Katsuzo-san is the Tsudachi gardener. Like many people here on Oshika, he is in his seventies. He likes to talk, he likes to keep busy, and he likes the land around the 28 temporary housing units to be pristine. And he likes to smile …. a lot. The overgrown grasses and weeds around Tsudachi have been bothering him for a while, but he doesn’t have the tools to manage it all — a strimmer would make the world of difference to him, and also to the people living in this little town.
So shop for a strimmer we did! Mika and her husband, and Katsuzo-san and I drove into Ishinomaki to find a strimmer, which didn’t take too long at all. I told Katsuzo-san to get any other little things that would make his job easier, but still I had some money left over from what I had allocated to this little project. I had the idea of spending the remainder on some flowers that could be put around the kasetsu, so we started looking at those. That then turned into choosing red, white, and blue flowers, and before I knew it I had somehow agreed to make a Union Jack out of flowers, for everybody to enjoy. I probably should have pointed out to them that I have done very little gardening in my life and I can only just about manage to keep a cactus alive.
But Mika was especially excited about making this special flowerbed and Katsuzo-san was just smiling at everything going on, so I thought I’d somehow work it out. Actually finding red, white, and blue flowers was a bit of a challenge so we drove around Ishnomaki finding garden shops and collecting what we needed. We agreed that I would go to Tsudachi the following day at 10am.
Katsuzo-san has a kind of storage container, but with a window and door, that he sometimes works from (and sleeps in by the look of the little bed in there), right by the sea. I was to drop him and strimmer off at his container, and we had to drive past Masayo and Keiko’s gardens on the way. Katsuzo-san admired the Union Jack hearts on their sheds and I said I could make him a little sign to go with the flowerbed if he wanted. He started talking excitedly to me and gesticulating but I couldn’t quite work out what he wanted until we got to his container, when I realized that he wanted a huge heart on the side of it just like Keiko’s, and facing out to sea so the boats could see it. I thought this was hilarious and told him I would see what I could manage before waving goodbye.
In the early evening when I knew he would be back at the kasetsu I drove over to his container and painted a big heart on it, with the names of the people who had paid for the strimmer and the flowers. I wanted to make it as a surprise for him when he would come down to the container in the morning. People stopped on their way walking or driving home from work, and asked what I was doing. One man was very concerned that I was out late and I should be back home, but I told him as long as I could still see in the twilight it was fine. I am always so touched by everyone worrying about whether I am eating enough/sleeping enough/feeling lonely/too hot/too cold, etc.
One of the Pink Ladies cycled past and said that she was very much looking forward to the gardening “event” tomorrow morning, and yet again, I realized that things that one would think to be so simple, such as buying a strimmer, have a habit of becoming so much more here. (And I also realized that the pressure was on to make something vaguely resembling a Union Jack!).
The next morning, I drove past Katsuzo-san’s container to find him outside it, grinning from ear to ear as he stood back and admired his heart flag. It was a truly lovely moment that does bring a lump to my throat as I recall it now. He yelled his thanks over and over again and I told him I would meet him up at Tsudachi as he had some things he needed to bring up in his truck. He only drives his truck on Oshika because it doesn’t have any shaken, which must be a bit difficult because he has to go to the dentist a lot in Ishinomaki — he’s got to keep that wonderful smile!
When I got to Tsudachi, I realized that a gardening “event” (which I had assumed involved people of the community gardening together) instead meant that the old people stood by the fence bossing me about, which actually was quite funny. There are hardly any young people in this community but two Tsudachi women in their twenties, a lady from PeaceBoat, and of course the resident expert Katsuzo-san, helped me as I tried making a Union Jack out of the flowers.
In seeing the old people’s delight in telling us what to do, then ooing and aahing as they saw me working on each stage of the flag, I actually felt really sad that they probably don’t have too many opportunities to do this now ….. I mean the bossing about part. So many young people have moved away since the earthquake and you do wonder how the older people feel about not having much of the chance to pass on knowledge to other generations, as well as simply not having that joy that comes from watching younger people learn new skills. I remember the joy I felt in sitting on the floor showing Mr W’s daughter how to mend her favourite toy’s ear instead of just watching me do it as she had originally asked to do. Passing on that knowledge is a lovely part of getting older — the children and young parents here play a big part in the emotional recovery in so many ways.
It was a privilege to make that Union Jack flag with Katsuzo-san and to be able to watch the look on his face as he used the strimmer for the first time — he was strimming everything in sight and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was still at it at midnight. I doubt it will take very long at all for him to have the land around the Tsudachi community looking just how he wants it.
A very big thank you goes to Shiomi & Akiko Kenzo, Maren Wipf & Aziz Besalely, and Kathleen Kano, whose donations paid for this little project. Your kindness not only provided something very practical that is to benefit the whole community here, but also provided for an opportunity for people within that community to get together and share quite a few laughs as well as boss the English girl about, leaving something everyone can enjoy looking at. Thank you.