Ah, Matsushima!

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A view of Matsushima bay in the morning

It’s been six months since Northern Japan’s earthquake/tsunami disaster. This morning’s news recapped the memorial service that took place yesterday for victims in Ishinomaki City, one of the hardest-hit areas. Thousands are still missing across the region and the general sentiment at the service seemed to be, “I just want my son/father/mother to come home.”

The news program featured a 17-year-old who lost both parents in the tsunami. He’s now living with distant relatives in a pre-fabricated house, and instead of finishing high school he’s looking for a job to pay for himself.  One of my favorite comedians once complained that young people live with a grand sense of self-entitlement. I’d say this teenager is the exception.

Most of Matsushima Bay was left unharmed, including these fishing boats.

My friend Noriko and I checked into New Komatsuna Hotel last night in Matsushima Bay. Call it a blessing from heaven – the building and its surrounding area went unscathed after the tsunami hit. In fact, after the ocean receded, it didn’t come back. Matsushima’s cluster of pine-covered islands broke the water and sent it pummeling upon towns further north and south. A hotel worker described seeing the ocean floor as she stood high above.

This morning, we paid for a taxi to drive us around East Matsushima and survey the remaining damage. Much of the debris had already been cleared but there was still one neighborhood of abandoned houses:

A line of taxis drive through a hard-hit neighborhood. Apparently, I wasn’t the only curious tourist. The ground remains drenched from the tsunami.

Two cars sit in this once residential area.

Large debris still sits in this East Matsushima neighborhood.
Our East Matsushima-native taxi driver shared many stories during the hour-long drive. He’d lost a handful of relatives to the tsunami, yet–like most people I’d met on this trip –remained stoic when talking about it. He told us how lifeless female bodies surfaced with severed ring fingers. There’d been spottings of suspicious groups of foreigners in the area, he said, so many of the locals assumed they were to blame. (*I’ve looked up this rumor online but have yet to find any news stories to validate it.)
We passed by a retirement home and then a high school. Both places were gutted by the tsunami. Countless hospital beds and school desks sat outside their respective buildings, waiting to be transported to their final destination. Down the road, debris-packed trucks paced back and forth to a dump site. You wouldn’t have guessed a neighborhood once stood here if not for the concrete wall bases that divided each property.
As we headed toward Matsushima Station, I spotted a house with a huge banner that said, “Sumimas!” (We’ll live here!) It seemed like an unusually public declaration, but I guess that’s what it takes to keep the robbers and bulldozers away.
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I’m back in Tokyo and leave for home tomorrow. It’s been a short but thought-provoking trip. I’ll continue posting my thoughts and photos once I return. Please stay tuned.
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Views expressed in this blog series are not necessarily those of Rafu Shimpo.
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