Iwate, Three Remarkable People
Dear Family and Friends,
Iwate is the prefecture north of Miyagi. Even though I had visited tsunami-affected areas in both Fukushima and my own prefecture, I had never been further afield. Of course, I have a keen interest in what is evolving in this whole region. So recently a friend, Akiko Wako, and I headed north to find out what we could about Iwate.
Lovely, rural Iwate has long been left by the wayside, as Japan barges ahead with cutting-edge technology, scientific research, and gadgets cute beyond imagination. But that “backwardness” means Iwate keeps such values as sharing traditional stories, community solidarity, and working for the good of the whole.
Since then, a lot of work has gone into clearing up and rebuilding. The same is true in other places, too, but there is a difference. Fukushima is still hindered by the ongoing nuclear problem. And in some places, Miyagi fishermen have been fighting the exceedingly high government-proposed tsunami wall. Those men, who know the sea well, believe that monstrous intrusion will interfere with tidal currents and fish runs.
But in Iwate, at least in Kamaishi City in the south, people seem to be more compliant. The new tsunami wall is a given, and the raising of the entire inhabitable area is progressing nicely. Actually, the feeling of solid progress we felt there may also have been because Akiko and I talked to people who were more or less getting back on their feet. They were not to where they had before the disaster, but they did have their businesses running, and they still had dreams.
(However, friends who offer stress-reduction workshops in orphanages further north say that the stress levels among employees there are higher than that of firemen.)
Likewise, Kamaishi City has a long history of iron and steel manufacturing. The factory buildings were sturdy enough to withstand much of the impact of the earthquake and tsunami. So, the economy in that town was able to catch hold sooner than in other parts of Tohoku.
Land is acutely scarce here. And that makes housing a crucial issue. So, everyone, from individuals to government officials, has been working to find solutions to this very critical problem. One choice has been to raise the entire level of the land by several meters. As that phenomenal task is being implemented, the damaged parts of the city are slowly being rebuilt on that newly made higher ground.
Besides raising the land, nearby mountains are being denuded of trees and leveled on top. The hope is that these will become areas for small communities. By doing this, hopefully, people will stay in the area, and maybe even come back. So many have left already.
On this trip to Iwate, Akiko and I were privileged to talk to several impressive individuals. The first was a man named Kikuta San.
“This place used to be known for its beautiful beaches,” he told us. “People came all the way from Tokyo or further south for a relaxing vacation. That isn’t happening now, of course. But we’re all hoping things will come round and we’ll have reliable businesses again.”
The next person we chatted with was a woman named Matsuda San. She owned and ran a small coffee shop. Her establishment was in a converted “kura”. A “kura” is a traditional stone storage building associated with a wealthy person’s home. It was separated from the main house, which was made of wood. Family heirlooms, such as fine kimonos, jewelry, and rare china, were protected from fire or flooding by being kept in a “kura”.
The third person – or rather persons – we met were a husband and wife team.