100 Days after the Disaster

June 18 marked the 100th day since the earthquake with a magnitude of 9.0 followed by a huge tsunami struck Northeast Japan, killing at least 15,400 people and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless and more than 7,700 still unaccounted for. As is standard practice in Buddhism, Dogenin in Ishinomaki held a final prayer ceremony in memory of the victims of earthquake and tsunami. The ceremony was attended by 150 people, including survivors who found refuge at the temple, relatives of victims and local officials.

Holding good to the promise we made on May 14, when last visited Dogenin, Dru Taylor and I set off from Roppongi at 5am with a van loaded with fruit and vegetables for schools in Ishinomaki and barbecue grills for the temple. We stopped at Ginza to buy burgers, sausages, chicken, vegetables for a salad as well as sauces and relishes at Hanamasa, and charcoal at Don Quixote.

By 6am we were on the highway and happily heading north at speed. This did not last, however, as by 6.30am we hit a traffic jam and made tortuous progress for the next half hour. We started to think that we would not make it for the schedule time of arrival. But by 7am the traffic thinned out and we got up speed again. With Dru driving like a man on the run, we made incredible time and arrived at Ishinomaki at 12.30.

Our first stop was a dropping off point at a gasoline stand, where we unloaded the fruit and vegetables for the schools. Then I called Junko from ODA for Aid, who had arranged for Chad Cannon, a young violinist from Harvard University to perform for the people staying in the shelter. She told me that they were at the Kaigan Community Center, and asked if we could pick him up and take him to the shelter. We agreed, but could not find the shelter on the sat nav; so we decided to drive to Dogenin and ask how to get to the community center. Nobody at Dogenin had heard of the place, so Rev. Jin called Junko and gave her directions on how to find Dogenin. By 3pm, when the concert was scheduled to start, Chad had still not arrived, so Rev. Jin called Junko again. This time a local woman gave Reverend Jin the address and he put it in the sat nav and we set off to look for it.

We arrived at the community center at 3.20pm and found that it was less than 500 meters from the gasoline stand from where we had first called. Rev. Jin told Chad that if he wanted to catch the 6pm bus from Sendai station to Nigata, he had better cancel the concert because with the condition of the roads and the heavy traffic he would need two and a half hours to get there. Chad said that he would like to play, even if only for 20 minutes; so we headed back to the temple.

Straight into the music

When Chad got his violin out of the case, a small girl ran to the front and asked if she could touch it. Chad obliged by showing her how to place her fingers on the fingerboard and how to hold the bow. After explaining his program in fluent Japanese—he had studied Japanese at Harvard and lived in Kyushu for two years—he started the concert.  He played for thirty minutes, going past the time he would have to leave for Sendai, and then he accompanied Mrs Onozaki, the wife of Rev. Onozaki, the head priest of Dogenin, as she read a poem she had written on the suffering of the people who were victims of the earthquake and tsunami. Mrs Onozaki’s rendition was so moving that practically everyone there was in tears.

Mrs Onozaki 's passionate rendering of her poem had the audience in tears

With the concert finished, we expected to have to rush Chad to Sendai station, but he went into to the temple to say farewell to the Rev. Onozaki. A few minutes after he had entered the temple, we heard the sound of his violin coming from the main hall, where a funeral for one of the victims of the tsunami was taking place. By the time the funeral was over, Chad had decided to stay the night at Dogenin and leave with Dru and I early the following morning.

Meanwhile, Dru and I, with the help of a group of ladies staying at the shelter, started preparing the barbecue. Although a light warm meal had been prepared for them after the ceremony at noon, by 5 pm, most people were hungry. Almost as soon as we started grilling, and the aroma of sausages and burgers began wafting around the grounds, people gathered around and started eating. The barbecue went through to about 8 pm, with about 150 people enjoying the open air meal in the beautiful grounds of the temple.

The smell of bangers and burgers was too good to pass up

After the barbecue had finished, Chad and I went down to the sento, which was a cool field bathhouse set up by the Japanese Self Defense Force. We scrubbed the charcoal smoke and burger grease off our bodies at the showers, then we climbed into the big canvass bath tub to soak and enjoy a bit of banter with some of the locals.

Back at the temple, Chad took a walk around the temple grounds while I went up to our room with a few beers to relax before calling it a night. No sooner had I opened my first can than the building began bouncing as another quake struck. It lasted less than a minute and, although the shaking was intense, it seemed to have caused little structural damage.

We set off at about 4.30am on Sunday, June 19, with the first stop scheduled for Sendai railway station to drop Chad off so that he could catch a bus for Niigata. The road that passed through Ishinomaki, the same we had taken the previous day, was under water. I later learned that this was because the earthquake had shifted the city southeast and downward by more than a meter in some places. Consequently, the road is flooded twice a day at high time.

We could like to thank the Australia Japan Society of the Sunshine Coast for their donation, which helped fund the van hire and gasoline costs.

We would also like to thank the Zenseikyo Foundation for providing the funding for the barbecue.

Posted by Charlie


April 29 – It Takes Much Longer to Get Up North the Slow Way

Steve Dodds and I left Tokyo around 6.00 a.m. on April 29 for what would be a slow but eventful trip to Kesennuma.

Enough chocolate?

Having not joined us the week before, Steve was suffering a slight case of donor guilt and had overdone it with the chocolate. I, on the other hand, had decided to take advantage of the holidays to see more of the tsunami damage and had therefore brought my bike, tent, etc, with the intention of cycling north to south down the Pacific coast.

April 29, or Showa Day, is the first of a series of national holidays that make up the euphemistically termed “Golden Week,” Japan’s spring holiday period. As expected, the Tohoku Expressway was busier than usual. As unexpected, it was so busy that we could average little over 50 kph and rarely got to break the speed limit.

Bike on board

The drive eventually took more than twice as long as usual, with us not arriving in Kesennuma till well after dark. At one point, we even parked the van and walked off the expressway in search of beer. Steve drives but doesn’t drink, while I drink but don’t drive. We came upon an old couple tending a vegetable patch. The husband very kindly offered to run me to the nearest convenience store in his little white pickup, the vehicle of choice in rural Japan. Steve remained with the wife, with whom he employed his best Fukushima accent to explain his own northeastern credentials.

Later, after pulling in for coffee and fuel, we got a puncture. Fortunately, the gas station could put a new tire on in 20 minutes flat (pun intended). Unfortunately, it cost a good 20,000 yen. I had them pull the large metallic splinter out of the tire as a souvenir for Steve. He found it some consolation.

Steve continues his tireless efforts

Arriving so late in Kesennuma, and not having that much stuff to deliver, we decided to head to Seiryoin, the temple south of the city housing some 250 evacuees. There was a police car in the drive when we arrived. Although usually an ominous sign, on this occasion it was an innocent visit by the local bobby. Being a Friday night, the men were huddled around a stove drinking. The women had commandeered the large room next door. As we backed up they crowded around the van, while one of the young men we’d met on previous visits came out to welcome us.

The drink had worked to relax some of the male reticence developed over years on fishing boats. One older gent, slightly worse for wear, decided he wanted everything, including boxes of manga, toys and even Steve’s damaged tire. We had to struggle to hold some stuff back for another shelter the following day.

Destroyed gasoline station south of Kesennuma

Later, we parked the van outside a 7/11 and walked through the dark down to the coast. Holiday homes lining the small beach had been torn apart by the tsunami, as had a gasoline station and the wall of what was once a harbour.

Pikeys 'R Us

Steve checks out the smashed harbour wall

That night we slept in the van but were woken early by a sprightly old man who was curious to know what we were doing. When I told him we were delivering supplies to shelters in the area, he began to cry.

Later, we drove over to Kaizoji and unloaded everything that remained. We then headed north, interested to see how Ofunato and Kamaishi, two coastal Iwate cities, had fared.

In Ofunato, we came across trucks from Second Harvest Japan delivering to a large shelter there. In Kamaishi, we saw devastation familiar to all urban centres we had visited. However, the clean up and reconstruction appear to be well underway. Asphalt, obviously for repairing damaged roads, had been arranged into huge mesa-like mounds near the port.

Asphalt in huge mounds at Kamaishi

From Kamaishi we returned to Kesennuma, where Steve and I parted company–Steve to floor it back to Tokyo, and I to cycle slowly south along the coast. An online gallery of the clean up in progress can be found here.

A sign for a "hinanjo," or shelter, decorated with Children's Day carp streamers

Entrance to a Minami Sanriku park

Poorly estimated tsunami inundation area

Tsunami warning sign hit by the tsunami

Inside a wrecked railway carriage

Public toilets in Minami Sanriku caked with mud

A child plays in a JGSDF armoured vehicle

Camping in tsunami-ravaged marshland near Soma

I would personally like to thank the following:

Michael Hoppen
Jin & Kyoko (Ryokojin.co.jp)

Posted by Clive

Microwave and Rice Cooker Sent

As well as delivering bulk food and hygiene items directly to shelters in need, Aid to Tohoku is also fulfilling individual requirements, especially now that evacuees are making the transition from shelter to temporary housing. 

This has begun with one rice cooker and one microwave oven sent to Bevelyn Onodera and her family, who have moved from the shelter at Kaizoji, where we first met them, to an apartment in Tome, west of Minami Sanriku

May 14: Grilled Meat and Magic

Our visit to Dōgenin temple in Ishinomaki on Saturday May 14 was an incredible experience for all of us.

We set off from Nippon Rent-a-Car in Roppongi at around 7am with two vehicles, the same 3.5-ton truck we took up on April 16 and a Toyota Hiace. The truck was packed with provisions donated by Second Harvest Japan and Michelle Cove of Korn/Ferry International that were bound for the OGA FOR AID distribution center in Minami Sanriku. Once again, Richard was at the wheel, assisted this time by Paul Maoate and Vincent Sibley. 

The Hiace, driven by Geoff, carried food and equipment for a barbecue for 150 people, a significant amount of beer and soft drinks, and four passengers—Riken, a magician from Mexico who was on a mission to provide entertainment after the barbecue, Riken’s girlfriend Ximena Criales, Geoff’s wife Ayuku and myself.

We made good time on the journey north, arriving at the temple at about 3.45pm. First of all, with help from the people staying at the temple, we unloaded the provisions we had taken there.  These included a mountain bicycle donated by Peter Blake, mineral water, can pan, fruit juices, adult diapers, toys, books and a soccer ball. As soon as the ball bounced out of the back of the truck, the children gave chase and started kicking it around.

Once the truck was unloaded, we set up the grills for the barbecue. It took a while to get the charcoal burning, but the grillers, with help from some of the people staying at the temple, set about enthusiastically fanning the flames. With the charcoal red hot, Paul and Vince started by grilling sausages for the hotdogs. Meanwhile, Ayuko and Ximena, with some of the ladies from the temple, started slicing chicken, vegetables and the rolls for the hotdogs. The children, enticed by the smell of the sausages,  soon forgot about the soccer ball and gathered around the grills anticipating the first hotdogs.

Geoff donned an apron and set about grilling the chicken, Richard and Riken rolled their sleeves up to help him. 

By then the barbecue area was packed with people of all ages, from young children to great grandparents—and by then it was already way past their normal meal time; so everyone was hungry. Over the next two hours we grilled 10 kilos of chicken, 5 kilos of pork, 200 sausages, 250 hamburgers as well as sweet corn, green peppers and mushrooms, and everything was eaten. One young boy had eaten so much that he could not even manage a final glass of coke.

The magic show started in the main hall of the temple as soon as the barbecue was finished. The audience gasped in astonishment and wildly applauded as Riken opened his act by turning three pieces of rope of differing lengths into one and then back into three separate pieces. His second trick, in which he turned five pieces of blank paper into 10,000 yen notes had some people in the audience shouting chodai (give them to me). The show lasted about thirty minutes, during which Riken amazed everyone with one magic trick after another. When he finished, the audience called for an encore, so Riken came out for one more trick.

As the evening wound to an end, Rev. Onosaki, the head priest of Dogenin, kindly invited us into his living quarters to wind down with a few beers and Japanese sake. We were all worn out after the early start, the long drive and the hectic preparations for the barbecue; so we were grateful when Mrs Onosaki prepared a large room on the second floor with comfortable futons for us to sleep on.

The following morning, as we were about to depart at around 6am, a group of people who were staying there gathered outside the temple and accompanied by Mrs Onosaki, the wife of Rev. Onosaki, on a portable keyboard started to sing a moving song about suffering and surviving. We left the temple with tears in our eyes.

Thanks to the following for making this trip possible:

The staff and teachers of the Canadian International School Tokyo who raised  JPY180,000, and  big thanks to Paul Maoate for organizing the fund-raising.

Michelle Cove

Peter Blake

Charles McJilton, Second Harvest Japan

Posted by Charlie

Donated Clothing Unwanted, Destined to Be Dumped

“Piles of secondhand clothing sent to regions hit hardest by the Great East Japan Earthquake for victims have been left unused, forcing local governments to dispose of them.

“Authorities in Onagawacho, Miyagi Prefecture, began discarding donated clothing after the town received far more than was needed.

“Some areas in Iwate Prefecture have an excess of not only used clothes, but also blankets and diapers.”

More here

By Keigo Sakai / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

Earthquake Damage at Soma, Fukushima Pref.


I recently visited the port at Soma, Fukushima Pref. The above Google Earth image reveals earthquake and tsunami damage, including the crippled loading cranes that can be seen in my picture.


Tsunami Photo Project