For part 1 of this blog post click here:
While in Ishinomaki we had the unique (as far as I know) opportunity to visit the suburb of Ibarazu. It was unique in the fact that we were sent there not to clean up mud but to pick up fish.
A lot of fish.
Ibarazu is a small part of Ishinomaki situated near one of the largest fish markets in Miyagi. When the tsunami came through the area, hundreds of tons of fish for sale were swept away, and mostly ended up in Ibarazu. These fish had been sitting there, rain and shine, for 2 months, despite the best efforts of the township to clean their streets up. That’s where we came in. The fact that there was plenty left over for us to pick up is a good indication of the sheer volume that was simply just lying around.
Needless to say, the smell was incredible. Fish had clumped together in schools and putrefied in ways beyond belief. Some were dried out from sitting in the air too long, other fish would simply fall apart when you touched them, and yet more were in various states of liquefaction, barely recognizable as fish, revealing squirming clots of maggots when lifted up. Large bags of fish packaged for export were also scattered around in unhealthy numbers – these had to be cut open, revealing smells and sights from a madman’s abattoir, and the contents placed into more bio-degradable bags for disposal into the sea. The mental strain from dealing with the stomach-churning smell, not to mention the sight of all the rotting fish, combined with the physical strain to make it the most demanding day in the whole week-long experience.
Above: Fish of all sizes. In the above photo a clump of fish is handled by team member Will. In the left of the frame there is the white export bag that needs to have its content emptied. Those were the most unpopular sights in the 2 day fish-cleaning endeavor – you knew before you opened it that the contents of the bag had been stewing inside for over 2 months. Opening them was a most unpleasant experience.
Below: Fish of immense sizes. A large tuna needing two people to lift is hoisted onto a wheelbarrow to be taken for disposal. Insofar as we could be amused on that particular day, the sheer variety of fish – including squid and octopus – that were littering the township was surreal and bizarre, and often elicited cries of ‘I’ve got a big one here!’
Below: The collection point. A place where the fish were dropped off to be collected by a dump-truck. My group’s task, in addition to picking up the fish and taking it to the collection point, was also pack the dumptruck with the bags that had been delivered by the other groups rounding up fish in other areas. It was deemed to be the toughest job out of all the groups working that day, and we were able to load ten tons of fish onto the trucks that day. In total over the two days, eighteen tons of fish were removed from Ibarazu, mitigating a potential health crisis as the warmer months approached.
Below: Ibarazu was a lot closer to the 全壊地域 (Zenkai-chiiki, or ‘completely destroyed area’) than any other place that we worked at, and accordingly, the devastation was much more severe. Here, displayed outside of a gutted house, are 位牌 (Ihai, or ‘spirit tablets’) that have the names of the deceased inscribed on them, along with some photos.
Below: A newly erected message board amongst the wreckage. Here survivors of the disaster can advertise help, or seek help from the rest of the community while the traditional avenues of communication are still down.
Below: The white sign says ‘Ganbappe!! Ramen’, which means ‘Do your best!! Ramen’ in regional Japanese. People visiting can receive free hot ramen to boost their spirits and body. The resilience of Japanese people – in setting up these kinds of aid stations for themselves – and in their encouragement and sense of community is humbling and gives pause for self-reflection.
Below: More sludge removal – see part 1 of this post for more in depth descriptions of what’s involved.
Below: Teammates Honno ‘Book’ Takuya and Will Adams take a break from sludge removal beside an overturned car, in a scene that I have trouble imagining outside of a Hollywood production. It’s absolutely real though, and more help than ever is needed up their to help repair the damage that has been done. If you can spare some time off and preferably speak Japanese contact Peace Boat’s office at (03) 3363-8047 or e-mail email@example.com.. http://peaceboat.org/relief/
Below: The sign says ‘danger’. Not all of the damage was wrought by the tsunami. While examining some of the properties on higher ground we came across many walls and structures that have been cracked or compromised by the initIal earthquake. With aftershocks continuing in the area, these weakened buildings still cause a danger to people living in the area.
Below: Through the looking glass. A horrible glimpse into the 全壊地域 (‘completely destroyed area’) from the vantage point of one of the evacuation zones. This is one example where a photo simply cannot put the scale of the destruction into perspective, one simply has to be there looking at the hellish tableau in order to grasp the reality of the situation.
Below: Some kind of irony. The sign in the midst of the wreckage says ‘Emergency exit’.
Below: On the last day of our trip, we met Endo-san, who stopped by to chat with us volunteers. His is one of many whose tragic stories we’ve heard so many times in the news recently. The lower floors of his home have been wrecked by water and he lives on the top floor without electricity or water. He can’t go to work and relies on food from aid agencies. He didn’t come to us to tell us this though, rather he came to ask us to stay. ‘We need people to help,’ he told us. ‘We need as many people as possible. We can’t put on a brave face and pretend we can get by on our own in this situation. We can’t do it all by ourselves. We have no choice but to rely on volunteers to help us. Please try to come back.’
I hope Endo-san is ok, along with all of the other people we met up there. I hope he gets his home back, as well as his job and can start to work his way back into a normal life soon. But that’s all wishful thinking. That’s something in the future, which may not even happen. The only thing that remains with me right now, is the image of a proud but beaten Japanese man who has lost everything, plaintively asking for help.
It’s not over yet. Japan still needs your help.