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Shichigahama

Shichigahama is a small coastal town near Sendai city.
Getting off at Shiogama station, I took a taxi to the village.

Driving up a winding road to the Town Centre, houses along the road looked normal at first sight, but after careful observation I could see broken window glasses and fallen roof parts, leaning or destroyed walls.

Suddenly a yellowish hill appeared which was actually a pile of destroyed houses, trees, and all other things people could see in the village. It was just enormous amount and there were endless trucks transporting the remains of destroyed town.

I visited the Town Centre and International Village.

The Seven Beach Aid, a charity organization, held a photo exhibition in UK to deliver people’s stories of hope in Shichigahama. At the exhibition, “Yet I still dare to hope”, messages board collected and the message board was displayed at the city centre. An elderly man was standing in front of the message board. He said, “I cannot understand what it said, but how nice people are thinking of us so much.”

I headed to the International Village Centre where once was an evacuation centre.

There were temporally houses beside the road from the Town Centre to the International Village.

I was surprised to see many kids at the Village Centre. A company was holding a charity family event. They invited families who live in the temporary houses. This company came all the way down from Osaka and they said they would visit other affected cities. Go-carts and other games were designed and assembled from the scratch by employees of this company. Racing machines were very popular among the children. The designer of the machine and children were smiling together.

I left the International Village and went to the area where the children I just met used to live.

I still can not find a word how to describe what I saw. I just felt the enormous power of Tsunami wiped out the lives of people.

Containers were still at the shore. Other areas of the beach was still untouched with fishy smell.

The town was very calm and only I could hear was the sound of waves and classical music from the taxi’s car radio.

Volunteer in Sendai

I visited Mr Hayakawa of Sendai city’s volunteer office.

He explained there have been more than 50,000 volunteers in total worked for restoration works Sendai only.

Volunteers are not only from the other areas of Japan, but also from abroad. Even people from the Tsunami affected area are helping the restoration work.

There are still 100 volunteers dispatched everyday. The volunteers centre started a few weeks after the devastating event. This is because the area was open only for the searching of missing people. There was also a danger of another Tsunami triggered by after quake.

Volunteer centre first had to secure evacuation routes for volunteers in case of emergency, then started dispatching registered volunteers.

On 8th of August, I registered myself as a volunteer and I was dispatched to the coastal area of Sendai city, called Wakabayashi area. Around 40 people were transferred by bus to the destination. At early stage, volunteers sometimes have to walk to the destination since the roads were destroyed and vehicles could not run.

Our mission was to remove small debris from farm land. Small debris, pieces of plastic bags, pieces of glass, sometimes pieces of broken ceramic dishes were found in the soil. These are too small to remove by machines.

There was nowhere to hide from the sun without houses and sheds near the area. I assume many of them were destroyed by the Tsunami. We had to take a rest every hour to prevent dehydration, this made the work very slow. There used to be trees along the coastal line which protected the land from the strong wind from the see, buy they were gone, and ironically the sea breeze helped us keep working under the strong sun shine.

I met a man who had to evacuate from his house in Minami-soma, Fukushima and now lives in Sendai with his son. His wife and daughter stayed in other area of Fukushima. His family had to evacuate from their house, 15km away from the nuclear power plant.

“My family has to live in different places now. How precious it is that family members can live together and see each other, share things happened everyday… I miss my family.”

He now devotes himself to volunteer works.

“There is nothing we can do, but move forward.” He said to me, and perhaps also to himself.

Many young people especially who have little children decided to move out from the area. Their decision was quick, he said.

Even the evacuation order is lifted, the community would not be the same.

After around 4 hours of work, the amount of debris I removed was only a little. Feeling the sea breeze, I looked around the land covered by weeds where work are still needed.

After 40 minutes bus ride from Akiu, I came back to Sendai city centre yesterday morning.

Akiu area is famous for hot spas. This high-end spa hotel area suddenly turned into police officers’ station camp. A taxi driver explained that many of hotels in the city central were unavailable right after the quake, and those which remained safe were all booked by aid providers and news agencies.

There are still many police officers are staying in this area. I often saw police cars from other areas of Japan. 

At Sendai station, there were group of people who were providing workshop for children, called 4 leaves. They invited me to their office and explained other projects. One of the members of 4 leaves was from Ishinomaki area and I could not really listen to her story without tears.

She said, seeing people enjoy Tanabata in Sendai, I feel like Ishinomaki people are forgotten…We are left behind.

Ishinomaki is one of the worst Tsunami hit areas. Her house was hit by the tsunami and her family still have to use only the 1st floor of their house as the ground floor’s tatami mats are gone.

She said there is a little good news that some restaurants opened, but only for lunch.
I first could not understand why she emphasized “lunch”. But gradually understood that is because there is no electricity and they can not open after sun sets.

They showed me messages from Ishinomaki people. I was very much touched by the comments of their strong will to restore the community. 

Fukinagashi under sunny sky


Sendai Tanabata started off under a beautiful sunny sky.

All messages collected in UK is now displayed at Jozenji prayer’s square.

This street is specially allocated to messages brought to Sendai from other cities and countries abroad.

Our messages are displayed in this area with kind support by Mr Ikawa of Tohoku Japan British Society, Mr Yanatsu and Nogi of Sendai city government.

“Look! They are from London!”

Many people who came to this Tanabata festival read the messages.

A boy said, I can not understand English but I can tell they are really thinking of us.

A young father said reading these messages makes me cry, it is so touching…

There are so many comments I can not list fully but many of them were very much surprised by the fact that 1188 messages were collected and delivered to Sendai.

Your message surely delivered to Sendai, and to people in the area.

Love,
Ai

Hi, it’s Ai!
I am now in Sendai!
11hours of flight from Heathrow to Narita, Japan.
Then hopped onto Narita express to Tokyo station, then bullet train(Shinkansen) to Sendai.
It was raining very heavily but the train was running as normal. 
I was really amazed by the punctuality of Japanese railways.

The first thing I saw at the Sendai station was of course Tanabata decorations displayed on the platform,
Well, this was just a little welcome sign and the real ones appeared as I walked down the escalator.

Huge! I can not describe enough how magnificent they were!
A taxi driver taught me that they were made by professionals.
He said Normally it takes almost a year to prepare these decorations for the Tanabata Festival.
It costs around 300,000 yen per one Fukinagashi!

The taxi driver proudly explained that Sendai’s Tanabata festival is very special because all the decorations are made by Japanese paper, called Washi. 

Across the city centre, Washi paper decoration was everywhere! I mean every single corner of the street you see Fukinagashi and bamboo trees decorated with origami and Tanzaku (a piece of paper which people write their wishes).

I could see Sendai people are really enjoying this cultural event. 
Sendai city is now on campaign called Tanabata for 1million citizen.
Tanabata is originally a household cultural event that people make wishes for better health, study, harvest, etc. This campaign is basically to call for people to bring this culture back to their lives. Tsunami and earthquake destroyed many things but culture remained. Tanabata I suppose added extra meaning to people in the area. I saw many wishes written by local people. What surprised me most was that their wishes were mostly not about themselves, but praying for community community recovery. 

Back to Fukinagashi, to bring up huge decorations is not easy. Strong bamboo trees were brought into the arcade shopping street and trimmed into a particular shape. 
Beside the huge commercial decorations, there were many rather small but very lovely decorations along side the street. 

I encountered a very kind man who turned out to be the chief secreariat of the arcade street, Mr Futonagane. He explained that those small ones are mostly made by people living in Sendai.

I very much liked the ones made by school kids and junior high school students. 

Next, I visited Sendai volunteer centre.
Mr Hayakawa, explained the timelines and situations around volunteer centers. He said at first they could not even set up a volunteer centre especially near the coastal line. People could not simply get in to such areas to make investigation easier to find many missing people who were believed to be there. 

Even after this period, they were not ready to accept volunteers as they were not sure if there would be another Tsunami or huge earthquake would come again.

He said there were around 54000 volunteers and still the number is increasing. Volunteers came not only from other areas of Japan but also foreign countries.

I will go volunteering on Mon!

Hi, it’s Ai.

Thank you very much for everyone who came to Hyper Japan and wrote support message for Japan!

There are 675 people who kindly wrote messages for Japan during this 3-day event!

I am flying to Japan from London to Tokyo by Virgin Atlantic, then will get on bullet train to deliver your message to Sendai!

I will update what’s going on in the City and other areas in Tohoku.

Follow me by twitter: @pintforjapan

Here are some photos from the event.

 

 

Make a wish for JAPAN project is now supported by:

 

 

 

Hi Guys,

Is Fab here!

Have you done a bit of research about Tanabata Matsuri ?  Did you check out the pictures and get excited about all the fantastic paper decorations?

I know how it feels. You go, surf the internet, you get all the stories about the festival and suddenly you wish you where there. Well, this year you can experience a taste of real Tanabata Festival in London, this weekend Friday 22nd, 23rd and 24th July, as part of Hyper Japan at Olympia!

Yes, Pint4JAPAN is going to offer a Tanabata Matsuri experience at Hyper JAPAN and you are all most welcome to come. Our group of volunteers will provide a workshop on how to create the amazing paperdecoration and will also collect support messages from you to send directly to Sendai.

  

At the end of this three days event, we will gather all your wishes and Virgin Atlantic will take Ai to Japan so that during Tanabata Matsuri, which is held in August in Sendai, they will read all your beautiful words and feel that they’ve got friends in Londonsupporting them.

So put Hyper Japan in you diary this weekend and come andenjoy Tanabata Matsuri with us!

See all you at Olympia,

Fab

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