My first glimpse of the aftermath from the ravaging tsunami was by car on my first day in Sendai. Feeling insulated by the luxury of a car ride through the devastated neighborhoods I felt a need to walk through the destruction. In the early dawn I headed toward the ocean where this life changing event began. I move through neighborhoods of newly constructed apartment homes, built on the adjoining land of the nearby katsetsu. These were developed for those that could afford to buy or lease a new home after losing their previous homes. Some of the units are still under construction but already the area has a feeling of permanence. Many of the old homes may never be rebuilt.
Approaching acres of open field dotted with countless empty house foundations the rising sun reflects off the many trackhoes sitting in the muddy remains of what was once a community of homes and businesses lost in an instant when the pacific ocean unleashed the 30 foot wall of water that would consume nearly 500 square miles of land and take close to 20,000 lives. The tractors sit, anticipating their days work with outstretched arms, waiting to be guided in picking up more rubble, knocking another flooded house from its foundation but longing to reach through the debris and scratch the back of the earth to awaken and encourage it to rebuild itself and regenerate its soil so that it may once again sustain growing plants and living organisms that were destroyed by several days of salt water saturation. The few structures still standing in this area may have a chance to be rebuilt but for now sit with broken windows, sagging roofs and missing stairs and beams having been taken over by a few sparrows for their winter home. Some of the houses that were miraculously spared now have small gardens growing vegetables in soil that had to be trucked in to replace dug out salt water compacted dirt that could no longer sustain life.
I approach a group of workers standing in line at the Coffee Boss, a vending machine located at the edge of a field to provide them with morning coffee or tea beforebeginning another day of systematically removing debris and foreign objects from the land before them. They separate the trash into small piles on the side of theroad; concrete in one pile, plastics in another, electronic items in its own heap and organic materials that can be composted in yet another. All of these are later added to a central location where the mounds of rubble accumulated rival the size of nearby warehouses, each mountain still containing its own specific material tobe later recycled. Across the street in another field, a lone volunteer dons his hardhat and with a simple garden hoe, scrapes rubble into into piles with the tractors and trucks rumbling about their duties in the background. I can imagine he has been doing this by himself for over six months and will continue until he has cleared this piece of land or at least purified his soul to the point that he is ready to immerse himself back into a life he once had or one he has not yet discovered .
The quality of the air changes and I sense that I am getting close to the ocean. I walk through one last graveyard of houses, large, abundant extravagant ones built close to the ocean that surely once provided a feeling of protection, status and comfort for their owners, albeit a false one as these homes were the first to be swallowed by the rapidly moving tsunami. While I would expect these would be some of the first to be rebuilt, there is no sign of any progress here. I hopefully believe that of the former residents, no one wants to be the first to return to a new home amidst the rubble only to find that the house is a shell, void of any semblance of community that is thriving in the kasetsu’s just three miles inland.The pavement ends and I am in a wooded area of Matsu trees, pine trees that reside near the ocean. A few are left standing in the midst of thousands of fallen ones, proudly standing over thirty feet tall, their roots having probed the earth for an aquifer pure enough to sustain life near the salt water of the ocean. Their countless brothers and sisters lie on the ground, bent over and crushed by the relentless flood of sea water that took their lives before consuming thousands of other creatures. Walking through a cloud of dragon flies I can hear the crash of the nearby surf. The insects, birds and new vegetation sprouting under the canopy of the Matsu’s are the first to reclaim the space and begin repopulating their species near the ocean.
I look out at the sea. It is calm, the surf gently splashing against the sea wall which is once again performing its job of keeping the land and the sea separated. I can imagine the height, up to 100 feet in some areas, and the power of the waves that were created by the shifting tectonic plates last March but have a difficult time fathoming the the width and the breadth of the tsunami that engulfed this very coast for hundreds of miles.
Closing my eyes I listen to the voice of the water telling me that it was not to blame. I can not place blame on the ocean or even on the parents of nature. Purification comes when it is mostly needed and least expected. Knowing the Japanese people and their love and respect for humanity, for nature, for community, I do not understand why they would be in need of purification. But, they accept it with a humbling, respectful silence as they strive every day to create a new world to live in. One of peace, propelled by love that only comes when you are of service to others and your planet.
A flock of geese pass overhead on their migration south. They soundlessly form their group, not in the normal V-formation but in the shape of a heart. I believe the heart of Sendai and Japan is on the mend and healing has already arrived.
KASA Board Member
Santa Fe, NM