The second day in Sendai was spent exploring the coast, and visiting the small city of Ishinomaki, in Miyagi prefecture. Sadly, Ishinomaki is one of the cities that were most seriously hit by the tsunami on 3.11, and it was almost completely washed out with waves of 10 meters in height that traveled for 5 km inland.
I had never been to Sendai before and seen the aftermath of that disaster, and I don’t think I could even imagine the proportions of it until I saw it with my naked eye, and met some people with heartbreaking stories. We went into a small fish market called マリナパル in Onagawa (next town), and there we met the loveliest lady, Abe-san, who warmly welcomed us in her booth, which suddenly materialized in a makeshift cafe.
She generously served us some coffee, fish, salad, and miso soup, and she told us her painful story. Pre-earthquake, she used to own a successful fish business, complete with a fleet of ships. The tsunami washed away all of her belongings- her house, her shop, every possession she had- every single thing. Somehow, with help from volunteers and such, she got back on her feet and re-opened a fish market, along with a handful of other vendors.
She told us that she felt so happy now, and there is no reason to not feel happiness if you have your life, as material belongings do not matter at all in the end. She was one of the warmest, friendliest people I have ever met in my whole life. We left the shop with armful of seaweed and fish products, and I cannot get her out of my mind. Meeting someone who has been through so much hardships really puts things in perspective. It makes me want to help out and volunteer, and do something more than just sending the few supplies I had sent two years ago.
After meeting her, we drove closer to the ocean, where I saw the remains of what once was a town. Despite the Tohoku region being reconstructed quickly and doing a lot better two years later, it’s not nearly as recovered as I thought it would be. The highway was lined with piles and piles of rusty cars that were hit by the waves, and kilometers of land were filled with debris.
One of the most desolate sights was a school, that was damaged by the tsunami, yet still standing there, completely empty. Small shrines and flowers were set on land where once stood homes. I saw a few broken houses, cut in half, with personal belongings still inside: books, clothes, dishes, curtains. I kept trying to imagine the last seconds of those people’s lives, before the water took them away.
It was a very emotional day, and I’m glad I had the chance to see the affected area, as it made me realize that Tohoku needs more than just enthusiastic “がんばろう、日本！” (pretty much ‘hang in there’) scattered everywhere. There are people still living in temporary housing and people who lost everything, and who will forever be distressed by that event.
After meeting the lady from the fish market, some friends and I are trying to set up a way to sell her products and other Tohoku items in Tokyo. I wish I could have spent more time in that area, and I want to go back so badly. If you’re ever visiting Japan for an extended period of time, I strongly suggest spending some time volunteering in that region, as Japan is not just all about the fun sights Tokyo and Kyoto.
It was an eye-opening experience to say the least, and I cannot stop thinking about it, and about Abe-san. Here is a link to her shop if you wish to buy products from Miyagi and support the region.