Before I left for Japan, I had figured I would have time to write, in and amongst the crazy hectic schedule I created for myself and the drinking and general shenanigans that went along with returning to see friends throughout Fukushima. I did fall a bit behind but had written a few blogs and took copious notes throughout my trip about how I was feeling and what I was thinking about. My initial blog about Tokyo was written in a travel blog style, with descriptive paragraphs, metaphors and the like, in order to entice and excite you and I assume after all is said and done it still will be along those lines. But there was one thing I hadn’t counted on during this short jaunt through the land of the rising sun. And that one thing was Soma.
So, on my last night in Japan, sitting in my hotel in Tokyo, I’m going to give the reason for my lack of posting up until now, other than an excuse for not blogging blog (see, Return to Tohoku #3). And this very well may turn into another excuse for not blogging blog, but hey, you’ve read this far and look how much more there is to go!
This past Sunday, I went with a bunch of foreigners to go and volunteer with Hearts for Haragama, a group I’ve blogged about before. After spending the day with children from different kindergartens in the Soma area, they took me out to the coast. The JETs that have been out to Soma a few times decided to take me out to Tsukasa’s (the owner of the Haragama kindergarten) house.
As we began to near the wreckage I had my camera going and got Jay to shoot a video with my Xacti. At first, it was just as I had seen in the news. Pictures of buses in the water and some buildings. But as we got closer and closer to the Pacific Ocean, the utter destruction began to take over. At first I was amazed at how different everything was, giant concrete tetrapods that had lined the coastline were now gone, washed away by the sheer power of the tsunami. Cars, still lay smashed at the side of the road, in parking lots and beside the shells of buildings that the tsunami left behind. We couldn’t even return to the beach that I had gone to almost every weekend of every summer for four years because the bridge that would take us up and over the cove that I had always used was no longer safe to drive on.
As we pulled up to where Tsukasa’s house had been along with his entire community, the pictures stopped. The video stopped. As we got out of the car and I stood where once houses had been and was told that it looked so much better than it had before, I had this surreal feeling. It was like standing on a movie set. It couldn’t be real. And as much as seeing pictures gives you an idea of what’s going on, it doesn’t compare to standing there amidst remnants of houses, smashed cars and debris, the shadows of people’s entire lives…gone.
Danny explained to me that Tsukasa’s two story house had been smashed by the tsunami and the first floor had been annihilated. While the second floor, they had found, still intact about three kilometers away, carried there by the tsunami. Still intact, but with someone else’s refrigerator inside.
Danny told us Tsukasa was even able to retrieve his coveted bottle Tequila from the second floor still intact, which we all had a little chuckle about. But as I wandered away from the group the enormity of the situation took hold and I broke down. It all just hit me like a ton of bricks. As much as this trip is about promoting Japan and all of the beautiful things about it, standing there, alone, I began to feels waves of horror and sadness. It was the worst I have ever felt and now attempting to use words in order to describe a feeling that is truly indescribable seems somehow wrong. Even the feeling I had, standing there, eventually made me feel guilty. Even as attached as I am to Fukushima, how could I be so affected by all of this when the people around me had gone through so much more. The people that lived in Soma had gone through so very much, even with the radiation aside. They’ve all had time to sit back and process it, but the entire ordeal became very real.
After getting it together, I went back and said I was done. We went down the road to another spot where cars had been piled on top of each other and drove by slowly like you would if you were driving through a graveyard.
To my friends in the car with me, I just kept saying, “This is so messed up. What am I going to do with these pictures? Why am I even taking pictures?” The enormity of the entire situation was more than I could comprehend. Brian told me, “You have to take pictures, so you never forget this, so this feeling stays fresh in your mind.” And now I’m going to share a few of these pictures here, to demonstrate why this trip fundamentally changed in the middle. It was no longer about blogging or radiation or anything for that matter…it all faded away for a time. I told my friends I was done and we headed back into Soma.
So, I’m going to post a few pictures now. This place is what made me realize I needed to go back and review my whole trip and what I wanted to say about it. I don’t know if I want to change anything or not. But in that moment I knew that I was changed and that the emotions I had felt in returning to Tokyo, Aizu and Fukushima city were nothing compared to what I felt in Soma. I didn’t want to post anything until I had come to grips with everything.
I will roll out my travel blogs in the next few weeks with a few longer posts about everything following that. But for now, I hope these pictures of what happened along the coast in Tohoku will suffice. I debated using these at all and I’m still kind of wondering why I’m going to do so. But this was the biggest part of my trip. The most life altering and like Brian said, you take pictures so you don’t forget and I’ll never forget standing in Soma for as long as I live.
UPDATE: Just came across this article on bloomberg.com that seems to outline everything I experienced in my trip. Fukushima Desolations Worst Since Nagasaki as Residents Flee