[Continued from Part 1. Akira goes back to Kesennuma, and encounters a stereotypical bureaucracy in Japan even in the time of distress and misfortune at a local school, which the readers of this blog may be thoroughly familiar with.
This time, he took his family along, who were all stunned with the devastation that Kesennuma had sustained. One of the most hallowing scenes from the earthquake and tsunami was that of Kesennuma, with the city being engulfed with burning tsunami.]
Letters from Kesennuma (Part 2)
From Akira to Hiromi, May 5, 2011
Hiromi and John, thanks for your efforts to help those who are in the areas impacted by this disaster.
I just returned from Kesennuma. The town is a long ways away from recovery, but seeing groups of volunteers from around the country who were there cleaning up the debris made me feel that progress was definitely being made. People were much calmer. A few stores with minor damages were opening up for business.
About the funds that you and your friends sent to me... I have disappointing news to tell you.
You probably heard from Kugako that six kids from my old junior high school who were orphaned. We were planning to give the donations to them. We stuffed six envelopes with the money and the print-outs of your letter and everyone else's cards and messages. Then, on the day of our appointment to hand out the funds, we learned that our offer didn't get the approval of the principal. The teacher we were corresponding with and the vice principal welcomed our offer with open arms. But when they took it to the principal, he said the school was obligated to protect the students' privacy and therefore could not reveal the orphans' identities. He requested that we contact the foster families individually and ask them if they needed the money, and deliver it personally.
Unfortunately I didn't have the time to do all that. So, I asked if I could leave the money with the school so that they could give it to the kids. The principal's response was that the only way the school could accept the money was if it was meant to aid the general student population, not just the orphans.
Forgive me, Hiromi, but I was so upset with the principal's rigid attitude. I told him that I was sorry, but that I had just learned about other children affected by the tsunami who might be able to use the money instead. I said we would help their orphans next time. I decided to give the entire amount to my cousin Akane.
I may have told you about Akane. She's a 35-years-old mother. She had her first daughter when she was 18, who is now a high school sophomore. She went through a divorce, then remarried and had two more daughters, thirteen and twelve respectively. Her second husband ran a fishing boat tour and rental operation in Minami Sanriku-machi, a town wiped out by the tsunami. Both their house and the store were completely destroyed, and the whole family now lives with Akane's parents for the moment.
So they have a roof over their head, but her father (my uncle) has become jobless as well, so he can't really support them either. For a while Akane and her family had to visit the ruins of their house to dig up soiled clothes. They would wash them in the river so that they had something to wear. They still go back to see if they can find anything salvageable.
They were feeling so uncertain about their future to continue living that way. So they decided to find a community who took in disaster victims and move there temporarily. It looks like they found a place in Hokkaido.
So, I ended up giving the donations to my cousin and her children. Please forgive me for taking things in this direction.
Kugako and I handed the money to Akane and her family along with your letters. We explained to them how people of different nationalities living in NY all chipped in to help. The amount was 100,000 Japanese yen. Because the exchange rate fluctuates, I threw in a little more. I also bought some clothes for the kids. I know I acted without your consent, but that is what became of your donations.
I have a thank you letter from Akane. Would you mind having it translated and relay her message to the kind people? It is originally a two-page handwritten letter.
To Those Who Kindly Supported Us:
I am Akane Onuma of Minami Sanriku-machi in Miyagi Prefecture.
I am the recipient of your warm-hearted support. My heart is filled with gratitude that I cannot describe. I am in total awe and admiration of your generosity to offer such a large amount so readily to someone you have not even met. I wonder what I would do if I were in your place. Would I be able to act as you did? I am not convinced that I would be proud of my own answer to this question. As I find myself to be the recipient of such unexpected kindness, however, I am inspired to one day be as big a person as you are. It gives me strength to one day get back on my feet and to be strong and compassionate.
The ocean rolled over the houses, the boats, the rice and vegetable fields, and even the rice crops that were harvested. I reflect upon the way we have only greedily taken from the sea and the mountains, and wonder if it is a punishment. They speculate that it will take five years before the faming fields and the beaches will be restored to what they used to be. Those of us who have made our livings from the sea have discussed taking responsibility to clean up the debris from the houses and boats that we have created. By doing so we hope to go back toliving with the ocean and the mountains again.
I am planning to use your invaluable donations to purchase boat engines. Our town is left with only four boats. If we can get just one small boat to work, a few people can get on it and start cleaning up the ocean. My uncle-in-law as well as my own uncles who live nearby believe the boats will be a tremendous help. My in-laws whom we shared the house with are living somewhere else right now. I am going to do all I can to somehow get a place where we can all live together again while they are still around. I look forward to working in the mountains and the sea as before.
Money was not the only thing you gave us. You gave us the strength and spirit to keep going. We have made a resolution to pay it back when we have regained our strength by helping others in need.
With Much Gratitude,
On May 1st, 2011
I will send you photos I took in Kesennuma and Minami Sanriku-cho.
[Hiromi forwarded this email to the donators, with her own thank you
message as follows:]
Hope all is well with you and your family. And I hope you are enjoying the Spring without allergies! (Oh My! it's horrible!)
From April 28th to May 5th, my dear friends Akira and Kugako and their sons (12 & 18 years old) went back to Akira's hometown, Kesennuma, to visit Akira's family. His uncle was confirmed dead and his funeral was finally scheduled. Once things were settled with Akira's uncle death, Akira felt that he and his family could finally move forward. Food distribution for the town improved a little bit and his family are now able to eat some fruits and instant food. His 99-year-old grandfather started to ride a bicycle again since his motorcycle was taken by his second son.
Kugako said she felt like she saw Hell in Kesennuma.
Thank you so much for your generous donation and the love you sent to Japan. I really appreciate your complete trust in me and Akira & Kugako. I received $1500. I sent $1300 to them, with $200 left to be sent. We found this task was not that easy as we thought it was going to be.
Please find the letters from Akira and his cousin, Akane. Akira has been really upset, but I'm happy to report that your donations went to people who really needed help. If you are not satisfied with the results by any chance, Akira will either refund the money or send equivalent funds to the organization which supports kids. Please let me know.
I don't know what's going to happen to Japan, but I feel I have to keep doing anything I can do to help. Again, thank you so much for your amazing help.
Sending Love from Akira, Kugako and the people who received the donations.
[Photos are all taken by Akira. For more photos, please go to: http://gallery.me.com/hiromioikawa/100474]