There's something sad about seeing how the tsunami-hit towns have changed since I last visited in September. More buildings have been torn down, leaving a barren landscape. Dead trees, killed by the salt water, have been cut down. The numerous piles of debris have disappeared. Bridges and train tracks are being rebuilt, so that the towns can reconnect. And, the grass is also taller and thicker, covering the remains of what used to be structures and hiding the past.
Minamisanriku is one of those towns, with a devastating story—more than 800 people died here. And, one thing that hasn't changed since I left is the ongoing work that is being done to clean up the town. Though there are far fewer buildings standing now, bulldozers are still abundant and piles of debris are still being created. It is estimated that in seven years, the land will be filled in, rebuilding will begin and memories and stories of the tsunami will be all that remain.
"Don't forget," were the words that were echoed by the many earthquake and tsunami survivors that I met back in September, but as with everything in life, things change and move on—even when you're not ready to. And, while change is good, it makes me remember back to my trip to Okawa Elementary School in Ishinomaki last year, where 70 of 108 students were killed in the tsunami. The shell of the school was all that was left, along with the occasional effects of toys and pieces of clothing lying on the ground. Our guide told us that "what you are seeing is precious, because it will not be there forever." Words that I feel only now.
Earlier this year, I fundraised in Hawaii to help with this change. I had met Chiyoka Ajimoto last year, who works in the Kyoto branch of nonprofit Project Fumbaro, which was created to help support east Japan when the suicide rates following the earthquake and tsunami were increasing. I wanted to help. In a short time, many of my coworkers, our families and friends helped to raise $1957.31 to be put toward a beach cleanup in Nagasuka, which was covered with debris by the tsunami. Thanks to everyone's time and donations, the beach reopened in July. Seeing the happy smiles on the kids' faces as they play in the sand shows why it's necessary to keep moving forward, while not forgetting about the past.
Before the cleanup:
After the cleanup: