Yuriage Fish Market
November 2015, sent in January 2016
Dear Family and Friends,
Every time I write to you, my focus is on positive developments in the Tohoku area of Japan. Despite more attention-grabbing events elsewhere, it seems important to continue reporting on constructive progress happening here. These changes may be small and quiet, but even so, they can be highly significant, at least to some.
There is a small coastal town just south of Sendai called Natori. One section of it is named Yuriage, perched right on the edge of the sea. So, of course, it was obliterated by the 2011 tsunami. That unwelcomed monster consumed not only the town itself, but even more tragically, well over half its residents.
But now almost five years later, the area has been impressively transformed. It is almost entirely cleared of rubble, and land is being elevated, hopefully to block other tsunami from entering the area. Also very happily, the fabulous Sunday morning market has reopened.
Yuriage’s fish market is very popular, despite its very early hours. People flock there to enjoy seafood fresh from the ocean, and vegetables straight off the nearby farms. In fact, the seafood is so fresh it goes directly from boats to stalls, to customers’ hands to grills, where it is cooked and eaten immediately.
Next to this market there is a wooden building called The Maple House. It was donated by a Canadian project called The Canada-Tohoku Friendship Program. It is as much an educational center as a place to relax. This lovely edifice offers a small shop of Canadian and local goods, an ongoing video of the tsunami, and a pleasant restaurant.
Recently I went there with a Canadian friend. The manager was beside himself that a Canadian was there. “A Canadian!” he shouted with delight. “We are so grateful to your country. It is because of you that we are where we are today. I have been to Canada several times to bow my deepest gratitude. I want to go again to continue letting the Canadian people know the extent of our appreciation. We have our lives back because of you.”
Besides The Maple House, there are other very meaningful memorials nearby. One is a small makeshift museum filled with artwork and stories that children made as a way to come to terms with their losses. A very touching display of clay figures depicts how their town was before the tsunami. On the wall behind it are photos of Yuriage just after the tsunami and now.
“We did this for healing. Many of these children became orphans on March 11. We think that if they go back and construct what they had, they can develop courage to rebuild their own lives now and in the future.”
The other is a small sacred hill, built long before the disaster hit. At the summit is a Shinto shrine. Fishermen have been going there for centuries to pray before and after their journeys at sea. Those left behind also visit there, using it as a lookout, hoping for signs of their returning men.
Besides the shrine, there is a very old, gnarled pine tree, a tori gate, and several origami-covered memorials. Today people come by the busload to pray for the souls of those lost and to bless those who remain.
Yuriage is indeed a special place. Eternity is crowded into its compact area, offering its ongoing story of depth and darkness, hope and joy.