Minamisanriku and the future

Our two days spent in Minamisanriku were incredible, and I feel like all of the class discussions and field trips were leading up to actually seeing the disaster area first-hand and hearing the stories of locals. It was an amazing and powerful experience that I won’t forget.

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This is a picture of the disaster evacuation center, or really, what was left of it after the 3/11 tsunami. The resiliency of the people of Minamisanriku was represented so strongly in the heroic efforts of both the survivors and victims throughout the disaster area, and the newscasters of this particular evacuation center illustrate heroism well. They stayed until their last minutes of life to broadcast the happenings of the disaster, and died for their duty and occupation dedicated to helping others.

This type of sacrifice also mimics well the direction of Minamisanriku in the future, repairing and recovering after their major disaster. In order to repair the disaster-destroyed area, Minamisanriku needs everyone to work for the community, toward a greater goal of future protection and peace.

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The future is bright in Minamisanriku because of the efforts of locals, volunteers, and foreigners to help get back what so many people lost in the earthquake and tsunami. This island head was a gift from Chile to Japan, and the Japanese use it as a symbol of the future, of what’s to come. I think that this is the most important thing that the people of Minamisnriku and other parts of the disaster area can do post-3/11: look to the future with hope. Tragedy is a part of all of our lives, a as much as we’d like to deny it. And, in my opinion, whether the tragedy is small scale–like the death of a friend–or large scale–like the deaths of thousands–there is still a process of grief and recovery that requires as much hope as you can muster in order to make it through.

The people of Minamisanriku and their ability for hope and pursuit for recovery following the Tohoku tragedy seem to be the keys to keeping their spirit alive. Their future is bright because of it.

The end of a beautiful journey

This is my last blog and my realization of how much I learned and experienced in just a month in Japan. The end of this journey has come and I am both saddened and happy at the same time. Saddened because I would love to stay longer and share more time together with the people I have met along the way, but extremely happy for the amazing opportunity that I had to come to Japan and learn so much about the culture and what affects Japanese people everyday. I am extremely thankful to Prof. Bates, Prof. Sak, and Prof. Pawley for their dedication and teachings, and I am also greatly thankful to the faculty and students at Nanzan for welcoming us in Nagoya and sharing so many amazing moments with us.

We did so much, starting from our arrival in Nagoya, the welcome party hosted by Nanzan students and faculty, and the most amazing field trips to so many places in Japan. We went all over the place. From our hike in Mt. Ishimaki near Toyohashi and a day trip to Midori in Motosu city, where we saw the Neo-dani fault, to Kyoto and its majestic landscape and culture, to the beautiful Kobe, resilient and thriving, to the bustling and confusing but fun Tokyo, to the jaw-dropping islands of Matsushima, the strong and friendly community of Minamisanriku, and the warm and beautiful tropical-like Boso peninsula.

There are really no words to express my gratitude to everybody and everything on this program, but I can say that it has absolutely been the most amazing experience I have had and a memory that will always be present in my mind and heart for the rest of my life.

I hope I can see everybody that made this an unforgettable experience again in the future.

Arigatou gozaimasu!!

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Reflection on Murakami’s “The Super-Frog Saves Tokyo” and the Kobe EQ

In his story Murakami uses the character of Frog as a wake-up call for Japanese citizens to a life style that is not conducive to anything valuable, representing the average citizen in the character of Katagiri. Katagiri is a office worker that has no friends, is depressive and works by the rules, with no purpose in life but only to work. Frog sees in him an extraordinary and respectable man, because he has sacrificied himself for the benefit of others p, with no rewards of any kind. Frog asks Kitagiri for his help to fight Worm, who is prepared to cause an earthquake and destroy Tokyo. Kitagiri has nothing to lose, and it is this dreamed fight against the inevitable and unpredictable to save others that brings meaning to his life.

I think Murakami is trying to tell something to the Japanese audience: that they live with earthquakes, there is no escape from it, and the imminent danger and the caring of others have to be their motivations to carry a life full of meaning. That is what happened after the Kobe earthquake in 1995. People stopped their work and study and went to help rebuild the city and community of Kobe, and in doing so, found each other and a community where people were able to meet and share experiences. No longer were Japanese just focused on their work in the office, but the earthquake made them realize the importance of living for something else, not just themselves.

The Great Hanshin Earthquake and a reflection on my own city

I am from just outside of Buenos Aires, capital city of Argentina, in a city that is part of the Metropolitan Area of Buenos Aires (AMBA). Nothing much really happens in terms of natural disasters. There are no hurricanes, tornadoes, snow storms, droughts, or earthquakes. However, the city is prone to floods due to its low altitude, though mostly to a manageable level. The exception was this past year, where the city of La Plata, which is 2 hours drive from Buenos Aires, and part of Buenos Aires, suffered from heavy rains and severe floods that completely inundated most of La Plata and some areas in Buenos Aires. The floods and the rainfall were unprecedented in both cities, causing 86 deaths and rendering hundreds of thousands without electricity for weeks.

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The causes were mainly climate change, people throwing trash in the drains and over-construction of buildings and roads on inner city streams. Both cities could have been much better prepared, and it makes me think about how unprepared would my city be in the face of a disaster the magnitude of the Kobe earthquake. There would probably be few survivors, no standing buildings and a city covered in debris and water. But I did read about a huge volunteer response from all around the metropolitan area and it reminded me of what I saw and read in the Kobe Museum about the huge volunteer response after the disaster. I reflect on these two very different kinds of disasters in very different cultures and geographies, but it makes me feel hopeful about the power of a community coming together, wherever and for whatever kind of disaster that is.

Devastation and resilience in Minamisanriku

As we left the Tokyo bay and Tsukuba and headed north to Miyagi Prefecture I saw an abrupt change in landscapes. From the bustling cities to the slower countryside. From the high rise buildings to the beautiful islands of Matsushima Bay. It is a repetitive pattern I see in Japan, but it was certainly different when we arrived in Minamisanriku. As we toured around the city and spoke to the manager of the hotel we were staying in and local residents, we were able to both see and understand the physical and emotional devastation of this town after one of the biggest tsunamis in history washed most of it away two years ago. There was almost nothing left near the coast. The hospital, schools, houses, the harbor, everything was gone. The tsunami even took away with it the statue given by Chile in commemoration of the tsunami that struck Minamisanriku in 1960, after the Chile earthquake. In Minamisanriku alone, 800 people died and 200 are still missing.

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minamisanriku before the tsunami

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Minamisanriku after the tsunami

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Debris collected from the beach

Debris collected from the beach

One of the most striking images in my head is the standing structure of what was then the emergency preparedness center. The tsunami was so high -15 m in average – that it reached the roof of that building. Only a few people who were working at that moment survived. One survived because he was able to reach the higher antenna tower on the very top. Looking at that building allowed me to at least imagine the wave of the tsunami, but it could never really tell me the tragedy that it brought to Minamisanriku.

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I saw, however, the other side of the story: the recovery. People in this town smiled at us and welcomed us with extraordinary warmth and kindness, one that you would never imagine from a town torn apart by a disaster of that magnitude. And yet there we were, welcomed by the people of Minamisanriku and invited to see and try to grasp the crude reality of a disaster and its subsequent tragedy. I saw people rebuilding and trying to recover from the physical devastation and from the loss of beloved ones while working hard and helping each other to build the community from scratch. That was an experience I will never ever forget and I cannot thank enough the people of Minamisanriku for that.

The shopping center set up in former temporary housing

The shopping center set up in former temporary housing

Rebuilding efforts

Rebuilding efforts

New statue given by Chile

New statue given by Chile

Fisherman from Hokkaido volunteering

Fisherman from Hokkaido volunteering

Hotel Sanyo, which survived the tsunami and gave refuge to residents displaced from their homes, educated affected children and dedicated its time and staff to help rebuild the community

Hotel Sanyo, which survived the tsunami and gave refuge to residents displaced from their homes, educated affected children and dedicated its time and staff to help rebuild the community

Minamisanriku, disaster zone reflections

 

The owner of the hotel, a survivor of the tsunami and earthquake told us her story. It was moving, and inspiring. 感動した。。she did so much to save hundreds, maybe even thousands of lives. That was only one example of the  selflessness Japanese people posses.

throughout the disaster zones: we stopped at 4 different sites, some  were more affected than others and on that note each site made me feel different– sometimes that feeling was not knowing how to feel at all..the most powerful for me was the first stop– the disaster broadcasting center (pictured above).the guide told us what happened on the day if the tsunami. Two people, a man and woman, were broadcasting until the waves submerged the entire building. they were instructing people how to get to safe ground, and other refuge sites.

Similarly, there were some firefighters who gave their lives to save 2 or 3 times as many lives as may have perished from the tsunami.

Geological museum in Tsukuba

 

Rocks donated to the museum from all over the world

Rocks donated to the museum from all over the world

imageimageGeological museum in Tsukuba was one of the fascinating places among many of our field trips. Despite the simplicity of the front view of the building, the big colorful ceiling with light bulbs and numbers in the main lobby displays a whole new theme for this museum. That ceiling exhibits earthquake hypocenters around Japanese islands The museum displays different kinds of rocks donated from all over the world, different minerals and fossils and all of them are classified according to different eras and geological age from the oldest to the youngest. One of the significant things at the museum is a replica of 150 million year old fold, which is placed behind the glass wall.

My favorite part is where minerals are displayed because I am familiar with few mineral names from Chemistry text but I have never seen them outside. I was really excited to match the names and physical appearances of minerals. The displays of dimensional model of the Kanto plain and the Fuji Volcano are very informational as well.

A Pen in the Kanto Memorial Museum

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In the Kanto Memorial Museum, there was a glass case full of smaller artifacts that people might have been carrying on them at the time of the fire. There were watches, glasses, hair clippers, and an assortment of pens all in varying conditions. This pen was in particularly good condition, and it made me think of how it’s strange to think that something as simple as a pen would be kept and displayed in a memorial museum. Of course, I think that during those times, things such as this pen and the glasses were things much more difficult to attain than they are now, but they are still small items.

 

It might simply have been my more morbid imagination, but seeing these items made me think of how they must have been found. Professor Bates brought up the thought that, if the fire was hot enough to be melting typewriters and other constructs of metal, what that heat must have been doing to the people caught in the flames. I don’t know what it must have been like for people to be removing these articles from people’s charred bodies. This pen struck me in particular because there is what I thought could be a name written on it, or at least something that could be used to identify a burned body. It’s strange, but also touching and moving in a way to think that something so small can have such an impact such as helping a family identify a loved one.

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Thoughts after a visit to Matsushima

Our group visited one of the devastated area after 3/11 earthquakes named Matsushima. Matsushima is a very beautiful and majestic area but right after the disaster, the area was in chaos. Many people were left behind homeless and jobless and some of them lost their family members. It was very sad to hear personal experiences from the hotel owner and also from our tour guide. It was very generous of Miss Arbae to help the 3/11 disaster victims during their hardship and i think that she handled the chaotic situation very well and offered people a secure place for some period of time. I think she is very modest as well since she said that she really appreciated that our group was visiting Matsushima because it helped the town’s economy in some way. I could not help but admire the stories of people who sacrificed their lives for the safety of other people. I could not help but feel the kindness and hospitality of the community. I could not help but awe by their optimism to look ahead the bright future despite this tragic event. 

It was really heartbreaking to hear the stories of people saying how they were lucky because they lost only one family member, or because they found the bodies of their family members. Those conversations are not something people would normally make but after the massive disaster, people came to appreciate more of what they have rather than moan for what they lost. I think it is very interesting that Our tour guide said it was not luck but rather a coincidence that he was not at his apartment which was very close to the ocean during the tsunami.

I was really glad that I had a chance to see one of the devastated areas in person and hear the personal stories because in that way, I could see the hardship they faced more clearly and demonstrate my sympathy directly to the residents of Matsushima.

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This is the end of the trip. A month was supposed to be long, but so many things happened that I felt the day I got out of the plane and saw all the signs in Japanese and didn’t know which way to go at the customs was actually not very long ago. I remember the Sun on the way to Nanzan, the only Japanese I knew to order food at the cafe, trying to not fall asleep in the afternoon, watching all the cute Japanese girls(‘clothing) come by, the very first hiking when I thought that was my limit, the countless temples and castles which required taking off the shoes, losing and getting back my bag from the station master’s room, losing and hearing from Mia after twenty calls, seeing so many things in Tokyo that happened in Conan and TV, visiting so many earthquake museums and really learn a lot about earthquakes for the first time in my life, the gross feeling in the stomach on Shinkansen, painfully doing Zazen and eating monk food as a carnivore, having a night walk in Matsushima with Chewy’s flashlight, having a single for the first time in my life, drinking a quarter of a cup of an unknown alcohol and knowing that I do have a very low tolerance, stepping on the ground which was once inundated by sea water, watching the sea five times altogether in a onsen, watching the sun turn from pink to orange to yellow to white, hearing the sound of waves crashing into the rocks, see the way an octopus’s brain was taken out, picking up trash on an unpopular beach, getting a really dark tan or burn while having 17 mosquito bites on two legs, pulling an all-nighter for my first scientific poster, and unwilling to say goodbye to Japan and all the people I met here, who would always ask me “how are you”, which I felt hard not to respond with a big smile because I couldn’t help.

I can’t believe that I actually did so many things. Now I’m good at navigating myself in the Nagoya subway. I learned not only about the science and culture of our class, but also Japanese people’s politeness and consideration, but also a happy and optimistic hope for life, but also the hardworking and super-energetic spirit of geologists, but also a serious thinking about what I’m going to do next.

Well, it’s time to say goodbye. I should accept this goodbye happily so that I can look forward to our next meeting, which must be happier.