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What is it about nice people that attract total idiots?Nice people are martyrs. Idiots are evangelists.


Friday, August 5, 2011

Rikuzen Takata update #7

I was hoping to do this last weekend, but a plea for info from a certain reporter has thus far fell on deaf ears.  One thing that has framed the entire concept of recovery for Rikuzen and nearby towns is that the area is over 2/3 65 years old and up, and was in a steady decline even before the disaster.  And much of the heart of the city's youth fell in the tsunami- I just saw a report that when the harbor's tsunami gates failed to close, 45 young firemen gave their lives trying to shut them manually.

And the courage needed to live on is just as great.  As the weather warmed, flies bred in the still-unremoved debris, nearly swamping the town again.  Eradication measures by the government had soon cut the fly population by 90%, according to one resident, but it still had him catching 100 flies a night in three traps.  The Japan Pest Control Assn. sent in a crew of 4,000 to assist.  They decided to assess the size of the problems by setting traps at various locations in each city and checking them at 20-minute intervals.  In Rikuzen's Osabe district, they were totalling 300 per count.  Some other cities were registering as many as 2,800 catches, and the 20 garbage pickup sites in nearby Kamaishi were catching 22 lbs. of flies per week.

Another problem as the weather changed is that the bulk of clothes donated to relief agencies were winter items such as heavy coats- great when the quake hit in March, not so good now.

The age demographic there has also caused a crisis in care for the elderly.  Many have relatives in various states of dementia, aggravated by the conditions.  To care for them in the temporary homes most people who have homes live in is near-impossible; the government lifted capacity restrictions on care centers such as hospitals for the emergency, but many are worried over what they'll do when the government re-instates the regulations.

Heroes arise to try to bring life back to a semblance of normalcy.  One is Akishi Sasaki, coach of Takata High School's baseball team.  The school building is gone, the ball field a relief camp.  The kids journey to Ofunato to learn in a once abandoned school; the players practice wherever, and play where they find open diamonds.  In July, the team competed in the national tournament's first round.  Many from the city followed them.  Most of the boys had lost homes;  none were killed, but a star pitcher had to move out of the area to live with relatives.  A picture of him took his place on the bench as the team lost a lead and the game, 5-2.  Afterwards, the man who'd held them together talked to them.On the grass outside the stadium, Mr. Sasaki, the coach, gathered his players. "Without a doubt, you guys will build the future of Takata," he told them. "You've experienced a lot. But you've come out stronger."

Another hero is Masaru Kumagai.  Once the curator of the Sea and Shell Museum, he is now the de facto curator of the main municipal museum, which lost much of its collection and all of its staff in the wave (including his own mentor, Masahiko Sato).  Bit by bit the trained archaeologist has led his volunteers in recovering items from the muck and debris, including a set of 1,200 year old sword blades.

Also among the finds are the Yoshida diaries, documents from the shogunate period dating back hundreds of years and severely damaged by the water.  He realizes that rebuilding the museum will cost millions of Yen and is probably out of reach.  But Kumagai was "raised by the museum," and lives it every day.

Yet another is 66 year old Mitsuaki Kinno.  A volunteer, he runs the public bathhouse that has become an essential public meeting place.  At its height when everyone was homeless, the baths (known as Fukko no Yu, or "a bath for recovery") served 300 people a day; now that there are some with at least temporary housing it runs about 1/3 of that.  Still, it is so popular- and necessary from a societal perspective- that a planned shut down date of late July was cancelled.  While Kinno doesn't know how much longer he'll be able to do the exhausting job, he has no intention to give up while it- and he- is needed. 

Hope, though, goes on.  The Singapore Red Cross announced  in a report dated today that they had raised S$ 34.4 million ($28.2 million USD), of which S$11 million (just over 9 mill American) will go to building a hall/evacuee center in Rikuzen.  But the real battle is if the young people like coach Sasaki's team will actually stay to do the job, or if the exodus from the aging northeast of Japan will accelerate.

Much like the heroic efforts to save that one remaining tree, it remains to be seen if even heroic efforts can succeed.  For the tree, we might know as soon as next spring if any of the desperate measures tried will end up saving the tree.  For the city itself, the results are going to be much more long term.


  1. That is beautifully written Chris... I am always amazed by the heroic efforts of others to try and keep everyone together in strength and unity!

  2. Thanks, Tracy. In addition to being personnally inspired by these stories, I write them in hopes that others will do as I have and give to Red Cross or whatever according to their means as the need hasn't just dried up and blown away with American media coverage. If reading these convinces just one person to give, it's well worth it.