We arrived at the Tsunami Fukko Shien Center in the early morning to begin our day of cleaning Sendai’s land. We first filled out paperwork for the Japanese government to cover us in the case of an injury. Then we were guided to the back of the building to organize our transportation for the day. There were at least thirty jitensha (bicycles) to choose from. We each grabbed a bike and headed with the morning breeze in the direction of the ocean. As we rode our bikes the morning air was filled with the smell of salt from the ocean. The grasses were turning golden yellow from the Autumn temperatures dropping over the last few nights. We were led on bike by Tatsuya Suzuki who was the tallest Japanese man I’ve ever seen. Cautiously we watched for the morning commuters as we made our way past roads that led inland to Sendai city. I imagined the chaos of cars filling the streets to escape the waters that caused all this damage a few months ago. A woman with a beautiful soul named Kiyoe (Kota-chan) completed our party of three. She showed much concern for the well being of the families in the destruction area we planned on visiting. Together we navigated our way into a neighborhood in Miyaginoku Okada.
We arrived at our destination moments later. Our mission was to clean weeds from a piece of property surrounded by battered homes a mile away from Sendai’s coast. The ambiguous path of the waves were clearly unbiased because some homes showed little affects from the water, while other homes were totally swept away from their foundations. I recalled the CNN videos that came pouring in days after the tsunami hit Sendai. Many homes and businesses were washed away like twigs in a raging river.
As we parked our bikes voices began emerging from the overgrown grasses stating: “Ohayo Gosaimasu!” (Good morning). The additional volunteers included two middle aged men from Sendai and two women that greeted us on arrival. The eldest woman was the organizations manager and the younger woman’s name was Miyuki. Miyuki traveled from Yokohama to volunteer her time for three days to help clean the land. She said, “This work makes me happy and reminds me of working on my Grandmother’s farm as a young girl.”. That day we were all the same joining together as family would bond in a time of crisis.
Around noon we ate a lunch which included rice-balls, mochi and green tea. We decided to eat lunch at the front of the property where the foundation gave us a place to sit . A woman walked up to our group and began to speak to us in Japanese. She was the owner of the property we had chosen to clean that day. Her house had been completely washed away by the unrelenting ocean. These unlivable homes in this neighborhood were just a few months ago a thriving part of a community of people that have now been displaced around various parts of Japan. The neighborhood looked like a war zone. She introduced herself and bowed to us in honor of our work on her land. We all returned the gesture by bowing in honor of the hardship her family must be living everyday since the earthquake. The Japanese government provided shelter for her family in the temporary housing communities of Miyagi for two years during this time of rebirth.
As the sun began to set we packed up our gear and began to pedal our bikes back to the Tsunami Fukko Shien Center headquaters. The people of Miyaginoku Okada will continue moving towards a normal life in the midst of the rubble while they dream of one day coming home to a community so dear to their hearts. We toiled that day just as the Japanese people will continue to toil for years to come for a better tomorrow. As for me myself my mind was cleaned of the meaningless clutter of the normal challenges one is faced with in America. I left Japan with my heart filled with a new found compassion.