When I was told that the fishermen of Yagawa needed a special hose and water tank I had no idea just how much they needed them, and to be honest, didn’t think such items could possibly be that important. But I have learned not to impose my own assumptions about what is needed and what is not, and to simply listen to the people who actually live here, and to try to help where I can. Yagawa was a town that had stuck in my mind for many reasons, and I was glad to be able to help.
Yagawa is on the northeastern side of the peninsula, whereas Ohara and the other towns I tend to spend my time in are on the southwestern side. As such, Yagawa was left much worse off than most of the other towns I know, with the tsunami reaching as high as 30 metres and coming very far inland. There was just half of a house remaining when I visited here in January, with nobody living in it — everybody now lives in the Yagawa temporary housing community, just down the road from Ohara.
This area stayed in my mind for two reasons. Firstly, because of the huge stone that stands alongside one of the roads, warning people that the area was at risk of a tsunami, and not to build between the stone and the sea. People ignored the warning stone, but even the houses far away from the sea were destroyed in this town. The stone at Yagawa has always stayed in my mind and I often wonder whether this tsunami will leave people’s memories sooner than we would expect.
The other reason Yagawa stayed in my mind is because of the elementary school. It was built right by the sea, with what has to be the most beautiful setting for children to grow up in — the playground and classroom windows overlooked the ocean, without any other buildings nearby. Just behind the school is a little hill, not that much taller than the school itself. To the left of the school are tiny steps winding up the hill to the shrine. After the earthquake the students and staff went straight up the steps to the shrine, where there really isn’t much space at all, and watched as the sea engulfed their entire school. I cannot imagine how those children must have felt huddled together in such a tiny space.
Thanks to the teachers, none of the children were lost, although more than a few lost their families. The families that have remained in the area and now live in the temporary housing communities, now send their children to Ohara Elementary School, and every morning I wake up to the sound of the children tending to their vegetable garden outside my window. Yagawa itself is almost completely desolate — there is a gas station, but most of the port is now used as a dumping ground for debris. Strangely, the land itself, which was once full of houses, looks like the English countryside with grass growing evenly everywhere, and beautiful trees towering over the valley. You would never have imagined something so dreadful had happened here — it is so beautiful and peaceful.
I was introduced to Baba-san, the leader of the Yagawa fishermen, by Kurosawa-san of The Nippon Foundation. I was a little shy as there were some Japanese volunteers from Tokyo nearby and I am always rather embarrassed of my Japanese ability when there are people nearby who I think might be good at English (as the Tokyo volunteers tend to be). So I focused on playing with Hime-chan, Baba-san’s dog, as Kurosawa-san did all the talking.
It was arranged that I would go shopping with Baba-san and his sidekick, Kimura-san, so we headed into Ishinomaki. The long drive, with just the three of us, meant that I could then chat away as normal and build a connection with them. I was later told that they were a bit nervous about how they should behave with an English girl, but Kurosawa-san had said not to worry but to be themselves because I was very laidback. I couldn’t follow everything that was being said and I think they knew that but I did have a giggle to myself when I caught one of them saying to the other that I was cute, and the other told his friend that was bad luck because I was getting married in August.
We arrived at a tiny shop in a back street in Ishinomaki, which made me happy because the money would be going to a small family-run business. The owner was a lovely man, very warm and friendly, and he said how this “power hose” was such a great present because everyone would use it rather than be a present for just one person. I still wasn’t sure exactly of the impact this equipment would have. We posed for a few photos, struggled to fit the equipment in the back of the van, and went off to Homac to get the other piece of equipment that was necessary — the huge water tank. After waiting for a friend to arrive to take the tank in his van, we drove back to Oshika, where the tank was left with me to paint a Union Jack heart on it, along with the names of the people who had contributed toward it (I’ll write more about how this whole Union Jack heart thing has become so popular with everyone here in another blog entry at some point).
The tank was collected this morning while I was out and about with the Tsudachi gardener buying some more equipment, and Baba-san asked me to join the fishermen in Yagawa around 3:30pm when they all got back into port, and would use the new hose and tank for the first time.
And then I realized, actually, what a fantastic gift this was for them. The fishermen’s boats were all lined up in the sea, ready to receive the benefit of the new equipment. The men were in very good spirits, and I loved their huge welcoming smiles when I turned up in my car to find out what was all the fuss about a hose. I found it all really interesting as the fishermen used the hose and tank then and there. Underneath each boat is all sorts of “stuff” from the sea — this gunk is thick, extremely difficult to remove, and can actually damage the underside of the vessel. Twice a year, every boat needs to undergo a thorough cleaning. This equipment is always stored on land, so had been washed away by the tsunami. The last time the boats were cleaned was in October — each boat took all the men working together for five hours, as they cleaned it by hand, whereas with the power hose and tank it takes one man 30 minutes. I couldn’t resist having a go on the hose myself, which was incredibly powerful, and a lot of fun actually! It was very therapeutic to spray off all the chunks of muck and get the underside of the boat really clean.
After the “demonstration” of the equipment, we stood around drinking coffee, as they tried to get the latest Ohara gossip out of me, which I found quite amusing. But every so often they would turn to admire the power hose, play with some of the settings, and talk about how great it was that they had this now. It was truly lovely to watch.
And again, this is something that not only has a positive impact on the people it directly affects, i.e. the fishermen who will use it, but also the people within the whole community. For the tank and hose will be stored at the temporary housing community, all of who have been told that this lovely gift has been made to Yagawa. They can look at the Union Jack heart with the knowledge that the people of Amity Yokohama, Microscooters Japan, Bratton Fleming Community Primary School, and Bolham Community Primary School, are thinking about the people of Yagawa. Thank you all.