Sunday, July 10, 2011

Guest Post: Letters from Kesennuma (Part 1) - The Other, Forgotten Disaster

that is the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. The US paper Boston Globe had a series of photos in June that were supposed to show how much recovery the earthquake/tsunami affected areas in the Tohoku region of Japan has made in only 3 months.

Looking at those photographs, some Japanese, particularly those who have actually been there as volunteers for cleanup or who have relatives and friends there still trying to figure out what to do and how to do it, felt something didn't feel right. "Recovery? What recovery?"

Recovery alright, as the number of people displaced by the quake/tsunami and living in temporary housing dipped below 100,000 for the first time since March 11, to 99,236 (number from Yomiuri Shinbun, 7/10/2011). This is after 4 months of "recovery".

This blog has had personal accounts and reporting of the aftermath of March 11 earthquake/tsunami in the Tohoku region, and I'm happy to present the account by "Hiromi", whose close friends have been deeply affected by the devastation of their home town, Kesennuma City in Miyagi Prefecture.

Letters from Kessennuma (Part 1)

My name is Hiromi and I am a Japanese citizen who has resided in New York City since 1993. Since March 11th I have been unable to stop thinking about my homeland. All of my Japanese friends in NY and I have tried our best to raise awareness and money to help Japan.

There were many relief events in New York to aid the Japanese people. As I am a painter, I participated in three events, selling my artwork to support various relief efforts. At one event, through many mass emails, I received art donations from all over the world, Berlin to Jersey City. People just wanted to do something to help. And not knowing what specifically to do, they just gave as they could.

And this brings me to my friend, Akira. Akira is the husband of my friend Kugako, who is one of my "sisters" - my closest and dearest friends from college, and a sister in the truest sense. They live in Tokyo. Akira wrote to me about his hometown, Kesennuma (Miyagi Prefecture), which is one of the hardest-hit areas from the tsunami.

When I read Akira's email, I was speechless. It is a story about the aftermath of the destruction that needs to be told.

To anyone who is interested in a sense of those early days after the disaster, I ask you to read on.

As many of you may know, Japan has left the headlines. I don't know what I should do next. I wish someone would tell me what to do, but, in the end, I feel we have to help each other to move forward as much as we can.

Respectfully, Hiromi


Email from Akira to Hiromi
April 2, 2011

Hiromi, thanks for your concerns and kind words. I visited Kesennuma last Monday and returned to Tokyo the day before yesterday [Mar 28-31].

The situation in my hometown is very dire. People seemed still on the edge, but they seemed to be in high spirits nonetheless.

My parents are safe. They've always led a simple life and are in good spirits, saying "we are not at all inconvenienced." My uncle, who is the patriarch of my family, is still missing, and the feeling is that the situation with him is utterly hopeless. His iron factory was destroyed by the tsunami, forcing many people out on the street. My cousins also survived but lost their homes. They could only take the clothes on their backs when they sought shelter with their parents. They commute to the refugee center to find clothing for their young daughters. One of them wryly said, "We beg daily to survive now." His words killed me.

How did it all come to this?

The town, the ocean and the beaches where I grew up are no longer what they used to be. It is tormenting to feel such a sense of loss. My wife Kugako is worried about the radiation and hasn't been motivated to cook. But those of us in Tokyo have it easier and are in a position to offer help that is needed. I am keeping my head up and pushing on.

I heard you too are helping out by organizing charity events. If people would consider donating to my hometown, I would take the responsibility of bringing those donations back to Kesennuma and distribute them among those who lost their homes as well as to those children who lost their

I visited some of the refugee centers there and found disturbing disparities. I went around distributing supplies myself and saw some centers had way more supplies than the demand while at others, people waited a whole day just to receive three pieces of hardtack. The distribution needs to be better balanced.

Also, people who lost their homes, as well as the fishermen and farmers who suffered damages, are being considered for government support. But what about those whose homes were okay but who lost their jobs? They aren't receiving supplies and have no promise of income. Hundreds of people like that rush to the job center every day trying to find work.

People are keeping it together for now, but in another month I fear if they might not grow desperate enough to ignore the social order.

I took some pictures of the place. The area where a fire had started was straight out of a picture of Hell. All I could do for much of the time was stand there in prayer.


[On receiving the email, Hiromi and her boyfriend John started collecting donations

from their friends and acquaintances to help Kesennuma. They had collected $1500 in total by April 28.

In the meantime, Akira had found out that, in the junior high school he had graduated from, six kids had lost their parents through the disaster. He made plans to give the donated money to those six kids and to visit his hometown with his family during the Golden Week (the holiday week in Japan usually from April 29 through May 5).

To be continued in Part 2.]


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