In this blog series, JET Programme alumnus Audrey Shiomi heads back to Sendai City to visit friends and hear stories about the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

One of the coolest things I got to do while working at Sendai City Hall a decade ago was ride a helicopter over the city. During the hour-long trip, we headed as far as Matsushima, a collection of 260 islands plush with majestic pine trees. To me, helicopter rides were things that only rich people did, so I savored each moment, taking a photo for every minute that passed. My old boyfriend’s grandmother lived on one of the islands, so I tried zooming in on where I thought her house was. (It’s the one by the dock. =P )


In the summer of 2000, his grandmother hand-stitched me a yukata to wear to the Matsushima fireworks festival. It was like receiving a pot of gold. Up until then, I’d only owned  flimsy, department store-bought ones; this one had an elaborate obi sewn to the back. His grandmother was a sweet, kind woman, and to this day I wonder how she’s doing. Soon after that summer, my boyfriend broke up with me and moved to Australia for two years. I was heartbroken and ended up locking that portion of my life into a shoebox of photos, not to be opened for years.

I worked as an interpreter of sorts at Sendai City Hall. I lived within minutes of Sendai Station, two hours from Tokyo and about 30 minutes from the ocean. Sendai is nicknamed “City of Trees,” and as you could imagine, the air was always fresh. It’s the perfect blend of city and nature. At first, I despised being sent there by the Japanese government; I wanted to live in a real city. (I’d spent my junior year abroad in Tokyo and didn’t think I could handle “inaka“.) But as the months went by, I grew to love inhaling the sweet scent of rice growing in suburban rice fields, and strolling along their main shopping corridor after work each day. Life was simple but good.

So next Tuesday, I’m headed back to Sendai. I’ll be there for about a week to visit friends and old colleagues, eat a plate of grilled cow tongue (their local speciality) and catch a nostalgic glimpse of Matsushima. Truthfully, I’m a little nervous to go back. So much has changed, I’m sure. My favorite shops will be gone, old friends will have new wrinkles, and the entire city will have been woefully transformed by the March 11 disaster.

This won’t be an easy trip, so I’ll just have to take it one day at a time. Glad you’re coming along. \(^_^)/

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Read my next entry, “To Be Afraid or Not to Be Afraid.”

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Note: This trip is partly funded by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). A total of 14 former participants of the Japan Exchange Programme (JET) have been invited to return to northern Japan. Click here for more information.

Views expressed in this blog series are not necessarily those of Rafu Shimpo.



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