This is Andrew’s last segment about his trip to Japan. You can read the other two segments here and here. This last one is long, but if you’ve read the first two, I’m sure you’ll want to read this one. It’s about the days spent in the tsunami disaster area.
Most people I have talked to want to know most about this part of the trip, but in some ways it seems like the part of the trip about which the least can be said. The amount of destruction is incredible. It is not something that you can adequately describe, and you realize that as you are driving past it, but it does not really put you in the mood for taking pictures.
You begin seeing damaged buildings, boats, and cars before you can even see the water. Piles of debris are everywhere you look. From clothing and toys to tires and splintered wood. After four months even the areas that were least impacted look like war zones. By the water we saw a six-story apartment building, completely intact, laying on its side. There were fields of damaged and burned cars stacked on top of one another. As we drove down rows of buildings we could see all the way through each one, they were completely gutted.
We went up into an area that had not been destroyed, but could only be reached by driving through a part of the town that was completely leveled. There were very few people still there, but we were able to pass out a few tracts. Brother Harris was able to talk to a lady who said that 2,000 people out of the 10,000 that lived in town were either dead or missing. To have something to compare it to, approximately 2,980 people lost their lives on September 11. The parts of the town that were not destroyed were without water and electricity for months.
Driving further brought us to abandoned and overgrown playgrounds, earthquake damaged roads, destroyed ports, and a number of temporary housing facilities. We were able to pass out some tracts in temporary housing, but were not allowed in schools and other buildings still being used as evacuation centers. Evacuation centers are all schedule to close this month leaving families to find temporary housing or move in with family. The feeling you get in the affected areas is that people are simply surviving. Their jobs, homes, families, and belongings are gone. They seemed to just be surviving from day to day.
On our way out of the area we stopped and saw a mass grave yard. In Japan cremation is required, but the bodies being found were too many for the crematoriums to handle, so the government began numbering those found and burying them. Once cleanup is under control they will go back and attempt to identify them through DNA and then cremate them. Buddhism teaches the last moments and time after death to be extremely important, thus leaving the families of those whose bodies cannot be found or identified with little or no hope of their loved ones reaching “higher states.”
We drove for a while longer and daylight was leaving quickly, so we went to a small town nearby and began passing out tracts. We split up and were able to pass out a few hundred in just thirty or forty five minutes, during which we misplaced Juliana. So we spent another fifteen minutes looking for, and headed out. We stopped by Lawson’s for a drink and then began searching for a hotel. Due to the repair crews in the areas we had to travel a good distance from shore to find a place to stay. We did eventually find a place and turned in for the night.
Thursday morning included another car ride. I want to say it was three or four hours, but I do not remember exactly. It brought us to a larger city that was destroyed. City buses, shopping malls, and commercial buildings were scattered throughout the city among piles of rubble. It reminded me of scenes where a nuclear bomb has gone off and leveled anything nearby. Some buildings were still halfway submerged in water, and large department stores could be seen straight through with only wires and air ducts hanging from the ceilings. I did not have room enough on my camera’s memory cards to store pictures of everything. I had to pick and choose throughout the day which pictures to keep. The only people you saw were occasional demolition crews and police squads.
We drove up the hill and found part of the town still intact, so we handed out a few more tracts and continued on. Over the next hill was a port that had been completely destroyed, and over the next hill we found a valley that appeared to have funneled water all the way through and back out the other side, carving an obvious path that left nothing standing.
On Thursday we also saw the town with a large oil tanker ship sitting in the middle of it. Stacks of burned cars were all around it, and demolition crews were working on knocking over what remained of the buildings nearby. It was a surreal feeling as you looked around at pieces of everyday lives laying on the ground. Pictures, guitars, tea cups, cans of food, furniture, house doors, idols, and too many other things to list...all laying in the shadow of a giant ship.
We finished touring the Tohoku area on Thursday evening and drove straight through the night to arrive at Mt. Fuji on Friday morning. Was it wise to stay up all night before climbing the tallest mountain in Japan? Probably not...but we did it. We began our trek up the mountain at around 8:00 on Friday morning, and finished our trek down the mountain at around 7:00 Friday evening. It took 8.5 hours to climb up, and surprisingly only 2.5 hours to slide back down. I carried my digital SLR camera all the way to the top of the mountain, taking a grand total of five pictures—one of which didn’t turn out. Okay, it may have been ten, but it definitely was not worth carrying a camera up the tallest mountain in Japan, and one of them really didn’t turn out.
Our group started off with seven people, and made it a significant distance that way, but in the end only four of us made it to the very top, where they had conveniently stopped selling the souvenir “prove-you-made-it-to-the-top-of-Mt. Fuji” stamps only five minutes before we crawled over the last ledge. Am I bitter about that? Of course not...why would I be bitter about climbing for 8.5 hours up the tallest mountain in Japan which I may never again visit in my life and finding out they could not plug in their electric powered branding iron at 3:45 in the afternoon for two minutes so that I could have my hiking stick stamped to prove I made it to the top?! Nope...not bitter at all. So we sat for a while, ate the highest piece of high chew in all of Japan (after snapping a picture) which we had carried with us for the purpose of it being the highest, and then we went back down.
What happened next? We slept.
Driving through the night brought us back to Kobe for a children’s program Saturday morning, and practice for the Harris family to sing Sunday night. It was otherwise an uneventful day, unless you count me beating Josiah Harris multiple times at Wii tennis, which made me feel better about the whole grapefruit incident.
Sunday morning we were had the chance to attend Senri Newtown Baptist Church where Pastor Ogawa, Dr. Sisk’s first convert, pastors. They were large enough to have translation equipment, so we were able to understand the sermon. An excellent sermon on being Christ’s living letter to the people we come in contact with. Sunday night we enjoyed the Harris family as they put on a small concert for the Grace Kobe Baptist Church. They even let the American tourists join in for one song.
Trying to wrap up...so much to say.
Monday we cleared brush for Brother Harris most of the day. The property next to their house was starting to grow onto their house, so we trimmed trees, raked, etc. for the day. Monday night was ice cream sundaes and a movie. Rachel De Leon had left at that point so it was some time of fellowship with just myself, Rob, and the Harris family. It was a blast.
Tuesday we took a tour of Kyoto, the old capital of Japan which I will let you look at pictures of rather than telling you all about it. We visited the rock gardens, the golden temple, and the old imperial palace. All very cool stuff, and I actually learned a lot about Japanese religion and culture. A special thanks to Mickey, our tour guide.
Wednesday at 5:30PM I flew out of Osaka International Airport, and Wednesday at 11:30AM I arrived in San Francisco. Weird. Found out what happens when a lady who only speaks Tagalog tries to communicate with a boy who only speaks English. I then flew to the LA area and got a ride back to school where I am now.
Thank you again to all of those who prayed for and financially supported me.
I’m working on getting a link that will allow you to view Andrew’s photo album on Facebook, which has far more pictures than I have shared. The pics on FB have the captions he wrote with them, which will give you a complete sense of the trip. I laughed . . . and cried . . . my way through his album when he first uploaded it!