Dear Family and Friends,
Very recently, and completely by chance, I noticed a sign about a Charity Walk. It was to take place a few days hence, so I did not have a chance to sign up. But since I am interested in what is happening in this area, I went to check it out.
The start was at Sendai Airport. When I arrived at the early hour of 6:30, I was greeted by a man with a big smile and a sign indicating where to register.
Surprisingly, even at that early hour, almost all of the 300 participants had already assembled and were receiving a number.
The organizers were all from Aoba-ya, the company sponsoring the event. They wore bright green jackets and politely directed the participants to their designated groups. To start there were speeches, of course.
The participants came from near and far. Most were from Miyagi, but a few were from Tokyo and even as far away as Nagano. Ages ranged from the 20s to what appeared to be the 70s. One person was blind. One was a foreigner, an American.
One of the organizers told me Aoba-ya Company employees had walked the forty-kilometer course three months before. They wanted to be fully prepared before for sponsoring this meaningful charity event. Having walked it themselves, they knew exactly where rest stops should by, what drinks and snacks should be offered, and the importance of toilets. In fact, three portable ones followed along in vehicles just to be sure no one would be inconvenienced.
The participation fee was ¥10,000, or about $100. Half would go to setting up the walk and the rest to rebuilding efforts in Miyagi. This year the money would go to Ishinomaki, a fishing town north of Sendai. The company plans to hold a similar charity walk every year for ten years. This was the first.
The set off was warm with a smacking of hands for courage.
Even the old gentleman who started the company and his wife were there cheering people at the start.
It was very moving to see them and to think about what this company was doing for the area. It was also impressive to realize how they were thinking long term and willing to commit themselves to this event for the next ten years.
* * * * *
After I waved good-bye to the last participant, I turned my attention to the area around the airport. I had not been there for about a year, so wanted to explore. It was still very flat and empty, save one smashed building still standing. There were a few pine trees, too, alive but teetering at the same angle the tsunami had left them.
I wandered up to the seawall, still very much under construction. It seemed to stretch for miles. Behind it were long triangular tunnels made of logs. A worker explained that the coastline in that area would be raised several meters. The wooden frames were the foundation for that higher land. When finished, the reconstructed area would become an extensive memorial park. The work should take twenty years or more.
I wondered if I might have a shot of him and his wife this year, too. He beamed, but his wife ran to the truck pretending to be too shy. Actually, she was fixing her hair and pressing down her dress with her hands to be presentable for the photo.
They told me this would be the last year they could have their land. Then it would be swallowed up into the memorial park. “We’re still in temporary housing,” they informed me. “No fields there.”
(Temporary housing complex in Natori, outside Sendai)
“We used to have a big house right here. We all lived together. It was lively with all the grandchildren. We loved it. Now everyone is scattered all over the place. A few are in Sendai, but others are as far away as Tokyo.
“Times have changed,” they added with a sigh. “But that’s life, isn’t it? We’re lucky that we are all alive. And anyway, for the prefecture it’s good to be moving forward.” They paused and then added, “Yes, we have to think of what comes after us. That’s what makes today meaningful, even if in our personal lives we have lost so much.”
Philosophical farmers, new land, and a lovely charity walk: Miyagi deliberately and carefully evolving its way into a positive tomorrow.