First impressions on Oshika progress

Today was my first full day on Oshika. It is so wonderful to be here again — I have been away from Japan for 15 months, which is the longest time I have been away in the past twenty years since I first came to this country. It has been really hard being away from what I consider to be my spiritual home for so long, but for a number of reasons it was unavoidable. I’m just glad to be here at last.

And in the past 24 hours I have already seen lots to report back on. I’ll be writing in more detail about each of these things later, but as a quick summary …

Lots of people have recently moved out of temporary housing and into new homes, including everyone at Oharahama, where I stay. This is the best news I could have received upon arrival! The temporary housing was only supposed to be for six months and people here ended up living in them for almost five years. I remember the elderly residents becoming dismayed at the time it was taking to get new homes, and hearing one of them say that she couldn’t believe she was going to end her days in one of the tiny temporary units they were living in. Sadly, one of the elderly residents of Oharahama passed away just last week, just when she was supposed to move into her new home. Her husband passed away a couple of years ago and they were such a sweet couple, that I like to think of them now happy and at peace together — maybe a new home without him wouldn’t have been right. I haven’t had a chance to catch up with people in their new homes, but I’m sure they will appreciate support as they create their new homes.

The sea wall that was started 16 months ago is still under construction. It goes along the entire coastline of Oshika, and the Ohara section is currently about two metres high, with another three metres to go. It’s due for completion by the end of 2017. The local people weren’t consulted about its construction and it’s going to vastly change the view from the village, which doesn’t bother the locals for aesthetic reasons although that doesn’t help — they are more concerned about not being able to see the sea and know what it is doing. These are people who have lived here for their entire lives, and they are at one with the sea, which is why so many of them actually survived the tsunami — they knew exactly what to do in the moments after the earthquake and when they saw the sea receding. If you can’t see the sea here, it creates more fear than if the wall wasn’t there.

The combini is now open until 10:30pm rather than 7pm, which is actually quite a big deal! It’s been taken over by FamilyMart but is still run by the very genki 84-year-old Endo-san, who works every day. The container next to the combini, where I run the free shop when I’m here, is currently full of all sorts of bits and pieces that I need to organize for Endo-san before I can clear the space to make the shop. I hope to get this done tomorrow, but boxes of donated items have already started arriving, so thank you to everyone that has started sending things! I’ll regularly post updates on Facebook.

I have a box of outfits for the Pink Ladies to distribute around the peninsula. Today I delivered one outfit to 70-year-old Yasuko-san, who works three different jobs depending on the season, and was thrilled to receive some new workwear. The outfits I source are made in Hokkaido and have a reputation on Oshika for being hardwearing — lasting much longer than the cheaper outfits they used to buy themselves before the tsunami. These outfits are an ongoing need — please contact me if you’d like to sponsor one.

I visited the Ohara shrine with Kucho-san, to see how the restoration is going. I secured ¥3 million of sponsorship for this last year, and the work will be completed in just a couple of weeks now, in time for the annual summer matsuri. More details about this special project in another blog post. Suffice to say, seeing this project near completion was a little overwhelming. It was such a big project, and required such a lot of money, that I really wasn’t confident in the beginning of being able to secure the funding. Sometimes when you see something come together the way that this has, and you know how much it means to an entire community of people, well … it’s quite emotional.

I’ll be visiting Ajishima island on Sunday, and getting more details about a variety of projects that this tiny island community want to embark upon in order to rebuild their economy and long-term future. I had briefly mentioned some of their ideas in a previous blog post, and to my surprise received interest for two of them immediately — both the bee hive and the playground now have sponsors, and while we’re still working out the details, it is very encouraging to have been able to secure support even before my getting here. More details to come.

In general, I sense a lot more hope here than I have during previous visits. It has been a long time coming, but now that people are in proper homes, and know that there are people out there, just like you reading this, that are committed to supporting the area long-term either financially, practically, or emotionally, I think this is giving them the confidence to take bigger steps in rebuilding their communities. Thank you.

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