Sunday, July 22, 2012

Tohoku Trip Day 3-4 - Kamaishi, Iwate, Part II

***Disclaimer: Please note these posts are retold as interpreted. They also reflect my own personal views and opinions and not those of the seminar,  its professors and lecturers,  or affiliations. In addition,  these photos and stories can be quite tragic and gut-wrenching,  so proceed at your own risk. Some of these photos I did not watermark,  because I feel it would be a good thing to pass them on.***

So after a very, very long bus ride, we arrived at Hourai Kan, a ryokan where we spent the next 2 nights. Both the ryokan and its okami-san (manager, in this case, the inn owner) have an incredible story to tell as the ryokan was a designated tsunami evacuation center due to the area's history of tsunamis. On the middle left window on the 3rd floor is a sign that says, "Tsunami Evacuation Center."

The Kannon statue in Hourai Kan's 1st floor lobby. This gorgeous room was ours. It is on the 2nd floor and was submerged as the tsunami rose all the way up to the third floor of this building! Needless to say, the first floor was completely destroyed. The reason this ryokan was a designated evacuation area for tsunami because no tsunamis in the past had ever reached this far up the area.

Even though the building has been mostly renovated and everything in our room looked new, remnants of the tsunami were everywhere, like this bent railing outside our window and the (not pictured) salt water stains on the wooden window frame. At right is the view from our window. 

A memorial stone for the disaster. According to hubby and professor L., this is actually a terrible translation. The Japanese text has more of an eerie motherly tone, as in, run and save yourself, don't worry about me. And yet somehow, the English translation turns it into save yourself first and don't worry about others -.-' Haa...

The serene beaches of Kamaishi were beautiful.

Hubby loved the scenery and sat still for a very long time.

Here is to give you an idea of how high the tsunami was. It first climbed over this wall, which is well over 2 meters high.

Then it rushed over this small mound, which was about another 3 meters before reaching all the way up to the 3rd floor of the ryokan on the other side of the street!

Steel hand rails completely bent as the waves washed over them.

The ryokan is the one of only a couple of structures still standing after the tsunami. It was the only building that is rebuilt as okami-san refused to leave her home and her land. Watch a video I took of this Kamaishi shore and see how the entire town behind it was wiped clean. There is literally nothing left!

Our dinner for the first night. Yep, lots and lots of fish.

Breakfast next morning. After breakfast we headed back into the downtown area to see presentations on the town's rebuilding projects.

In the afternoon, the group helped clean up a small area, gathering small debris and sorting the metal from wood from plastic, etc. If we were to find any photographs or anything with a name on it, we were to set it aside to be catalogued and then returned to its owner if possible. One student found an entire photo album. Another found a handgun! How crazy is that? Civilians are not permitted (as in illegal!) to carry firearms in Japan! After the cleaning, we were led up to a shrine to pay respect to the forest gods.

This gentleman traveled all the way from Hokkaido to volunteer at this town. He was demonstrating how high the water rose at one point. Now how high is that? - THIS high - the right photo is looking down from the shrine. Getting goosebumps yet?

The area the boys were cleaning. The girls weren't allowed to go near bigger debris like this because, firstly, they weren't exactly dressed for the job, secondly, well, there were liability issues. The girls were sent to a different area with small and scattered debris that could be picked up by hands with gloves. Watch a video I took as the group lined up to receive instructions for the clean up. Can you believe there used to be a small town here with at least 70 households? It's gone.

After the cleaning, we gathered to hear okami-san's retelling of her extraordinary survival story. When the tsunami hit and they realized the ryokan would not be an adequate evacuation area, she among others fled for the hills behind the inn. Then she turned back to grab the others who were still lingering in front the ryokan. By the time she looked over her shoulders, the wave was already two-stories high and it smashed into her. Luckily, another man standing on the hill pulled her out before she was crushed underneath all the debris it was carrying. Watch this incredible video of the tsunami hitting Hourai Kan, taken by an employee of the ryokan who joined us in the earlier clean up. 

Dinner for the second night, which had chicken and beef ^.^

Hubby and his students goofing off after dinner. Aren't they adorable?

Breakfast for the second morning, after which we bid goodbye to okami-san to head back to Sendai.

Among the stops on the long bus ride back, there was this small shop selling these delicious mochi-wrapped strawberry shortcakes! They look like a Chinese steamed bun, sprinkled with powdered sugar ^.^

Inside the thin mochi layer is a strawberry shortcake, with a strawberry in the middle! I bought 3 of these but only ate 1 - hubby wolfed down the other 2 in, like, seconds. They were delicious!

Just thought I'd show you how outrageous toll fees can get in Japan. The cheapest toll was 500yen (~$6) and the most expensive was 7,200yen (~$90)! Nuts, huh? And of course, Sendai Station.

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