Ishinomaki, Sendai 2012 - My Experience
March 11, 2011
OMG earthquake !!!
(Posted on my Facebook)
Another had posted and had commented on things falling off of some of his shelves...
I skyped my friend right away in Japan and quickly got his response.
He described the horror of what had just happened.
What should one do crossed his mind, after leaving his home with his cute dog Justin. Like in the movies he referred to of his hyperventilating episode. He described the wreckage in his home and how it all happened.
Should he go to the school grounds or return home?
Along the way, wondering where to go...an electronics store's TV on display began revealing the current news of destruction showing fires burning, and even a tsunami approaching one of Japan's shoreline located on an area in the Tohoku region.
I turned on my TV and switched to CNN quickly...
Soon after, there was the sound of a tsunami warning in Hawaii. As the sirens wailed, my friend could hear them while skyping with me.
Oh wow... he said... as he began to realize the seriousness unfolding...
Thinking of having to go to work the very next day... I was worried what the outcome would be.
Here I was in my bed, waiting for the imminent outcome of what was going to happen, even realizing that I am probably living within the danger zone...
YES...within the path of the incoming tsunami !
I was 3,932 miles away and maybe about 8 hours away (time frame) until the tsunami would arrive and hit the island of Honolulu, Hawaii...coming from Japan.
* Picture taken by me @ Magic Island, Ala Moana Beach Park
Arriving in Shinjuku
Last Minute Decision to Visit Sendai
My friend had told me that I should come and support Japan's economy and that I should come this year, one year after the tsunami and Fukushima incident.
My friends was thinking of making a plan to visit somewhere in the Tohoku areas to help out in the relief efforts in anyway that we could.
The problem was that we couldn't find a place to stay because it was during Golden Week in May.
Apparently all hotel stays were unavailable, so that was that !!!
Such a bummer, I thought. (It was all last minute planning and so it did not work out)
During one night, my friends asked me if I really wanted to go to visit on that side of Japan where the tsunami had worst hit the most in and around the Tohoku areas.
They then decided the destination for me.
Ishinomaki in Sendai !
One of the worst hit areas in the Tohoku region in Japan !
I couldn't believe what I was hearing and finally said yes.
Although on this trip, I would be going all alone by myself.
Then I thought, that's kind of scary because I can't speak the language and I only know some words and phrases which I've learned during night school and other classes I took back home. But how adventurous that would be !
That night my friends helped me with looking up the prices to go by bus and a place to stay for 1 night in Sendai. It was really cheap and would be helpful with supporting their economy in those areas.
I had felt the need to go and see for myself what had happened there (the extent of the damage) which would have become an unforgettable experience in which I will never forget !
This would be my very first aftermath experience of a very devastating tsunami in recorded history!
Getting My Tickets
The very next day we went to Shinjuku to buy my overnight bus ride ticket to Sendai.
My plans were to leave that night at about 11:50 pm from a bus terminal near Harajuku.
That night, I packed my bag with a few selections of clothes and a binocular along with my CD player and CD's to listen to while on my trip.
I had decided to leave a bit early so that I could figure out the instructions given to me on how to take the train to my bus stop destination. I had gone there before a few times but I wasn't 100% sure of myself. I did not want to be late and miss my bus that night.
Tokyo to Sendai
Arriving in Sendai
About 7 hours later... I had finally arrived at Sendai Station at about 7:00 am.
I made my made towards the station and went up the escalator to get inside the station and found myself outside on the other end after a long walk through the hall.
They say Sendai is like the Shinjuku of the Tohoku areas in Japan.
I had breakfast at the golden arch "McDonald's (Japan Style)... and then went on to fulfill my mission to find that certain bus stop using my friend's hand written map that would take me to Ishinomaki in around 75 min - (33.4) miles away.
It took me around a half hour walking around back and forth within several blocks trying to make sense of the map which I am bad at in a foreign country not being able to read signs (Kanji and Hiragana) but can only relate to numbers.
But I really enjoyed walking through the city, taking my time and soaking it all in.
I tried asking a passerby for some directions but I was ignored as they continued making their way to their destination. I really don't blame them though.
But after a while with the help of someone who was standing near a bus stop and with their assurance...I had finally found it.
I hopped on the bus not knowing what to expect on how to pay. How much to pay... etc. But the driver seemed to be telling me that it is not the time to pay yet. So I looked for a seat but it was all so full and it looked to me that I would have to stand for an hour and fifteen minutes all the way. But there were some gesturing and a seat was pointed out to me after having to make room for me.
In the middle of the aisle I was surprised to learn that there was a panel flap like component that can be pulled out providing an extra seat. This was shown to me by the help of some of my fellow passengers.
I did not know that.
Here I had felt alone but I was comforted by their kind gesture and that is why moments like these brings me back to Japan.
* Picture taken by me @ Sendai Station
My Destination : Sendai to Ishinomaki
On the Way to Ishinomaki Station
The bus ride took me out of the city of Sendai and it became unlike Tokyo. The land was much flatter and you could see where you were going. There were no high buildings like that of the skyscrapers in Tokyo. You could see in the distance in front of you. I looked around and it was normal, no damages, no telltale signs of any tsunami that may have occurred there.
It was a normal looking city full of buildings, businesses, industrial areas, etc. something like you might see in Honolulu in the airport area. (Japan version)
After awhile... all I saw were mountains, villages, and rice fields.
Out in the countryside it was quite nice. After about an hour or so, we found ourselves driving near malls, theaters, etc... now alongside freeways and roads but still out in the boonies. Everything seemed wide apart. Walking would be difficult here. Sort of reminds me of the West side of Oahu.
I still felt lost and a bit anxious, not knowing where I am exactly. I wasn't sure if there would be multiple stops in different areas or if this bus would only go straight to Ishinomaki.
I did not pay yet and the bus did make a few stops.
I had then asked the person next to me about the next upcoming stop...
He then gestured... not yet. The ride then continued on until we reached this colorful train station. He then gestured to me that this is the place. I said thank you and headed out and paid the bus fare.
Finally feeling a bit safe, here I am at Ishinomaki station. I took out my map which is in Japanese off course.
But which way is North, South, East, or West?
I turned my map sideways, upside down, right side up, and couldn't figure out which way to go.
There were no signs of a nearby ocean or rivers. Yes, there was a mountainside in front me. In the middle of a town I wondered which way to go. There was a bridge near one side of the station so I decided to go up and take a look.
I might be getting a better view up there. It wasn't too helpful. I then changed my mind and found my way back to the station and decided to walk up towards this certain street and maybe take a left. I decided to continue on to the left side of that mountain not knowing what was around the corner. I was thinking maybe the ocean areas would be in that direction.
After a brief walk I found myself walking along a small street ( the kind you usually find in Japan). There were businesses, restaurants, etc. and I began to notice some Japanese anime statues.(characters) towards the end of that street.
After walking out and into another area, there I had noticed some sort of street work repairs or construction going on.
I immediately noticed a policeman or guard directing or overseeing the work that was being done in that area. And so I had said "excuse me" in Japanese and played out the foreigner that I am. I then took out my map and pointed out to it, trying to figure it all out and at the same time asking him where am I and how do I get to this point of my destination. Is this is the location? He gave me a nod and so I looked into the distance in front of me and found myself overlooking a river or canal. The Kyu-Kitakami River
And that is when I thought to myself. If there was a tsunami, this is the place I'm looking for. So I continued on not knowing how this place used to look like before the tsunami happened. I'm finally here.
* Photo taken by me @ Ishinomaki Station
I Will Not Forget
While crossing over a bridge where the Kitakami river flowed below into the sea, I noticed a piece of land sticking out of the river. There I saw a familiar looking building which was shaped like a small dome. It was the "Ishinomaki Mangattan Museum" which was obviously closed due to the tsunami over a year ago.
I suddenly remembered (that one day) while I was watching the local news back home. The news had mentioned about how most of the things in there got salvaged and so a plan to re-open was in the works. This place is like a birthmark where some of the Japanese anime and superheroes originated. I wouldn't mind a visit I thought for a moment...but yeah, right. Not any time soon it seemed.
I had no plans back then to go to Ishinomaki. It then registered in my mind how it all came to be. But it wasn't opened yet. And how I had forgotten about the place but somehow remembered. Seeing the building had refreshed my past memory. I remember seeing this place in brief while watching the news.
Then over the bridge I continued walking not knowing what to expect to see first. There was nothing near in sight to notice anything really unusual. So I kept walking.
What's that over there... I thought. I then visualized a window farther away... and then while getting closer I then realized it was actually a window of a ship.... and that ship was... on land.
I began to walk even further as it all began to reveal itself, showing me the tell tale signs and remnants of the past. The air was that of loneliness and emptiness. As I kept walking further I noticed there were fresh flowers planted or left as a memorial which I had assumed.There were also square shaped empty lots all around. Maybe they had been cleared of damaged homes and debris already. The framework squares were still visible on this parch of empty land space.
Then there were the houses that stood abandoned... so damaged that it made them unlivable. I walked further and it only seemed to get worst. I then begin to think.. how could we have helped?
Not all that's for sure. Only the government and relief efforts could do the the job.
Probably by helping out in the distributing of goods and necessities by joining relief efforts and volunteers and / or emotional support. Providing what they needed by other means through donations as well.
A few people could not make much of a difference because of the dangers involving heavy debris from damaged homes such as heavy wood, brick and steel structures etc.
With practically no one around except for some cars driving by, some people walking or biking it through the damaged areas, It was like a ghost town and quite a walking distance away from your normal functioning neighborhood. I remember a child out on a small road near some homes and her mother having to guide her to go back inside. Some of the homes farther up must have not been affected as badly.
The roads at some point got muddier with puddles here and there as I continued my walk. In some places the air was full of stench. The smell like that of sea water mixed in with sewer. In a damaged home I noticed at least several people sitting around maybe taking a break. Are they helping in some way cleaning up?
Alongside down the road, I noticed some people working. There was a wall made up of what looked like to be blue tarp used to create boundaries around a contained workplace area. Looking above the blue tarp and through the entrance way I saw a huge wide man made mountain of debris at least 5 stories high.
I continued my walk in lost of words and came across a school. I took more pictures and I continued on. Sad to think of what might have happened there. I don't know of their stories.
As I got into another area around the block and near another building, I noticed that there were lots of crows and they were making their crowing sounds. They flew above me. They stood here and there staring as I walked nervously on.
It was like Alfred Hitchcock " The Birds"
I found a way that led me up a mountain for a better view and for in case if a real life earthquake and tsunami were to occur... I would be safe.
I took more pictures when I reached the top or as far as I could go.
I finally came to a point where I think I could go no farther on that trail.
There was a temple like building up there on my left.. Up past on another side above where the path seems to end there were utility workers above me tending to their job.
* Photo above taken by me
Ravaged Ishinomaki - A Closer Look
The Stairs Leading to Hiyoriyama Park
My friend had told me when I had asked a question... What if another tsunami were to happen when I'm there. He showed me the map and said to go up to the mountain where there is a temple. I didn't know where it was until I had accidentally found it?
This must be the place I thought after seeing the set of stairs near the side of this other mountain not too far from the bridge and in fact nearer to the station I got off from.
And so up the stairs I went and for me it was a total workout. I had to stop as I huffed and puffed... up and up and up I went !
My legs started to feel the pain and it was quite a stair master workout for me at the time. I took brief stops looking over to catch a glimpse of the view I was getting. I talked myself into it and finally I had reached the top.
There was a beautiful park area above leading me to a set of stairs and an entrance way (torii) before entering the area of Kashima shrine.
They also sold souvenirs and had a small area with soda or drink machines and snacks you could buy.
There was also another lookout view area that provided me with more views to see below...
Down below however it was a depressing sight to see. I took out my binoculars and took a look.
Here I got a bird's eye view as far as my eyes could see.
A temple with a graveyard nearby some grave stones, some damaged and toppled over.
I had then realized in an area near the shoreline of colors of some sort that got my attention in which I could not make out what it was. I decided to get a closer look by using my binocular to get a better view of what it might be.
There were cars stacked up on top of each other in a parking lot area.
2 or maybe 3 cars high. It was as if I was looking at a car cemetery.
There were a few people around, not a whole lot.
I then had bought a drink and maybe a snack.
It was getting a bit late and that became the end of my stay at the top.
A Look at Hiyoriyama Park (Top View)
Natural Disasters Poll
Which Natural Disaster have you experienced?
A Japanese School Evacuated / Ishinomaki's Aftermath
Leaving the Highlights of "Hiyoriyama Park"
Leaving the area I found a back way leading into a neighborhood. I remember passing a small park on the right and then later a school on the left side.
After passing by homes, I found myself along streets filled with businesses and like it was a normal street again.
I noticed looking up above into the sky and felt like the time did not match the feel of the place. For example if it was 2 pm it felt like 5 or 6 pm.
I found myself in the middle of a neighborhood alongside train tracks. I felt lost. I was trying to find my way back from the opposite direction of the mountain I had started.
In Japan I've noticed at least for me in several occasions in the past is that while guessing where your destination is and trying to follow thru you may end up somewhere else. There are hidden roads and different options that might take you further away from where you are trying to actually go to.
And as I tried to find my way back to the station not knowing my way around, I finally asked for some assistance.
In Japan, the roads can be tricky and might lead you astray in a different direction when you assume you are heading in the right direction. And after about 15 minutes of walking with some help with directions, I found myself back at the station.
Thank you to all who had helped me in the past that are all so friendly.
I then purchased a ticket and waited for my next bus which came in about thirty minutes later. I caught the bus and enjoyed the ride back to Sendai Station.
It took me awhile though to find my hotel with a Japanese map.
I looked for some familiar things like the symbol M for McDonald's, things like that and tried to keep track of my every move.
The map seemed a bit difficult to read, especially in a foreign country. When I tried to make sense of it, the place I am looking for on the map seems farther when it really isn't and I end up passing my way down further taking me a bit off course.
But it was exciting and adventurous while feeling loss and trying to map out the area.
It was fun exploring off course.
And eventually I found the hotel I was staying in for the night.
The next morning I caught my bus back to Tokyo enjoying the rest of my stay in Japan among my few friends.
Thank you for the adventure with love !
Tsunami approaching Ishinomaki, Sendai
A Song from Ishinomaki Students !
A Message from Japan
Ishinomaki students sing in expression of their gratitude to the rest of the world for their support in this video published almost a year later.