– realisation

just now, I am only just realising that I travelled through a lot of the towns which have been laid to waste by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. I mean, I knew I’d gone through the area, but I didn’t realise how many of the deluged towns I had visited.

I travelled through both Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures in 2008 on the seishun juhachi kippu – a train ticket which gives you five days unlimited travel on local trains, for a limited period of time, all over Japan. The days do not have to be consecutive, which makes it a great deal.

It was originally introduced to induce students who had just finished high school and who were just entering university (hence the ju-hachi part – for those 18 years), those who had leisure, to see the country at a very leisurely pace. I wrote about my travels here.

I travelled from Nobiru, a town outside of Matsushima in an area called Oku-Matsushima down to Ishinomaki to take a bus to Ayukawa where I took a ferry to Kinkazan, a famous sacred island, and from my readings, just about where the epicentre of the Tohoku earthquake was, though my research is not thorough. Wikipedia says

The Oshika Peninsula is the closest part of Honshū to the epicenter of the 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake, with the island of Kinkasan to the east being only slightly closer. A report on March 14 indicated that 1,000 bodies had been found washed ashore on the peninsula.[1] The March 11 earthquake shifted Japan’s Oshika Peninsula near the epicenter by 5.3 metres (17 ft) and dropped it by 1.2 metres.

Some other trawling seems to indicate that tsunamis have been studied along that coast previously. I am trying to find a simple map, but all the simple maps won’t let me copy them.

Though I can find no news on Ayukawa, it does come under the Ishinomaki area, and I think of the people who ran the ferry and the small overgrown shrine area I went to while waiting for the bus back to the city. Earlier in the day, as I tried to book a ticket on the ferry to the island, I thought that I had lost my purse, and informed the operators. They in turn were going to inform the bus driver. The bus only runs 7 times a day, so location of my purse would not have been too bad. Before they did that, though, I found that I had left it just to the side of the bus stop while putting away all of my travel paraphernalia. A false alarm, and we were all pleased that I could board the ferry. The kindness and effort of the people who were going to go out of their way to help me, as many people do in Japan, stuck with me.

I was visiting slightly outside of tourist season. I couldn’t remember if I was too early, or too late, but the return ferry was the last for that day, departing at about 1.35 pm. I left at about 11.30 and only had a chance to spend ninety minutes or so on the island, and didn’t have a chance to explore the mountains, which have tracks, but are apparently famously wild with monkeys and tame deer (so they aren’t wild). I did get to see the deer, and the temple.

I stayed at Pila Youth hostel in Nobiru. It harbours one of the famous views of Japan’s 3 famous views (there are subsections). Okumatsushima is low-lying and very beautiful. Surrounded by white beaches and blue-green seas. Some blogs I have been reading state that Matsushima was spared, and so, maybe Oku-Matsushima was too, but the webpage for Pila Youth Hostel says that it is closed due to the effects of the tsunami. The beach at Nobiru – just opposite the hostel, has black sand and is popular, but I hired a bicycle and cycled Miyatojima (Miyato island) and admired the white-sand beaches such as Tsukihama, and Ohhama.

I met an American girl at Pila Youth Hostel, who was following my footsteps it seemed, a day after. She was going to stay on Kinkazan at one of the minshuku – a family run Japanese inn. I wish that I had decided to do that too. We went to a local restaurant I had found which served the most amazing seafood ramen, though I still don’t know if I’m really all that keen on crab’s brains. It certainly was fishy. Run by a couple; families, and old men enjoying a beer, ate there too, maybe about the only alternative in the area to cooking at home.

I can converse in Japanese. I am by no means fluent, but I can connect a little, and the people I met were down to earth, seaside folk. Ayukawa used to be a whaling port, and still has a whaling festival. Seeing how close Ayukawa and Kinkazan were to the epicentre, it seems that Ayukawa might have been right on the epicentre, I wonder what is left of those places. Ishinomaki, which was about an hour away at least by bus, was under water when water had receded from other towns, I wonder how they fared. Both have mountains, higher ground – maybe people were able to get there.

They were kind and the area is incredibly beautiful. The L.A. Times article linked to above, features a man who used a scuba suit*

Photo from Japan Probe, originally from L.A. Times?

to swim through the water to save his wife and mother. It classes him as unusual due to his manner and dress.

In a nation of careful dressers, Akaiwa sports Rambo-style army pants, a blue sweatshirt, muddy sneakers, legs wrapped in plastic secured with orange duct tape, and three different backpacks, including an L.L. Bean fanny pack with a tiny plastic anime character affixed, a doctor that saves people.

To go into battle, true, his outfit is a little unusual, though very practical, and I would say the muddy sneakers are inevitable. However, if you look at the weathered face in the photograph the Times runs with, it is the face of a thousand people who choose to live by the sea. It doesn’t state what his job is, but those in Nobiru and Ayukawa had similar everyday faces of outdoor wear and tear. The individualism that comes with not living in the city, and a contentment, it seemed, with who they were, and where they were from. Though I know that small towns can be restrictive as they are free in other ways.

Kinkazan is one of the three most sacred sites in Japan – Osorezan and Dewa Sanzan being the other two. All three have Buddhist temples or Shinto shrines, or both. Osorezan, way in the north-east of Honshu, Aomori Prefecture, was sacred to the local Ainu people before Shinto or Buddhism became popular. Dewa Sanzan is a pilgrimage site especially sacred to the “. . .mountain ascetic cult of Shugendo.” I have visted Kinkazan and Osorezan, and have long wanted to visit Dewa Sanzan.

Let’s hope that the residents of Ayukawa, Kinkazan and Ishinoseki have not made their way to the mystical lands of Osorezan, where souls in limbo reside. To disappear in such fear and panic must surely allow one to be reborn into a life far safer than the one left behind.


NB, 26 March, 2010: This report here states that the town was destroyed due to its proximity to the epicentre. There is also a NYT article on the town. Three out of four homes were destroyed.

Photo taken from Japan Probe

The article concentrates on the whaling industry, or maybe its complete demise – no mention of Kinkazan – but it also features the resilience of the people, and the obvious hardships they are now going through and will continue to go through.

Nobiru was also devastated. I refer to that news in this post.

* Japan Probe corrects that to wet suit, which seems to make more sense. But read the comments – still a hero.

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3 Comments on “– realisation”

  1. someone somewhere Says:

    I remember posts from that time but hadn’t grasped the geographical implications. Gosh. Comments about the quality of the post might seem slightly asinine in the circumstances. So I simply add, thanks for posting.

    • theheartbeatsoftly Says:

      Comments about the quality of the post are always welcome, though I know I write too quickly for the blog to really be the quality I would like. Thanks for your comments. Those prefectures, in parts, truly were beautiful, and many parts of them still will be.

  2. […] the heart beats oftly with nary a sound « – realisation […]

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