Survivors of a tsunami's devastation

One’s fate is often simply at the mercy of unexpected twists and turns, and I hadn’t been crying for too long in front of my TV with nothing left to do when we were unexpectedly asked by our daughter-in-law if we would like to spend some months helping out at her private English language school in the far north of Japan. Since most of the foreign English teachers had returned home because of the March 2011 tsunami, she needed help.

And so it was that Wendy and I found ourselves once again at the coalface of English teaching, something that we thought we had left behind long ago. It was a delightful school in downtown Aomori only meters from the waterfront. I would sometimes catch myself thinking what would have happened if the sea, so close to everything, had rushed in here.

We volunteered our time and almost-lost skills of teaching as required plus we took some of the load of the rest of the family by preparing meals and more. It felt wonderful to be useful again and when I reflect back over the past decade or so of our retirement, I realised how I had now become a firm believer in the truth that: too much leisure time will lead to boredom.

One day we were invited to participate in a regular ‘children happy day party’ in the town of Minamisanriku a few hours drive from Aomori. Minamisanriku was totally swept away by the March 2011 tsunami and the child survivors (still somehow living in the area) would be treated to special parties consisting of singing, fun games and party food to help distract them from the terrible tragedy. These were regular events held every few weeks or so wherein any foreigners in the area were invited to attend to talk about their home countries, customs, food, and to sing their traditional songs, etc. Today, Wendy and I plus several US military personnel from the nearby US military base at Misawa had been invited.

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minaAll that remains of the Minamisanriku City Hall

As we drove through the rubble of what once was Minamisanriku, we were shocked at what we encountered. It was as if an atomic explosion had only just occurred. Everything had been swept away by waves over ten metres high. Nothing remained. I think what shocked me most was the hospital with a large fishing boat resting upon the roof. The hospital and all its patients and staff had been sucked out through its doors and windows never to be seen again. All that remained of the City Hall was a skeleton of twisted rusting metal. I could go on but we have all seen the graphic and disturbing footage on our TVs.

The party was a delightful event with much singing, tomfoolery, talking and of course, eating. There were around 100 locals, most of whom were young children all keen to talk with us all. For most of the day my heart had been in my mouth as I was struggling to fight back the tears as I sat and talked and joked and ate and cried with them.

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An old woman of around 80 years or so came and sat by me. Through a translator she recounted how, as a young girl, she had survived the Hiroshima atomic bomb and how, at the time, she raised her fists in the air and cursed the Americans who had wrought such destruction upon her world. After a pause for a deep breath she then recounted the day of the tsunami whereupon she had lost everything once again and had given up any hope of survival when suddenly out of the sky landed a US military helicopter from the nearby Misawa military base distributing emergency food rations.



Have you visited a place like this? Have you given your time to be with survivors of a tragedy? Tell us about it below.