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The Diary: June 10

June 10 – Friday

Today is warm and sunny, with a delightful breeze blowing from the direction of the ocean. It is our last day of work–tomorrow we have only to pack and depart by 7:45–and our last day of “Rajio Taisou.” After his pep talk, Ted casts an eye around the motley crew assembled in the yard, and to my surprise and embarrassment, asks me to be one of the three exercise leaders. While it is true that I have started to like the warm-up routine, to lead it I am not ready at all! Reluctant as I am, it is hard to refuse gracefully, so up to the “stage” I go. Keeping an eye sideways on my partner-leader Michito, I follow her every move, mortified that after 7 days of this I can’t remember the sequence.

Aside from that, it is a very satisfying day for two reasons: 1. We finish the job we are assigned even though it is a short working day, and 2. it is Sakurada-san’s house, the same place whose garden we had to leave unfinished on June 5 (that has been bothering all of us all week). The task: remove sludge from under the floor of three rooms and the entrance of the house. Once again, though the task is the same as others we have been assigned, the circumstances are different. It is an older construction style: concrete foundation walls surrounding a base of sand. Each support post for the floor beams rests on a  large flat stone embedded in the sand. The sludge that lies on top of the sand is fairly dry, but a heavy clay consistency, 2-3 cm thick. It’s easy to pick up, but space is tight so we mostly have to work with hand trowels. By now functioning well as a team, we waste no time getting started and make quick progress. With food supplies running low (and what remains looking less and less appealing), Andria and I decide to lunch at Gusto again. It is so simple: shrimp and vegetable salad with a toasted bun and cheese on the side, custard for dessert–but the reviving effect of a real meal in the middle of a hard day’s work cannot be overstated. Today we have been told we will be stopping at 3:00, so after lunch there are just 2 hours of work time left. We are burning to finish properly this time, and really turn on the heat. We finish picking up and bagging the sludge and start sweeping wall crevices and crossbeams. Sakurada-san returns as we finish and we pose for a final picture with him, surrounded by all our sludge-filled bags, in front of the large “みなさん, ありがとう/ Thank you, everyone” sign posted by local residents.

We finished the job! みなさんありがとう Thank you! from the local residents

We stop work early because a tour of the truly hard-hit areas of Ishinomaki has been planned for the late afternoon. At 3:45 we pile into a bus and head for the port and central area of town. We pass through block after block of broken and shattered homes and factories. Mountains of debris are still waiting to be hauled away. One long-term volunteer exclaims over how much has been done since the last time she was down there, but for those of us seeing it for the first time, there seems to be little to rejoice at. The sea wall looks so very low and pathetic in the light of what we now know the sea is capable of.

A house buckles at the knees

Hollowed out house

The houses that survived are few and far between

Stranded boats are an all-too-common sight

We are let off on the main street of town, where we are free to look around and shop for about 40 minutes. In the souvenir shop I buy socks and a photo of the street taken the day after the tsunami. I then locate the same block and take another pic (see below). This part of the city is noticeable more lively and reconstruction is well under way.

Commercial street March 12

Commercial street June 10

We all line up at the busy sidewalk crepe stall to get a crepe filled with real cream, custard and chocolate, and by then it is time to pile on the bus for a ride to the park at the top of the hill. There we get a view of the entire devastated port area, and can compare it to the “before ” pix on the poster at the entrance of the park. The differences are stark.

Poster Pic 1: Before 3/11

A slightly different angle, but the difference is apparent

Cherry blossom season from a happier time

Today: large buildings are damaged, smaller ones washed away
It is a sober trip back to our base at Kasuka Factory.  The evening is spent packing and, when that is finished, playing our last game of poker together. It is a happy night, with lights out one hour later than usual; we treasure this winding down time even as we look forward to the comforts of home we will enjoy tomorrow.
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