Today we ventured past Sendai into two new cities, Watari and Minamisanriku. These cities were our first look into places that were heavily affected by the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami. Our experiences today have been entirely different from the rest of our trip and have given me a look into what Japan is really like outside of Tokyo. These cities also have given us the opportunity to see what effect the tsunami and earthquake really had, and how the people in these cities have coped with the hand they have been dealt.
Our first stop today was the history museum for the city of Watari. This museum was an interesting look into the culture and history of a small strawberry growing town near the coast of Japan. I really enjoyed learning about the rich history of the place and the people who had been living there for centuries. The museum was filled with amazing different artifacts that really spoke to the diverse nature of the town. Artifacts such as a past king’s armor taught us a lot about Japanese symbol. One of these symbols was a feather-like talisman featured atop a past king’s helmet. This symbol was represented through a long tail-like feather, which was meant to symbolize a caterpillar. We quickly learned that caterpillars symbolize much more than we think they do. Caterpillars are animals that never go back; they only move forward, which is a mentality that is very important in battle. This is why kings put the symbol on top of their war armor. It is believed that this symbol will make kings braver in battle and always move forward, like the caterpillar. This look into the culture of ancient Watari was very interesting to me. I felt that the museum was a great introduction into the town of Watari and the identity of the people who live there.
Today we arrived in Minamisanriku after a two-hour bus drive from Sendai. We toured around Minamisanriku and visited three spots. The first was an elementary school high up on a hill that looked over the town. From there I was able to perceive how the once bustling town became what I saw. Minamisanriku is very close to the sea. All the land next to it was only construction and temporary shops. Before the tsunami, the town was filled with cement and tiled homes, many shops, and beautiful sunflower fields. Our Sensei Sosha made the point that it is very difficult for foreigners to imagine the damage other than the town area because the vegetation returned. It’s important to make the point that all these trees that stay on the hills were once decimated.
The area that struck me most was visiting the Disaster Prevention Center. The residents of Minamisanriku memorialized the building for all the lives lost. Only the red steel foundation of the building remains, and the mayor of Minamisanriku survived by hanging on to the pole on the top of the building. We paid tribute to those lost by praying in front of the memorial of two small statues and flowers. I think I’ve made it clear that I believe in God through this blog. With all those lost I wasn’t sure what to pray for. There’s always the factor of others who are lost in nature’s wrath, or that nature even has a wrath, or why people even go through such pain!? It was all so complicated for me, so I made it simple.
“God, nature is confusing, the world is confusing, and you are confusing, but I trust you.”
That was good enough for me. It gave me comfort for the people of Minamisanriku, for those devastated in the world, and myself. It gave me comfort, and I believe I’m ready to help now, as much as I can.
We were standing on a hill, looking out over a barren construction site that was once the district Togura before the tsunami happened. All that’s left now are bulldozers moving back and forth and lopsided remnants of people’s homes. The view was horrifically beautiful. With the sun perfectly setting over the mountaintops, and the trees swaying in the light breeze, it almost felt as if nature itself had no remorse. We treat it as a disaster, as it should be treated, but it feels like the planet just acts like what happened that day was just another part of the cycle. Nature will never be in our control. Nature will always be bigger than us. This sentiment was displayed perfectly by the morbidly decaying ruins of the disaster prevention center, almost as a perfect metaphor of how little prevention could be done. The whole experience was an emotional journey that was not enjoyable, but definitely necessary for us to see.
Tohoku has surprised me and has evoked more emotion than Tokyo ever has. Don’t get me wrong, I love my time in Tokyo, but there is something here that makes me feel strong and alive. A great example of this is when we went to the Watari Museum. There was so much history and stories in the little town. It amazed me. A piece that really stood out to me was the reason why the king of Watari had a plume/feather material on his helmet. The plume represents a caterpillar. You see a caterpillar always moves forward, never back, and that was how the samurai were during war. They kept moving forward. There was no going back. Another part is that swords were like leaves and since the caterpillar was their symbol, it was like they ate the swords like caterpillars eat leaves. This really showed me a different side to the word strength: to keep moving forward, whether in times of war or in times of a disaster. The people of Tohoku have this kind of strength within them.
In the morning we visited the Watari Museum. Here we learned about the history of Watari-cho, with the oldest artifacts dating back 5,000 years. We then traveled to a shop named Watalis. Watalis was founded after 3/11 and is an upcycling organization that gives new life to old, unworn and/or damaged kimono fabric. The rather small shop has received over 314 boxes of kimono fabric weighing in at 2.3 tons. I really enjoyed learning about the beautiful story of Watalis and loved making our own pins from donated kimono fabric. After the workshop, I happily bought some merchandise from the shop.
After a nice lunch at a place created to hold community meetings after 3/11, we got on the road and headed for Minamisanriku. Even the trip to Minamisanriku was moving because I began to notice large areas of land that appeared to be cleared. We visited many different viewpoints to get a grasp for the destruction caused by the earthquake/tsunami. This really sank in after comparing what I was seeing to pictures of the town before the disaster.