The Way It Is
June 26, 2012
Dear Family and Friends,
The other day a friend told me she had seen “Before and Now” shots of the tsunami in Kesennuma, Miyagai Prefecture. She and I had gone to that devastated city a few weeks before. During that time a resident showed us a book with photos of Kesennuma before the disaster and after. The contrast was startling. The place had gone from a thriving fishing community to a mass of rubble in a few hours. By now the world knows that sad story. But what was upsetting was that the recent photographs on the Internet had simply reverses the order of the before and after shots. That is, the captions said that now, sixteen months since the disaster, Kesennuma had moved from a pile of debris to being a bustling port city once again. Those pictures were not only inaccurate, but they also had the potential of bringing further damage to this area. If people think that Northeastern Japan is back on her feet so completely, they will turn their backs on us here and no longer wish to support us. We are not out of our problems yet. Not by a long shot. To illustrate, here is an essay written by one of my students. The topic was “My Home.”
“My home was damaged in the tsunami. We don’t have an entrance even now because of the earthquake. My house was judged “Large Scale Partial Destruction” by Sendai City. We cannot use the front door. We climb in and out at the big window. Japanese people say, ‘Sasshi.’ That means they are sorry for us. We need an entrance quickly!
“The land is my father’s. We don’t have an entrance. I don’t have my own room. My mother, sisters and I share one room. My father and brother have another room. But we cannot part with our home because the land is my father’s. Now we wait for the repairing of my house. I hope they will repair my house soon. But that will take a long time. There are so many places that need repairing now. We have to wait for our turn.”
As my student said, her home is not unusual. In fact, here is a photo of an apartment building down the street from where I live. The first floor is cracked and broken, but even so, people still live on the second floor. If you look closely, you can see clothing hanging in the window.
And this photo is of a similar situation in Ishinomaki. The second floor apartments are still occupied. People live where they can, as best as they can, even when the situation is far from the best.
Here is a photograph of the wall behind my friend Izumi’s mother’s home. It still has not been fixed and is covered in strong blue mats. There are several reasons it is still in this condition. First is because Izumi does not have money for repairs. And the government continues to deliberate about what to do in cases like hers.
After class the week after the storm, a very dear student came up to me with a huge smile on her face. She said, “Sensei, the typhoon was kind to my family. Thanks to it my grandfather’s bones were returned to us. We lost him in the tsunami and have felt broken and splintered ever since. But his bones are with us now, so we can pray for him and put his soul to rest.
“It has been a long time since the terrible events of last year, but now finally we are able to heal. As so at long last we are a complete family again. Now we can look forward to our future with our hearts full and our minds more able to cope. Life is finally feeling hopeful and we are starting to feel good once again.”