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Re-building Tohoku Part 1: Rising Tide

Part One of my accounts of working as a volunteer in Ishinomaki, a town hard-hit by the earthquake/tsunami of March 11th 2011, as part of clean-up and recovery efforts.


Mountains of memories. Walking the road ahead, a glance to the side: a silent monument, a ship. A laughing child. Monks chanting. A hill-top view of a town that once was. A town that will be again, only never the same. A flash of color streams across the night sky. A glittering waterfall lights up the eyes of onlookers. Determined voices call out a message of emerging recovery in the afternoon sun. Bright yukata in the shadows of a barely-standing building’s silhouette. Disbelief. Acceptance. Pain. Hope. Ishinomaki.

7/29 – An overnight bus departs from inner-city Tokyo full of energy and expectation. Familiar faces bring warmth despite the already balmy Summer evening.

7/30 – We put on our blue bibs for the first time, a public statement of our purpose. An hour’s bus ride brings us to Kobuchi-hama. Each corner around the winding bends brought us preliminary glimpses of events unimaginable. A car submerged in a river. A roof resting on the grass. Or often the hardest scene: simply nothing.

We arrived to a damaged but still-standing open shed filled with baskets of oysters. The tsunami ripped away many things including the livelihood of local fisherman whose strings of oysters had hung silently in the bay waiting for maturity. Two years is the timeline until they become of restaurant desire. The countdown can’t wait.

Restarting oyster cultivation was our priority. Working side-by-side, we and local fisherman worked to put shells dotted with small larvae of hope in between two intertwined ropes. Their good spirits made the work enjoyable and the time pass quickly. The tide started creeping up to the edge of our working area. “How far does the tide come up?” A finger pointed off into the distance.

Tohoku, Japan, Ishinomaki, fishing, oysters, re-building, recovery, efforts, 3.11, March 11, 2011, tsunami, earthquake

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