Ishinomaki, Sendai 2012 - My Experience
March 11, 2011
OMG earthquake !!! posted on my facebook.
Another commented on things falling off of shelves.
I skyped my friend 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 revealed the news unfolding. The destruction, fires burning, and even a tsunami. I turned on my TV and switched to CNN quickly.
Soon, there was a tsunami warning in Hawaii. As the sirens wailed, my friend could hear them while skyping with me.
I hardly slept and I had to go to work the very next day.
I was 3,932 miles away which is the distance between Honolulu and 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 I should come this year, one year after...even after the Fukushima incident. My friends had tried to make a plan to visit somewhere in the Tohoku areas to help out in the relief efforts in any way we could. The problem was we couldn't find a place to stay because it was during Golden Week in May. Apparently all hotel stays were unavailable during the time we were all planning to go. So that was that !!! Such a bummer, I thought.
And so during one night, one of my friends had asked me if I really wanted to go to visit on that side of 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..kinda 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 !!!
And so my friends helped me and looked up the prices to go by bus and a place to stay for 1 night in Sendai. It was really cheap. Probably because they would want people to go and visit over on that side to support their economy. And I felt that I had to go and see for myself what had happened there. I will not forget.
The 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. And so 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 on my trip.
I made sure I left a little early so 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.
* Picture taken by me in Shinjuku, Japan
Arriving in Sendai
After 7 hours of busride, we had finally arrived at Sendai Station at about 7:00 am. I made my way towards the station and went up the escalators finding myself inside the station. I walked through the station and found myself outside on the other end. They say Sendai is like the Shinjuku of the Tohoku areas in Japan. And it did remind me of being back in Tokyo.
After breakfast, I was then on a mission to find that certain bus stop that would take me to Ishinomaki. It took me a while, but I enjoyed walking through the city, taking my time and soaking it all in. I asked for some directions and after a while... I found it.
I hopped on the bus not knowing what to expect, 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. I felt all 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
Explore the Cultures of Tohoku
Some interesting reading here of some shared experiences by some who have lived in Japan throughout the years. With humor and grace here are some stories of mishaps and unique situations that can happen in the "Land of the Rising Sun".
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 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.
After awhile... all I saw were mountains, villages, and rice fields. Out in the country we were. It was quite nice. After about an hour or so, we found ourselves driving near malls, theaters, etc...It was more like a town now alongside freeways and roads but still out in the boonies. Everything seemed wide apart. Walking would be difficult here.
I still felt lost and a bit anxious, not knowing where I am exactly. I wasn't sure if there were multiple stops in different areas or if the bus only goes to Ishinomaki. I did not pay yet and the bus did make a stopover. And so I asked the person next to me after the next stop... Ishinomaki ? He gestured not yet. So the ride continued on until we reached this colorful train station. He gestured to me that this is the place. I said thank you and headed out and paid the bus fare.
Finally and safe, I'm here 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, rightside up, and couldn't figure out which way. There were no signs of 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 have a better view up there. It wasn't helpful. I then found my way back to the station and decided to walk towards up the street and maybe take a left. I was going to the left side of that mountain and I thought maybe it would be in that direction.
After a brief walk about several blocks up and a few more to the left, I noticed a policeman directing work that was being done in the area. I 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.
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
Tsunami approaching Ishinomaki, Sendai
Read About Some Real Life Experiences
Six individuals share their real life personal experiences and inner feelings during their very own individual unique ordeal during and after the disaster.
Ravaged Ishinomaki - A Closer LookClick thumbnail to view full-size
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 talked about how most of the things in there got salvaged and so a plan to re-open was in the works. The 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 the place in brief while watching the news.
And so 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... 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.
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? 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.
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. I kept walking among the debris and stench. 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.
I found a way that led me up a mountain for a better view and in case a real tsunami were to occur. I took more pictures when I reached the top or as far as I could go.
* Photo above taken by me
Natural Disasters Poll
Which Natural Disaster have you experienced?
Enough food, water, sanitation, first aid, and communication supplies...you'll need in case of emergencies. It's better to be safe than sorry.
The Stairs Leading to Hiyoriyama Park
My friend had told me when I 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 I finally reached the top.
Down below however it was a depressing sight to see. I took out my binoculars and took a look down below. More of the same everywhere, A temple with some grave stones, some damaged and toppled over.
Near the shoreline there were cars stacked up on top of each other in a parking lot area 2 or 3 cars high. It was as if I was looking at a car cemetery.
As I walked around town, not knowing my way around, I finally asked for some assistance as I approached flat land. 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.
And there I 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 with my every move. Sometimes the maps just seems a bit difficult to read, especially in a foreign country. Sometimes to me 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.
A Look at Hiyoriyama Park (Top View)Click thumbnail to view full-size
A Japanese School Evacuated, Ishinomaki's Aftermath (Continued)Click thumbnail to view full-size
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.
A Song from Ishinomaki Students !
Redeveloping Ishinomaki - 2014 Update
Today, I have no idea visually speaking of the work progress that had been achieved. But I am sure that there is still a lot of work ahead to do indeed.
Will Ishinomaki ever be the same? Will some of their people return to a place once called home where eventually another tsunami could happen?
Here is a January 2014 update on what has been happening since... in Ishinomaki.