Japan: A Sendai Report by a Supporter―Witnessing the Plight with Her Own Eyes (1)

One of the AAR JAPAN longtime supporters, Ms. Toshi Morikawa, visited Miyagi prefecture in this early August.  She describes the calamity after the Great East Japan Earthquake and the strength of the local people.

The Scene of the Total Destruction

In early August, I had a most memorable, heart-breaking and heart-warming two days in the earthquake/and tsunami-ravaged areas of northern Japan, namely Sendai, the central city in Japan’s north, and Ishinomaki, a city of 160,000 people, nearly totally wiped out, except for the hillside areas.  I came wanting to see the disaster  sites for myself, and also to support a benefit concert sponsored by Association for Aid and Relief, JAPAN(AAR). Our Tokyo Church has sent to AAR the relief funds we have received from around the world.  We watched in awe as the donations rose to an amazing amount.  We have been deeply moved to witness man’s compassion, love and care for humanity, and Love’s guidance directing each human footstep.

It is more than five months since the quake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster took place, yet from the car windows we saw, on and on, as far as the eye could see, nothing but flat land, ruins of devastation, where towns and shops used to be.  Occasionally, a concrete structure of two or three stories came into sight, but their first floors clearly were all in ruins.  Remains of asphalt lay torn apart.  Rubble and broken cars were piled high here and there, sometimes forming a dike.  My heart pained to think that this scene of total destruction extends along much of Japan’s entire northeastern coastline, and that towns and villages have been wiped out, people uprooted and made homeless, often jobless. Northern Japan is largely farming and fishing country. It is an area known to be an idyllic countryside, framed with beautiful coastlines, of curling bays, adorned with pine-topped islands. The lush pine groves have all but vanished.

A Primary School Became an Evacuation Center

A school bag left in rubble  
(April 28,2011, Higashimatsushima city)
We visited Higashi Matsushima Ohmagari Primary School. The school became an evacuation center, like many other schools, simply because few buildings survived the tsunami. The headmaster told us when the quake came, their 400 children, gathered first in the playground, were ordered to run up to the third floor. Over 600 evacuees followed them. He said a split second later, the tsunami roared in, devouring the entire playground and the neighborhood. The gushing water brought in some 200 cars, which crashed into the school building, causing water to gush up to the school’s first  floor. The water reached 170 centimeters (about 6 feet) high. The school remained an isolated island for two full days, with no food, no water, no power, nor gas. It was a freezing cold night, so teachers ripped off the curtains to cover the shivering evacuees. Most memorable was how all worked together to enable the eight babies to get their milk. Alcohol in the chemistry lab enabled them to heat the water. Now the sludge and debris and tumbled cars have been removed, but the first floor rooms and the grounds won’t be usable until next spring, -- not until the government sets policies and obtains budgets for repairs and restoration. Such is the case of many a school in the entire coastal regions of northeastern Japan.

We came here because AAR was to give a cart and some bicycles to the school. The cart is the kind farmers used to use, which can be pulled by hand or by bicycle, needing no fuel.

AAR President, Fusako Yanase, says the schools have asked to please wait until next spring when they know exactly what they need. She says the schools have lost everything they had on the first floors, amounting to a third of their possessions. She said she knows they will need many things, including sporting goods for sure.

“A miracle” Benefit Concert

AAR JAPAN’s benefit concert, “Hope”
 (August, 2011, Sendai city)
The concert next day, entitled “Hope”, was a moving event. The Sendai City Youth Cultural Center had been out of use, like all other music halls in the city.
The Sendai Philharmonic Orchestra played Bach, Mozart, Tartini and Haydn. The program contained two trumpet concertos featuring Eric Aubier, the top trumpeter in France. His Japanese wife, a flutist, was born in Sendai. His trumpet was so beautiful, warm and tender it brightened our hearts. He brought with him some 100 CDs that all   sold out, all proceeds donated. Another highlight was a local high school brass and percussion band of 53 members. They gave a powerful, scintillating performance of two compositions, a folk melody in a new arrangement, and a modern composition.

Their school had also been an evacuation center, and their first floor sunk in tsunami water. AAR gave the school 37 instruments, big and small, to replace those lost by the tsunami. In fact, AAR’s benefit concert in Tokyo in July was so hugely successful that they were able to give musical instruments to eight schools, instead of their initial plan to give to just one. Mr. Aubier also presented them a trumpet.  
Organizers felt it was a miracle that the concert took place at such short notice. Everyone involved had a drama to tell, in tears.  The audience was invited free, with AAR paying all costs. The 800 seats were very nearly all taken. Their glowing faces will remain in my memory forever.
(to be continued)