Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Volunteering at Rikuzentakata 陸前高田

On our third day in Tohoku, we headed down to Rikuzentakata (陸前高田), one of the most badly affected areas during the 3.11 disaster. What used to be a populated coastal town was literally flattened, nothing could be seen in the distance except for piles of debris, crushed cars and buildings reduced to their steel supports. To get an idea of how much debris there was around, compare the size of this single pile with the size of the building nearby.

Really, the first word that came to my mind was...nothing. There really was nothing. Nothing to describe what I saw, nothing to describe the feelings you feel upon standing in the middle of nothing. In pictures and on TV you see the whole areas, but when you're actually there you feel so small in that vast area of land; the destruction and debris seem so much bigger, and the impact and scale of the destruction feels magnified. I can't imagine what the people living there must have felt.

Lands were barren; no greenery; no people. It was heartbreaking to witness. Though I had seen countless pictures and TV coverage of affected areas, seeing them with my own eyes was a different experience.

Think this is some autumn scenery of the changing colors of leaves? Wrong. The reddish leaves are leaves of pine trees that have died as a result of being hit by the tsunami.

All the free-standing trees in the town were uprooted and washed away by the tsunami, save for this single pine tree which they call the "Miracle Pine Tree" 奇跡の一本松 (kiseki no ippon matsu) or "Pine Tree of Hope" 希望の松 (kibou no matsu). This miracle tree survived the disaster and even saved the life of a man who clung onto it. It is now a symbol of hope for Rikuzentakata.

Even amidst the barren land and debris-filled water, this sunflower grows steadily. A sign that life continues and can grow even in the harshest of environments. I do believe that Rikuzentakata can do it. Bit by bit, one step at a time, it will happen: they will recover.

We were tasked with clearing drains which had been blocked and covered with debris and mud, hardened over time by the weather. Despite a collective effort over a few hours, all we could clear was a section of a single drain. It was a tad sad to know that our minute efforts did not make a significant impact, although it was nice to know that at least we were helping albeit in a small manner. Imagine all the time and effort needed to get the whole town back to recovery. Or all the affected towns.

We headed back to the volunteer center and met people from Uganda and the Red Cross who were also on their way to do some volunteering. It was really touching to see people from all over the world come to support Japan and participate in relief efforts; to show her that she is not alone. Alone, we might not seem to make a difference, but working together, we can make things happen.

*** Special thanks to group B for some of the photos!***


  1. Please continue to do the great job you are doing! Brought tears to my eyes about the destruction that the tsunami caused...

    Take care. I wish I can volunteer but I am too far away... Sending prayers to Japan day in and day out.

  2. I feel awful whenever I see pictures of the destruction from the tsunami...I wish I could do something to help too, but everyone I know is still wary of going to Japan. No one wants to go near there yet, even to the areas further down south...