Revisiting Sendai Airport Forest Park, August 2014
Dear Family and Friends,
As you well know, the 03/11 tsunami hit the Sendai Airport with a vengeance. It plowed in, ripping its way over fields and forests, and then through human settlements before completely encircling and disabling the airport.
But that was three and a half years ago. And things are very different now. In fact, that area is one of the most forward moving places in this region. It is also where I went a few months ago, along with 6000 other enthusiastic souls, to plant trees.
Having an emotional interest in that infant forest in particular, and in the devastated coastal areas in general, every few weeks I like to return there to see how things are progressing. This time, though, rather than being with thousands of diligent, well meaning folks, I was pretty much alone. Of course, there were construction trucks plying back and forth, a few solitary fishermen, and even an occasional tourist. But otherwise I had the place to myself. I much preferred it that way. The essence of the atmosphere was more readily available, allowing the land, the sea, and the breezes to tell their stories more directly and purely.
The next thing I came to was a building, even now standing, where the army had parked its vehicles during the clean up operations. Now the place is pretty much deserted. But an enterprising farmer had turned his patch of land next to it into an inexpensive long-term parking lot.
Then came the Shinto shrine and teeny clump of pine trees that had withstood the tsunami because of being on a small rise of land. The Buddhist temple next to it had been rebuilt. The graves that were damaged have now been repaired, old stones lined up, and new ones stretching behind a large vegetable garden that another local farmer could not resist planting. And bordering the walkway were very moving handmade boards with words of encouragement on them.
From there I came upon the Suzuki house, a real landmark as the only shattered building left standing. It seems to be a permanent feature now since there is a sturdy sign in front of it. It displays “before, during, and after the tsunami” photos. It is a poignant reminder, not only of that infamous time, but also of the fragility of life itself. Even wealth, social standing, and strong confidence, all of which the Suzuki family had, cannot withstand the vicissitudes of time.
Despite being acutely aware of the uncertainties of life, the Japanese always build with a sense of long-lasting purpose. So behind that grand new seawall was the newly planted “Forest of a Million Trees”, or more poetically, “Hills with a Thousand Years of Hope Project”. In English that flattens out to “The Great Forest Wall Project”. The same idea, but very different sentiments.
As I headed back to the entrance, I came across a small clutch of volunteers. They had come all the way from Tokyo on a company project to help us here in Tohoku. They were weeding and planting a few trees as their gesture of support. “Our contribution is very small, but we want to help,” one woman explained to me.
Surrounding the human-planted grassy areas were marshlands, alive with birds, flowers, and tall reeds. They were a magnificent manifestation of Mother Nature’s constant renewal, appearing along side the tremendous human efforts to rebuild this once devastated area. The harmonious blending of the two, side by side, seemed to say that when we humans work in conjunction with Nature, even in all her fury, we will be able to make life more promising for all.
And finally, the prayer tower and bell were still there, waiting patiently for someone to sound their chime. I pulled the cord twice, bowed in prayer, and listened to the gong’s echo reverberating across the land and far out to sea.
Along the coast, there is a very silent, deep, and sacred feeling that seems to pervade the entire area. This profoundly wise and knowing presence seems to have nestled in, offering a sense of ongoing reassurance and loving care. Somehow that feeling gives a sense that this world and those that lie beyond are closely connected . . . very closely connected indeed.