Monday, May 28, 2012

Friday, May 25, 2012 Temporary Housing, Scenic Beauty and Bad Jokes

"This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth" (John 3.16-18 NIV) Ben is with another Christian relief organization and he sends us Maria for the day. Maria is currently an exchange student in Tokyo, is also a graduate student in international law, and learned her excellent English from school and university in Estonia. Fifi from southern California is also with us for two days; She's been staying with her grandparents in Osaka for the last two years until her grandmother recently passed away. She says the relatives were very interested in the Christian message they heard at the funeral, most of them had never heard anything like it before.

Southwest-bound on the road toward Sendai, Chad pulls into a truck stop/soup cafe and we meet Mike and Koichi from Ibaraki in a room of blue work uniforms and coveralls. In the last year working with Chad as well as Healing Hands and CRASH, they have made 30-40 relief trips into Miyagi Prefecture.
In my tour guide persona, I mention something about all the huge gomi piles in the countryside and someone corrects me that gomi is actually household trash and these are mounds of gareki (rubble). While eating miso Jonathan pulls up and joins us.

We continue on to the national scenic areas of Okumatsushima and Miyato Jima. The Satohama/Joomon archeological and nature park had become a de facto administrative center in the weeks after the tsunami and we meet Chikako-san of the museum staff in one of the rooms where the kids on field trips make crafts and try their hand at fire-starting.
A short ways down the road we visit the kasetsu juutaku (temporary housing) which has taken part of a school parking lot and playing field.
Thanks to Vince Ng for an overhead shot of typical kasetsu.
Sato-san is a community leader now in residence at the kasetsu, and he tells us that people's phone bills are up as they try to keep in touch with former neighbors and family, and that with people finally going back to work, it's harder to organize community events. Here are links to intimate photos inside and interviews about the temporary units:,,

We take a break at a beach surrounded by sandstone bluffs. Across the highway were tourist shops, restaurants, and houses, now all gone. One side of the road beauty and the other side destroyed lives and livelihoods.
But for a few minutes we are diverted from from the losses; I find some unique shells and Fifi finds a "shell-phone."

As we approach the "greentown" kasetsu, a light drizzle is falling and Beth sits this one out in the car because of her cold. We meet utsumi-fusai (Mr. and Mrs. Utsumi) in the bright and shiny community center building and we soon find out why everything looks new--the previous one burned down in March, including computers and all the books and decorations that people had donated. The place consists of 3 areas, 900 units, currently has 750 residents, including 90 children.
(Mrs.) Utsumi-san, who was in charge of the community center, had met Chad last year at the Christmas program they put on at the dojo with songs, skits, hula dancing and Christmas carols, and had asked Chad to do the same for the kasetsu which she reminded him he hadn't done yet. She brings us coffee and tea and gives us samples of the phone tassels and miniature paper kimonos the women make for crafts to raise money for the families.

The units, while efficient, have flaws. The metal frames are exposed on both outside and in, so on the inside in the winter you can reach up and touch frost and in the summer it's too hot to touch at all. Even with the air-conditioners running in the summer some elderly people have suffered from heat-stroke. Utsumi-san remarks that at least he's busy; a lot of the other men just sit on chairs all day, although when planning for an event or visits from VIPs and volunteers, his phone bill goes way up.
The couple had spent 50 years improving and personalizing their house and adding to their property little by little so that it gave them a peaceful space many times larger than the average Japanese yard. The tsunami took everything except the foundation. Because his land is below the six meter above sea level zone, he cannot rebuild and his property is worthless. He says he and his wife can't make plans because the demand for land and restrictions have created a new shortage--no land to buy. He guesses they may be in temporary housing for 5 years. "Fifty years gone in one minute," utsumi-san says, and funny, as he's saying this, his expression--smile-crinkles at the corners of his eyes--doesn't change--only his words show the loss in his heart.

Driving away Chad translates some of his last comments. Saturday is undookai (school sports festival day) in Sendai for his grandkids, but he's too busy shepherding the various activities and needs in the temporary community to be able to go see them. He told the group: "I just want to be a grandparent again." Chad says "I can sense he's tired of all the responsibilities and is approaching burnout."
Mike is in fine form on the drive back, asking why you need a kickstand to hold a bicycle up? (because it's two/too tired).

No comments:

Post a Comment