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

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