes they ditched school and went fishing at the ocean and found food in the mountains. There were neighbors who scolded other neighbors’ kids as if they were their own.
When disaster happens, victims are all suffering so they can’t rely on other victims. So volunteers really helped us, like cleaning dirt.
My house was on the hill so there was no damage. I took care of many evacuees in my house. I cleaned vegetables with snow. We used a portable stove, and a clay pot and an oil heater were useful. For a bathtub, we brought water from a nearby river.
On the 4th day, fried tofu was delivered. On the 6th day, I went outside for the first time and learned that a person who returned home to recover jewelry was victimized while holding them.
I would like to suggest that greeting neighbors, having a neighborhood field day, knowing who lives where, and also a list of evacuation spots would be good to do. When living in temporary housing, each community should be grouped together so that the community ties which have been built for many years wouldn’t be cut. Even being able to move into the temporary housing, some people passed away shortly after. I feel so fortunate that I didn’t get affected, but on the other hand I feel guilty for not being affected. For this reason, I gave away as many vegetables as possible.
For people who lived in a house on the hill, there was no support materials provided. So, we appreciated very much that there was a store that quickly sold us diapers and milk for a 2-year old baby within 5 minutes of the earthquake.
Despite my life was spared, it is still hard to live. One of my friends is still missing, and there is no body. My husband became ill at the age of 50. I have been thriving without his income since then. After the earthquake, the experience I had as a volunteer in the past had really helped me. An evacuation map is helpful to have when you’re at home, but it doesn’t help if you don’t even know where you are. We need to practice how to build a fire. Things like where to evacuate and how to save your own life is necessary to know. Being healthy is also important, trying not to be on a wheelchair or bedridden. We can't run away leaving a bedridden child behind.
I was feeling at ease thinking the tsunami wouldn’t come this far. I’m lucky just to have a house. I made a fire with woods that I had collected to warm up. Insurance is also an important thing to have.
There is a lower risk to die if you evacuate by yourself than two people. Now my reason for living is volunteering. I'm happy to receive support from overseas, too. Friends are important. Women have a role to protect their family. I feel my life was spared in order to save my family. Women have the nerves of steel and can stay calm, and first of all we ask question like “Did you eat food?” We stay calm and take action. I was able to live by being relied on by others using knowledge and patience. People can't live alone. I like to be with my husband even though he has been bedridden. Kitchen and cooking are important, and eating is most important. I am happy when someone greets me.
Being optimistic is the way to overcome and move forward. I sometimes reward myself to be happy and take care of myself. If I have to live, I rather enjoy my life. Smiling makes my heart full.
I am a widow and feel I was made to live with my strong luck. Do we need the coastal levee which is too high that we can’t see the ocean? I feel better sharing my experience with others. We can’t remove the ocean from Ishinomaki even it may bring tsunamis….. Ishinomaki without the ocean is not Ishinomaki.
Making collage with pieces of color paper, dress making, cooking, socializing with friends, flower arrangement, playing with my 3-year old grandchild, karaoke and crafting with Chirimen fabric are what I live for. Being healthy is important. I don’t want to be a burden to my children. My schedule is full, and I have no time to think. I have to save money for my old age.
There used to be moats where ships came in and Ishinomaki was surrounded by waterways.
Do we need Olympics? Ishinomaki needs materials and labors to recover, but cost of labor and materials have been rising due to the preparations of the Olympics to be held in Japan in 2020. I oppose having the Olympics. Unplanned development of Ishinomaki is a waste of money. We can’t see the ocean because of the raised ground level and tide embankment. I think people won’t live this close to the ocean any more no matter what you do.
53) Ms. K (a woman in her 70’s)
September 7, 2016
On 3.11, I was in the hospital due to my leg problems. I was watching the tsunami washing away buildings and cars. I thought Japan was sinking. I saw my house and my sweets shop being washed away too.
My husband evacuated with my mother in-law to a community center nearby. First, they tried to leave with a car. But a roof tile fell on the car, and it was no longer in the condition to drive. So, they walked instead. My husband returned to the shop to clean but felt the tsunami was coming. He evacuated right away and was saved. If he was one minute late to evacuate, he would not have survived. There was no food stocked at the hospital, so I also stayed in a shelter for a while. I met supporters and volunteers from all over Japan and overseas there. They were eagerly listening to my story. Especially foreigners who didn't speak Japanese tried to understand me. Their goodwill helped me out. The next day of the tsunami, my husband returned to the place where the shop was. He put up a sign board that said “I’ll reopen my shop here” and was cleaning up debris in sludge there by himself. Dark colored sludge was from the bottom of the sea. First, the Self Defense Force came to help then volunteers came. I was surprised by the youth energy. When I was young, I never thought of volunteering.
I like to talk about my experience from the disaster and started talking about it since the day after the disaster. People who lost someone may not talk like me. I can heal myself by talking to others. In spring of 2015, we reopened the shop. One of the volunteers who also owned a sweets shop was about to close his business and donated his machines to make sweets. He brought the machines and tools from his own shop and set them up for us. We have never used this kind of machines before, so it was a bit difficult at first. Our shop has 140 years of history, and there is a stone warehouse behind the shop. The glass case which was on the upper shelf in this stone warehouse was saved, and we are using it in the shop now. In the stone warehouse, there also were vermilion-lacquered trays for ceremonial functions. We are using them now for displaying sweets.
To save life is the most important thing. If we lost life, we can’t do anything. Around here almost all the buildings were washed away by the Tsunami. Our shop was damaged but the frame was kept. So, volunteers stopped by asking for directions. They came in when we were cleaning and turned to smile saying “this was a sweets shop, wasn’t it?” Roads were messed up with flipped ships and cars, but they still came in and asked for directions.
54) Ms. S (a woman in her 50’s)
September 8, 2016
In the morning of 3.11, I was working to seed oysters at the pier. My husband was gone to Mangokuura. After work, I went to my parents’ house with my daughter to borrow some rice as we didn’t have any for dinner that day. I felt a strong tremor while I was there. Their house wasn’t damaged since it was built on a strong ground. I heard a siren warning for a large Tsunami. After that, for two months we stayed there. I knew water supply would stop after the
earthquake, so I started to save up water within 20 minutes of the earthquake. People who lived near the beach were supposed to evacuate to the temple on the hill.
At night, I saw ships and cars burning with flames. On the third day, my husband came to pick us up by a small truck. I was worried because there was no information. A stranger kept engine of the car running and let us charge our mobile phones even gasoline was scarce. I waited in a line for three hours to charge. The water came up to the ceiling of the 2nd floor of our house. After I came back to the house near the beach, I was thinking that it would be nice if we had a workshop and a meeting place. Then a support organization provided a stowage which inside was a room setting. From a long time before the disaster, I was hoping to make processed foods using local fresh fish such as vacuum packed salt water eels.
We wanted to utilize the oysters that were saved from the disaster and offer them for free to the volunteers. So, we organized something called “Reconstruction Appreciation Festival” in 2012 and offered the oysters free. It turned out that many people discretely left money for them. After that, we held a tent for free oysters every weekend. Since our oyster farm was destroyed, I had no job for a while but came up with many ideas. First, an oyster shelling work place was completed. And, I opened the restaurant where grilled oysters, oyster noodles, oyster gratin, etc. were served. People who were here from far away were impressed with their deliciousness. My restaurant was a temporary set up, but one day an entertainer came and taught me how to cook gratin.
Even before the 3.11, four women from four beaches had a get together once a year and had fun having girls’ talk. I used to look forward to it very much. This restaurant couldn’t have been run alone, but we could with the four of us. We also cooked smoked oysters, Takikomi gohan (rice cooked with oysters), Tsukudani (oysters boiled down in sweetened soy sauce). Additionally, we provided bento (lunch/dinner boxes) for tourists from a big tour company. We included a small portion of Tsukudani oysters to the bento, which was well received. Because of that, our restaurant was chosen to be a lunch place for this tour. This tour was so popular that only 40 out of 100 applicants were able to attend. We once served all you can eat oyster lunch, too. The tour company helped us market “Beach moms Tsukudani”, by assisting us with creating labels, bottles, cost analysis and website.
Even today, volunteers come by bus and buy our delicious bento and souvenirs. Four of us have been exchanging ideas to make a variety of food including autumn salmon, salmon roe, mackerel rice, soup made from the bony parts of fish, scallop rice, rice bowl with two large pieces of scallops, and soup with minced horse mackerel balls. Our first intent was to make good local food using seasonal fresh fish. We work together by utilizing skills and strength of each other.
My mother worked in a garment factory since she knew dressmaking. My father was born on the island. When I was a child, I used to eat bucketful of sea urchins. Then, I got married with my husband who was from the beach area. I experienced a lot working on newsletters and event planning as if I were belonging to a cultural club at PTA at a kindergarten and elementary school. Since schools were small, your turn to volunteer came often. I was very moved when we had an exchange program of events with people with disability.
I don’t think ahead and just try to do my best with things in front of my eyes. I can’t do everything by myself, so I enjoy working with my friends. When you talk with people, ideas will come up. We can also release the stress by talking. We were hit by the disaster when our house was eight years old. When we were cleaning the house in order to tear it down, volunteers came to help and restored the house. Especially, an American organization repaired the pillar in the house very well. I appreciated the support from overseas. Korean people built a pathway from
the street to the entrance of my house. I thanked them with the word I’ve learned by watching Korean TV dramas, “kamsahamnida”.
As long as you have a good attitude, everything goes well even if something happens. Act quickly without thinking too much. When mothers are full of energy, our community will become lively. Mothers are so strong in this town may be because the fishing industry has ups and downs, having a good catch one year but a back catch another year.