The following report is written by Peter from a town called Onagawa, which is located northeast of Sendai City.
The town is gone. All that’s left is a dank, acrid-smelling wasteland with a few concrete buildings standing five-stories high but utterly in ruins with debris hanging out of what must have been windows looking out to sea. There are concrete buildings that have been entirely overturned and are now lying on their sides. The sky was blue yesterday afternoon, and the gentle sea lapped gently at the town’s beaches and port area, giving no indication whatever of its ferocious power when it had roared through the town in waves 50-feet high or more.
We spent most of the afternoon talking with an extraordinarily dedicated town social worker, Hiratsuka Eiichi, who seemed to be the head of the Onagawa evacuation center located in a huge complex of sports facilities located on a high plateau overlooking what had once been a flourishing port-town that had specialized in mackerel fishing (samma). Hiratsuka is an amazing man, gently running interference between the town’s refugees (most of whom never look down at the wasteland of their former town, and –said Hiratsuka – almost never talk about their old homes), the large battalion of Jieitai soldiers (who don’t seem to mix much with townspeople, and who seem eager to leave since most of their heavy work of debris removal is finished), and the increasing numbers of volunteers from Tokyo and other nearby cities who have come to help (most of them are working on Ban Shigeru’s projects of installing privacy-partitions in the evacuation centers, and also constructing the future apartment-like dwellings out of shipping containers. Ban is now struggling with town officials and c. govt. bureaus over the height of these structures. He says they are perfectly stable at 4-stories tall; they have limited him to building only 2-storey structures, thereby accommodating only half the need…). Kids were running around everywhere, enjoying what must seem to them like an extended camping trip. I’ve never encountered anything like this in Japan before: a deserted wasteland of a stinking ghost-town, and a few yards away a lively combination of populations struggling to figure out what the next life-patterns and social-patterns should be. Kids enjoying the unaccustomed freedom offered by this unexpected situation. And hardworking, earnest Hiratsuka-san struggling to keep it all together.
I’m just scratching the surface. I’m sure there’s much that lies below that I can not see. Hiratsuka-san talks with incredible optimism, and he is clearly helping his fellow townspeople imagine their future lives. The strength in the faces of these townspeople is amazing. There are no complaints, no grumbling – but there is fear and uncertainty in their eyes as they try to forget their recent past and grope toward an unpredictable future. My friend Takishita-san and I must seem like creatures from outer space as we cruise around the town in a shiny new Prius that looks totally anachronistic in the dusty, muddy rubble of what was once their homes.
There aren’t words to describe the scale of devastation of both the physical landscape and the social landscape of these strong hardworking people, who now sit idly waiting for an uncertain future to happen to them.
I’m sure you would have found this scene as overwhelming and as moving as I do.