Review of this year’s Oshika trip

I’m coming toward the end of this year’s time on Oshika, and will be heading to Tokyo for a couple of days at the end of the week. This trip has resulted in the allocation, donation, or pledging of a total of ¥1,660,000 (that’s about £11,900 or $15,600) to a variety of community-led projects on Oshika, including the nearby island of Ajishima. These projects include shrine repairs, environmental and agricultural endeavours, school uniforms, work wear for the fishing industry, and children’s play areas. Thank you to everyone that is donating.

During this trip I have also received new books for the library, and run the free shop, so I would like to thank everybody that has sent items for both this year. I got to join in with the Ohara summer festival celebrations and give “tours” of the peninsula to a number of visiting friends, including the sponsor of the Ohara shrine rebuilding. Thank you to those friends who came here as tourists and in doing so put money into the local economy. I repainted the Ohara playground and fixed its fence, and still hope to find time this week to do a bit more repainting, as well as help out Mr Sasaki in building an outdoor decking. I have been keeping an eye out for a suitable project for a group that contacted me a couple of months ago, seeking a project that could benefit from a $30,000 contribution (that’s more than ¥3 million and almost £23,000). Fingers crossed they will be interested in a few options I’ve given them.

And I’ve seen a hidden away national treasure that I didn’t know was here, visited one of the sacred places in Tohoku — Kinkasan, and taken a couple of trips to Ajishima island paradise. I had a 90-minute interview entirely in Japanese with a newspaper reporter, which ended in her asking me whether I ate natto and whether I could use chopsticks. I’ve added some new naughty words to my vocabulary, had my intimate laundry studied on the washing line, been considered an expert on Brexit, fought off Fukumi-san who was obsessed with squeezing a spot on my face, slept inches away from the biggest spider I’ve ever seen, and eaten all sorts of new and fascinating things, including boiled squid mouth. Yes, you read that right.

I have seen some of the Oshika residents move out of temporary housing and into their new homes, which is truly wonderful after five years, especially when they were only supposed to be in them for six months. But I have some mixed feelings about the new homes. Yes, people now have privacy, space between them and their neighbours, more than one room to live in, and places where they can now grow their own vegetables and flowers. They can move to a new stage in their healing. But I feel that these communities are in some ways even more fragmented than they were before. The new homes have been built on higher land, further away from the sea, but also further away from the homes that survived. Homes have been built, but nothing else. And when you think about it, it is those little walks to the post office, the corner shop, the grocer’s, the café, that bring about the chance encounters that lead to and often maintain friendships in all our lives. I know that much of what has made me feel at home in Cirencester (to which I moved only five years ago) has been seeing familiar faces when I walk into town, and those familiar faces leading to a smile, and then perhaps leading to stopping to chat. Communities are far more than just the buildings in which people live.

But I have also seen a new energy among the people I meet, especially community leaders. When once they seemed despondent at the lack of support from local government, they now seem more able to take matters into their own hands. Their confidence in rebuilding their lives and in being able to actually see a long-term future seems to be growing, and I am sure it is because they have seen the support they have received from people they never even knew. People just like you. You haven’t forgotten them, and in continuing to support this area you show that you understand that recovering after a disaster on this kind of scale takes decades, not just years. Thank you all so very much.

People are still contacting me and asking for ways they can help, so I am listing below the projects that I know need support, with links to more details. And there are always new projects being talked about that I may not have listed here, so just drop me a line if you’d like to be kept in the loop. There is not necessarily any rush for sponsorship for these projects, so if you feel there is something for which you’d like to set a fundraising goal, please let me know. My next trip will be soon after April 2017.

And on a personal level, I have had the most wonderful trip. Instead of rushing about like I usually do, I’ve been taking things a bit slower and putting a bit less pressure on myself. In the past, I have rarely slept well here but I am ending this trip feeling relaxed and rejuvenated. I have spent time with people who have become like family to me, and me to them. I have spent time in a place that I held on to in my mind and in my heart when going through some very difficult things during 2015. I have, when pressed, explained the details of the demise of my second marriage, which is something I was worried about explaining before coming here. And in doing so, I have been met with outrage in some (one woman even slapped a photo of my ex-husband!), and interestingly, a lack of surprise in others (people are very perceptive here). But unwaveringly, in a place where divorce is frowned upon, I have received nothing but understanding. “You can’t put up with that!” was a common phrase I heard. In reassuring my car mechanic, Osawa-san, that I was fine and that my mother had given me a lot of support, he said “You have a lot of support from me too. From all of us on Oshika.”

So thank you to Oshika for, as always, touching my heart and also keeping me in yours.

Leave a Reply