Life in Northern Japan…two weeks on By Michael Tonge

Well it has been just over two weeks since the huge quake and the resulting devastating tsunami and where international news may no longer think Japan needs the coverage, what with the Libya situation, here in Japan things are far from normal. In Sendai city at first glance things appear ok…we have been having some beautiful early Spring days, lots of sunshine and sometimes quite nice temperatures too. But of course things are not normal here…in fact they are still very far from normal. You only have to walk around a little before you notice long queues of cars, even early in the morning waiting for petrol , sometimes queues up to 2kms….then I think i fancy a drink so lets find a vending machine…easy to find in Sendai…there are many on every block.;..however two weeks after the big disasters here…they are all empty…no problem you think. i will just pop into one of the many convenience stores around the city…hmmm that’s strange…they all seem to be closed…shouldn’t they be open 24 hours? The few that are opening you soon find the reason…they are opening as there is nothing much inside them left to buy. There are some supermarkets that are opening and are receiving regular supplies…if you are willing to queue up for an hour or longer. So despite the international news moving the focus away from japan, things are not good here yet.

I went a few days ago with my friend Steve, to visit the area around Sendai Port. There we were shocked. We found many houses badly damaged, the people unable to live there anymore and currently living at the local schools. And we also found hundreds of cars…nice cars…not old bangers…but these cars…well they looked different…maybe it was the fact that they were either half way up trees, on railway tracks or dumped carelessly on top of each other by the tsunami. We were shocked but vowed to go back to the area to see if there was anything we could do.

That day was today. I am sitting writing this very tired, but also with a deep feeling of content too, but even that is tinged with sadness. We went back to the same area and visited a local school to volunteer as helpers. We were sent to an old mans house in the town. Here we found him by himself in his front room shoveling the one and a had feet of mud, rice stalks, and worst of all, personal belongings in what used to be his comfortable living space. On the walls were pictures and photos of his life…photos of his children and grandchildren and papers from his previous life as a solider…we got to work helping him to shovel all the mud etc out of his living room and into the garden outside. It didn’t feel like we really did much but the look on his face was touching and you could feel he really was thankful for the help. We had a bit of a language barrier but that did not seem to matter much.

Next we wanted to help again as the day was far from over. We drove a short distance south to the area of Natori, by the coast. We thought we had seen it all but we were wrong. Natori was…well apocalyptic…maybe that’s a strong word to use but literally we were driving around and could not believe it. We have all seen film from WWII from Hiroshima…imagine that but in 2011! The amount of destruction was unbelievable and the photos I took do not really do it justice. Where there had once been shops, buildings, homes, families and life…there was nothing…just the odd building looking like a ship lost in a sea of darkness. We soon realized that the area was beyond our help but luckily in the suburbs which were still badly hit we found a group of men and we could help them clear the front of a house and then we helped a couple of women clear the front of their house too.

So I feel good for having helped but if anyone is watching the news outside of Japan or even just outside of Miyagi and thinking that japan is not in the news much now so they must be ok…we are not. There is so much destruction and broken lives here. It is going to take years to rebuild and get over this. Please don’t forget Japan…Please dont forget the people of Northern Tohoku region!!

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