On April 12, the Team 3 Mission visited a fishing village called Kobuchihama known for its cultivation of oysters and wakame seaweed. Most of the surviving villagers had evacuated to a big shelter nearby, but about twenty of them are coming back to the village each day, determined to begin reconstruction by themselves. After the first big earthquake had struck, about fifty of the local fishermen went out to sea to protect their boats. When they came back to the land, they were very shocked to see their village completely devastated by the tsunami.
One villager is generating electricity using a private generator. Another couple created a bathtub on the first floor of their devastated home. We gave them all a chain saw the next day (April 13) to help with this kind of work, as well as for cutting firewood and removing the rubble. This tool is a necessity for them to make progress more easily.
They had numerous concerns about their future. They wanted to know more about the situation outside their village, and were seeking other helpful information, especially about Fukushima nuclear power plant and distribution impact because it was so hard to know from the radio alone. They were very happy that we came from Kyoto. One woman said, “I am so happy. Even though I haven’t found one of my relatives yet, I will take one more step.” She thanked us time and again, and welcomed us warmly with coffee and sweets even we had politely declined. We always tell villagers that we are also very thankful for these heart-to-heart connections that make both parties even stronger.
On April 17, when the Team 4 Mission arrived in the village, some villagers were building a temporary house. We gave them sake (rice wine), groceries, towels, electric invertors, and an extension cord amongst other things. It was a very cold day. We also gave everyone there belly-warmer ties (harumaki) and hats which were especially appreciated.
During the Team 4 Mission, Robert Mangold was on the way towards Sanriku area for another volunteer mission, and joined us in Kobuchihama on April 20. (He is an American carpenter living in Kyoto who set up IDRO Japan in March 2011 to assist victims of the triple disaster. He has been collaborating with Team Sake and offering assistance to some of the same areas that Team Sake are supporting.)
When Rob arrived, the villagers were just about to move a bathtub place. His donation of tools including a buzz saw, drill, handsaw, bar, nails, and hammer were much appreciated. His timing was just right! We then listened to the survivors talk about what they had experienced at the time the earthquake and tsunami hit. As it is such an arduous thing for them to talk, it’s very important for us to listen carefully. Once again, we were brought to realize how important it is important for Team Sake to cultivate proper relationships with those we are assisting.
After driving overnight from Kyoto with three drivers on traffic-free roads, we arrived in Kobuchihama again on the afternoon of May 1. Villagers had begun to work together with the target of recommencing wakame seaweed farming in the autumn. Along with some IDRO Japan volunteers, we helped by removing sludge from the main workplace. First, we moved the large machinery into the corner, and then we put the sludge into baskets and took it outside. At the same time, everyone collected scattered fishing tools. As more than a month had passed since the disaster, it smelled very bad, like rotten eggs, because the dredged up seawater had become putrid. We fully immersed ourselves in working together for about three hours, until the water came up close at high tide. Because the Oshika Peninsula sank 1.2m after the earthquake, the high tide has started to come even further up onto the land. There were still many cracks in the coastal road.
At night, we talked with the boss, Shacho-san, who is a leader of the fishermen, and his wife, Oka-san. He told us, “We thought about how we could repay your kindness, your great support after the earthquake. Then we realized that it could only be through the recovery of Kobuchihama. There was a moment right after the earthquake when I wanted to quit all my work. But after I met everyone from Team Sake, it brought out feelings that made me want to keep striving ahead. I really appreciate you all.”
On previous visits, they had been continually inviting us to share meals, use the bath and stay over there, but we had declined the offer each time. This time we declined the offer the first time, but when they asked us again we decided to stay. We were amazed by their hospitability. We took a bath in their brand-new bathtub and Oka-san made such a feast of homemade food that we couldn’t even finish it. They even prepared a warm sleeping space with a futon for each of us.
On May 2, we divided into a working team and a visiting team. The working team continued with sludge removal all day, cleaned big refrigerators and made a path through to the second floor. The visiting team went to Osu Elementary School, a shelter in Ogatsu-town. The school remained standing on the hill, but the center of the town was completely devastated. There were enough relief supplies there but they hadn’t been able to put them in order yet. As such, they needed to acquire a lot of big plastic boxes to deal with sorting things out, making them accessible to use, and for re-transportation. Takahashi-san, who is one of the core members running the shelter, said, “We most appreciate your long-term support in a single place. It’s hard to ask a volunteer who has just come here for the first time to do a lot of the things required, but with you, we can talk to the same people that we know and feel safe with.” Another thing he was concerned about was childcare in affected areas. He said, “There are teas and so on in the relief supplies, but there isn’t any cola. The children have been tolerating this condition with little complaint. I feel sorry for them.” Later we had an opportunity to talk to some elementary school children. They told us that they were bored with having to eat the same instant noodles all the time.
On May 4, we worked together with about sixty people removing sludge from a watercourse. Later in the day, a heavy-duty machine joined us and surprisingly, it made things much easier. Amongst the debris, there were roofing tiles, fishing tools, shutters, hoses, plants, motorbikes and many other things. In the afternoon, we managed to remove all the rubble and even made a road.
Takahashi-san’s wife, who we call Oka-san (mother), injured her wrists from doing excessive amounts of laundry by hand, but she hesitated to live in the lap of luxury. We wanted to cheer Mr. and Mrs. Takahashi up, as this couple had started taking big steps to wards restoring the village; we all decided to buy them a refrigerator and a washing machine. We were very happy to see the smiles brought by these surprise gifts.
Some of our members went back to Kyoto that night leaving four of us there. We went to stay at a parking lot in front of the Kobuchihama emergency strategy headquarters. One of us actually experienced camping out for the first time in his life. The starry sky was amazingly beautiful. We heard the singing voices of deers and frogs coming from far away.
On May 6, we cleaned up Shacho-san’s office on the second floor of their workplace. The initial clean-up and removal of sludge from the stairs and first floor had been done a couple of days before, but inside the office was all still completely messed up by the tsunami. The floor and the ceiling were deformed a bit as if they had been lifted up from underneath, and there were papers and documents stuck up on the corners of the ceiling. A locker and a couch were on the desk, and most other things were upside down. Papers and stickers were scattered everywhere mixed with rubble and sludge. Since everything was in such an awful wretched condition, we weren’t sure if we could put it all in order in a single day.
First we started by collecting and removing things from all over the place. Even the insides of the drawers were full of sludge. Masses of garbage bags started piling up. We found Shacho-san’s boat-captain’s license in one of the drawers; he was very happy to have it back again.
In the afternoon, we rearranged the furniture and equipment based on the former set-up created by Oka-san. As we proceeded, we could see the layout of a very practical office that had existed before the tsunami hit. It became even cleaner by brushing the floor. Shacho-san appreciated our efforts a lot. “Oh, it looks like I could even start working tomorrow! Thank you.” Oka-san had requested this job to be done because Shacho-san had been kept busy with other fishermen every day cleaning up the sea and the port. She was going to do by herself, but it was too hard for her to move all the big furniture and equipment. She was smiling as she looked upon the cleaned office. “Lots of memories are coming back to me. So many things happened here...”
After we had taken a bath, we were treated to a delicious dinner. It really was a large amount. We even gained a bit of weight! After six days working, we felt very sad when we had to leave. We shook hands firmly with each other and promised, “We will come back again.”
While supporting the immediate relief-supply needs of small communities affected by the triple disaster on 11 March, 2011, Team Sake is actively building up relationships and creating networks. In the process, as we see the vision of the future drawn from the villagers' hopes and ideas, we send it throughout the world on the internet, recruiting further assistance, to help bring these visions closer to realization. Providing such things as personnel (volunteer manpower), commodities, technical skills, and information, many people coming from across the nation, and indeed the globe, are able to use this website to assist survivors in whichever ways they themselves choose. This process in itself is considered to be the most encouraging and sustainable way of offering both short-term and long-term support for the villagers.