I had the opportunity last week to visit Japan and provide whatever small help I could to the victims of the tsunami that happened last month, as well as to my friends in Tokyo, who have been coordinating relief efforts from the beginning. Grace City Church is a small church that started meeting less than a year ago in Tokyo and they have joined with another church in the neighboring province of Chiba to make over 50 trips into the hard hit province of Tohoku. The day after flying into Tokyo I got to sit in on a meeting with the main organizers of what is turning into a full fledged organization they are calling Grace City Relief. It was such a great opportunity to really comprehend their vision for the future in Tohoku.
They are looking to gain official non-profit status in Japan and are hoping to establish a community center in the town of Ishinomaki. It’s through this that they want to bring the community of those remaining in Ishinomaki together so that they see that they are not alone. It was awesome to see their desire for a long term endeavor. What was described to me and what I saw was that the Japanese government is doing an excellent job of reestablishing infrastructure, but what is lacking is the rebuilding of people, both emotionally and mentally. Some of the towns that were hit by this tragedy lost half their population, and those that survived have lost their whole livelihoods. It is essential that they see that the others in their community and those outside it are all standing with them in order to give them the courage to actually start rebuilding.
On the following day, we loaded a moving van with fresh vegetables donated by a grocer in Tokyo, as well as an electronic Organ (the couple I was staying with were both accomplished musicians and Roger wanted to bring music in to a place that hadn’t had it for weeks). It took 7 hours to drive from Tokyo to Minami-Sanriku (which is about 10 miles from Ishinomaki) and we finally pulled up to a ritzy hotel that missed the tsunami as it was high on a cliff overlooking a bay. The hotel was giving much of it’s space to relief and cleanup workers and had also given space to the full time members of an organization called OGA for Aid. We met up with this group and stayed in the room next to theirs in the staff dorms above the hotels day care center.
The following day we loaded our van with more supplies they had gotten previously and headed out on a round of delivering provisions to a number of unofficial hinanjos (evacuation sites) in the area. There are a few large government run hinanjos as well, but many people have chosen not to live in the cramped spaces and are relying on the aid of grassroots organizations like OGA and Grace City Relief for help.
Many of these hinanjos are the homes of people in the highlands of Minami-Sanriku who have opened their doors to their neighbors. The hinanjo pictured below is housing 18 people and they are taking care of the distribution of provisions to about 180 other people in nearby homes.
I was amazed by the complete destruction of the town. I saw the pictures and all the before and after shots, but it was when I was standing in the middle of a field of rubble the size of a town where only 3 buildings were left upright that I really glimpsed it. The residents had been warned that the tsunami would be about 6 meters high, but when it hit land, it rose to over 23 meters and swept away even some of the evacuation sites people had fled to. This car was lifted and set on the roof of a three story building, and this was a quarter mile inland from the coast.
There was some good to be seen, though. As I said, the Japanese government has worked quickly to reestablish roads and power to most of the area. We even past this amazing, operating gas station in town amidst all of the debris. The attendants were manning the stations while the suit-clad owner stood in front of the metal skeleton of what used to be his garage. It was amazing how much hope that one spot gave amidst all of the wreckage, that rebuilding and restoring is possible.