Making a difference, in more ways than one

Our volunteer project for the day is to help local sea-farmer Tetsuo Hatakeyama (aka Iron Man) and his family tie knots in konbu, sort the wakame and prep bags for packaging. Last year, I had visited this family when they were living in a temporary housing area above Minamisanriku after the tsunami, so it was nice to see that they have moved out of the home, back onto their land and are progressively moving forward with their lives.

It's a beautiful day and there are many seagulls flying in circles along the coast as we crowd around a handful of tables to get started with the day's task. It's a less strenuous job than the previous volunteer project at Hamaguri Hama and everyone is enjoying the time to watch the view of the boats lined up at sea, while handling the seaweed.

Eric Kusunoki (left) teaching Iron Man (center) how to tie multiple knots on a rope at one time.

Photo: Andrew Ryan

The teams of people working with the konbu had to tie three individual knots on the long strips of it. I was told that this helps to keep the kelp together while it's boiling. Punahou coach Eric Kusunoki, however, didn't do exactly as he was told. Instead of tying three individual knots one at a time, he tied three knots at one time. It's a skill he learned when he was a kid from a lady who ran a delicatessen out of his house. "They were making knots and cutting it, just like this," he says. Kusunoki shared this knot-tying skill with the Japanese sea-farmer Iron Man and his family, who hadn't known that it was possible to do what he just showed them. They were excited and happy by the idea that it would save them time in their small, family business and continued practicing the knot until we left. It was an exchange that will help them long after we are gone.

Denise Saki Powers (left) giving Iron Man the triple-bladed scissors.

Parent Denise Saki Powers also had a gift for the family—triple-bladed scissors. She was part of the team of parents in charge of gathering omiyage for the Ishinomaki baseball team, and had to buy paper-cutting scissors for the job. On buying them in Hawaii, she was told to have the wakame sea-farmer family try using them to cut the seaweed. The sharp blades work better than the average scissors. Powers gave the scissors to Iron Man and he immediately gave it a try. In one snip, he was able to cut, then strip, the seaweed into two pieces. It was quick and efficient, and exactly what they needed.

Anyone who witnessed both of these exchanges felt chicken skin, knowing that these small acts of kindness will give the family more help and support as they move forward with rebuilding their business.