Trip to Otsuchi: Day 4, continued

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Kiri Michimata's house

Kiri Michimata's house

After saying goodbye to Ken-san, Sachiko and Akiko picked me up again. Akiko wanted to take me to her house and to Yamazaki-san’s house. Both are right near the train station. On the way there we passed Kiri-san’s house.

Akiko's houseAkiko’s niece Chiaki was on the last exchange. She lived with Akiko, for all intents and purposes Akiko is Chiaki’s mother. Akiko’s house is still standing, but totally ruined. Her mother’s room is the one on the far left. As we were walking through she said, “welcome to my home”. It was filled with debris. One of Chiaki’s shoes was on the floor. We came out to the back of the house where Chiaki’s room was. All that is left is the concrete foundation. Her room had been torn from the rest of the house and washed away. Akiko said that she had talked to Chiaki right after the earthquake and she’d said that she was ok. But after the tsunami came she never heard from her again. She said that she still believes that her mother and Chiaki will come back.
Akiko Yamazaki's house
Akiko Yamazaki
Otsuchi

Chiaki's room

Chiaki's room


Chiaki Yamazaki

Katsutaro Yamazaki's house

Katsutaro Yamazaki's house

Next she showed me Yamazaki-san’s house, just on the other side of where the train station was. It’s a foundation and a pile of debris. She had set up a little shrine where the front door had been (the porch step was still there). On it were his cymbals, a small record player, his favorite food and drinks and some flowers. She said that she felt that he was watching us, watching me visit Otsuchi. Yamazaki-san's houseShe hopes that the exchange program will go on, to honor him. I told her how much we all loved him, how many lives he touched. There’d been a student from the UK who had contacted me on Facebook. He had known Yamazaki-san and wanted to know if he had survived. He had told me how much Yamazaki-san had meant to him, how he’d changed his life. I told Akiko about him and how he had friends all over the world.
Yamazaki-san's house
Yamazaki-san's house
Yamazaki-san's house
Yamazaki-san's house
Yamazaki-san's house

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Trip to Otsuchi: Day 4

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There are things that I’ve neglected to write about here because I’d talked about them with CBS filming. When I came to Otsuchi the first day and met Ken-san, we stood at the railing overlooking the town and I asked him where he was on March 11th. He was in one of the education buildings on the harbor in Ando. After the quake, he saw the water retreating and thought, “a tsunami will come”. He drove to Ando Elementary School, about a 5 minute drive. He stayed there for 3 days. He was with his daughter and her cat. He was able to contact his wife and say, “I’m ok, are you ok?”

Jun and his mother were at the coffee shop when the quake hit. They fled up the hill through the cemetery. He said they watched the city burn all night.

Everyone has their story and they all seem anxious to tell them.

がんばろうがんばろう! Masa wrote this in my journal. There are flags throughout town that say this, along with “Never Give Up” in English. It says “ganbarou” which means “we do our best, we don’t give up”.

Bob Simon signing Ken-san's carThis morning Ken-san had his interview with Bob Simon. He had him sign his car. I’d signed it on the first day. It’s pretty amazing, totally covered with messages and signatures. Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko had visited recently and the Prince signed it.

Then Ken-san drove Chris (one of the cameramen) around town while blasting Let It Be by the Beatles. He took them through town and showed them where his home used to be.

Otsuchi cemeteryOtsuchiMeanwhile, Sachiko and Akiko met me. I’d been walking through the cemetery. Akiko showed me Yamazaki-san’s grave site where his wife is buried. She doesn’t know yet when his funeral will be. She also showed me her family site and the Abe family site.

Yamazaki-san's burial site

Yamazaki-san's burial site


Akiko's family site

Akiko's family site

Mariko-sanSachiko and Akiko took me to see Mariko-san (owner of the Kotobuki Hotel). She works in a little newspaper shop and lives upstairs. Her son is doing well but her mother is missing. She was very emotional and looks exhausted…no wonder. I told her that all of us who have stayed at her hotel have wonderful memories of her hospitality; the gorgeous breakfasts, the newspapers and photos for each of us every morning. I told her that we will never forget. She said that she cannot rebuild the hotel. The building is dangerous and she said that she can’t run it alone, without her mother.

MarikoThey gave me a banner that they’d made from a tarp. Sachiko had painted “Thank You” on it and everyone had signed it. I’d like to present it at the next city council meeting.Thank you banner from

Sachiko gave me a bag with magazines in it. The magazines are pictures of the quake and tsunami damage. Mariko gave me a calendar from her shop. She showed me a picture from 2006 that she’d somehow saved.

Otsuchi friends
2006 Otsuchi visit

Akiko was telling me how when the tsunami was coming people were walking, not running and that many people stayed in their homes. I asked if it was that they thought the sea wall and tsunami gate would keep them safe and she said yes. She said that there had been another tsunami in the past that was smaller. They thought it would be like that.

Ken SasakiNow, it’s time to say goodbye to Ken-san so we went back to the hill above the cemetery. He had to go to his cousin’s funeral. It was hard to say goodbye but I know I’ll see him again. As much as he talks about coming to Fort Bragg, I feel that when I see Ken-san it will be in Otsuchi.

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Trip to Otsuchi: Day 3

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The CBS crew is spending the day in Fudai today, so I have a free day. Fuki and Masa stayed behind to drive me into Otsuchi and bring me back home.

There is temporary housing in Yamada, just north of Otsuchi, and it looks like they are preparing to start some construction in an east valley. There are always trucks filled with debris on the road. Here and there you see people picking through a homesite for belongings.

In Otsuchi, you don’t see a lot of that now. There are laundry baskets all along the roads. People called “memory keepers” sift through the rubble and put photos and albums in them. Once or twice a week, they bring the baskets to one of the shelters and the photos are displayed. People come to look for those that belong to them.

Sachiko met me at town hall and took me to Akiko’s work (where she also lives). She has a shrine set up for the family members that she lost, it takes up an entire wall of her office. It is impossible to imagine how she deals with such loss: Yamazaki-san, his oldest sister, daughter, Chiaki, Chiaki’s dad (he died 3 years ago) and Akiko’s mother. She told me that Yamazaki-san and his sister were found near the mall. Chiaki and Akiko’s mother have not been found. I was overwhelmed with grief.
Katsutaro Yamazaki
Otsuchi Akiko's Family

Chiaki Yamazaki

Chiaki Yamazaki

Katsutaro Yamazaki

Katsutaro Yamazaki

Akiko YamazakiAkiko gave me a bracelet that she had made. She took it off of her wrist and put it on mine. She also insisted on making a bead bracelet for me. She didn’t finish it and wants me to meet her again tomorrow. She’s made bracelets for Angela, Laurie and John as well. I could not stop the tears.

Papa-san stopped by while I was there. This was the first time I’d met him. He seemed to be doing ok. Akiko was her usual joking self. I think it is these little moments that get them through.
Papa-sanAkiko Yamazaki

After that, I had lunch with the ladies: Mistuko, Kiri, Kinuko, Sachiko, Yoko Sakashita, Etsuko, Ami, Asami Abe and Azusa Ikarigawa. It was as lavish as a meal was at any other time and when I tried to pay they wouldn’t hear of it. Again, I was overcome with emotion. I felt bad and hoped that they didn’t think I was being ungrateful but I just couldn’t help it.
Otsuchi friends
Otsuchi friends

Otsuchi BFF's

Otsuchi BFF's


Otsuchi friends
Ami and Etuko Sugaya

Now, I have a meeting with Ken-san. He was tied up, so he’d asked Jun to come and meet me and drive me around town. I got a big hug from Jun. We went to his coffee shop. His mother was there cleaning up. He told me that they intended to repair it. I asked him who pays for that. He said that there is government money that you apply for but that it can take years. When I asked him who pays to replace all of the fixtures, furniture and supplies he said he didn’t know. He told me that Mariko was going to try to re-open the hotel, but clearly that building is not safe and can’t be repaired. I couldn’t help but think that Jun’s coffee shop is beyond repair also, that their efforts are an exercise in futility. It seems it’s what they need to do right now though.

After this, he was driving me around sort of giving me a tour. I asked him to please drop me at the Dainenji Temple to see Mitsuko. I said that I knew he had work to do and didn’t want his mother to be there working alone, and that I didn’t need a tour. Mitsuko was waiting outside.

friends at dainenji temple otsuchiWe went inside and I met some of the other people who live there (there are 12 of them there), Mitsuko’s sister (who looks exactly like her), her mother-in-law and two other ladies. She gave me a tour of the ashes and also the boxes of ashes of missing people. They are using DNA testing to identify them.
ashes at dainenji temple otsuchi
ashes at dainenji temple otsuchi
dainenji temple otsuchi

Otsuchi TsunamiFrom the temple, I walked back over to the Elementary school grounds to meet Ken-san. We went to the Sasaki’s house for dinner. They showed me pictures of the tsunami at their house. They’d had to escape to the roof. The water came up about 8 feet high inside the house but they’d already had the damage repaired.

Of course the dinner was amazing, sukiyaki. I told Ken-san that this looked like a party to me and Michiko-san said, “We need this. It is good for us.” Of course this is probably just the excuse to make me feel better. They showed me the video of Fumie and Kazu at the Fort Bragg City Council meeting. This was emotional for all of us.

Ken-san said that they need to face this and get over it. He told me that when he reads our emails, it is hard for him not to cry and he has no time to cry. I asked him if, because just like when someone dies you have to go through the grieving process, he would allow himself this? He was quiet for some minutes and then said, “Maybe….yes, but not now. I don’t have time now.”

Fumie said that the family will come to Fort Bragg in May. She told me about a friend of hers who had lost his father. He’d told her that because she had told him such wonderful things about her visits to Fort Bragg that he wanted to go. Not now, but sometime soon. I told them that anyone who wants to come to Fort Bragg is welcome, that we will be raising money for this and that our homes are open to Otsuchi people.

Fuki and Masa came to pick me up for the hour drive back to Miyako. Now, I must sleep. I am emotionally drained.

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Trip to Otsuchi: Day 2, cont.

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Otsuchi

Waiting outside the High School with two of the CBS drivers

Sachiko just left and now it’s time for me to go back to the Elementary School and meet Draggan. We are going to the High School to meet with Ito-san and deliver the letters from the Fort Bragg students. I’m wondering if I’ll see Nana and Satoko there, I’m thinking I will.

Well, I was right. When we arrived at the High School Draggan asked me to wait in the parking lot while they set up the cameras. He tried to tell me that, “two of their best students” were going to be in the Principal’s office to meet me. I said, “You’re lying to me, right?” and he said, “Yes.”

Nana and Satoko were there waiting for me. It was so amazing to see them! We hugged and cried and hugged and cried. It’s hard for me to describe how I was feeling…happy to see them, relieved that they were ok, so sad for the enormous loss they both suffered. They called me “Mom”.

Nana and Satoko

My exchange daughters, Satoko and Nana

The news crew left for lunch so we could have some time together. They read many of the letters and we talked about boys, school and the fact that they were famous movie stars now.

Sachiko and Ayumi Abe

Sachiko and Ayumi Abe

Sachiko Abe and her daughter Ayumi stopped by while I was there. It was great to meet Ayumi, I’d heard so much about their family from Madeleine.

Now, it’s about 3pm and I have to leave for an interview with Bob. We went to Akahama, down near the sea wall. This is where Satoko lives. As they were setting up, a group of Buddhist monks with drums came down the street chanting for the dead. It was amazing. Instead of the traditional shoes, they wore tennis shoes.

OtsuchiThe crew set up among the mountains of debris. They found milk crates and put tires on top for Bob and I to sit on. It took over an hour to set up the cameras and then they decided to switch locations. We moved to the temple below the Elementary School where I’d been earlier (it seems like a week ago, hard to believe this is the same day).

OtsuchiFinally, we start the interview but have to stop several times as the light batteries kept dying. We finally finish at about 6pm. Of the 35 questions Bob had for me, I think we got through 5 or 6 of them.

Now, it’s time to visit Nana’s family at the shelter in Kanezawa. It’s up in a valley in an eastern part of Otsuchi. As soon as we pulled up Ami (Nana’s older sister), Etuko (Nana’s Mom) and Nana came out. I saw Ami first. It was so wonderful to see all of them. Etuko was very emotional. I gave her the photo album right there as I wasn’t sure if we were going to go inside with the news crew there. They lost everything they owned. She has no pictures of her children. She cried and hid her face from the cameras. We went inside. There are four families living in one room downstairs and four more living upstairs. They have a corner of the small room. There is no privacy.

Etuko set out pillows for us to sit on and made tea. It was very uncomfortable to have the crew in this tiny room with us. There was an elderly couple, a pregnant woman with her two year old son and a man with a young girl (1st grade). Draggan gave Etuko a gift. I gave candy to the kids. We talked for a while and then the crew left so we could have some time in private.

Nana’s dad came home just as I was leaving. I’d never met him. He is very shy but nice. I had the feeling he’d waited for the news crew to leave before coming in :) I don’t blame him. Before I left Etuko said, “maybe someday Otsuchi will be beautiful again.”

So ends my second day in Otsuchi. I am so exhausted. I’m glad I don’t have to leave until 10am tomorrow.

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Trip to Otsuchi: Day 2, continued

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Sachiko AbeWhen I left the temple I saw Sachiko riding her bicycle. She took me to Milky’s house, the Kotobuki Hotel, Cat’s Eye, Satoshi’s grandfather’s shop, the Jazz Bar and Su-san’s house. We also saw Fumitaka’s parent’s dentist office.

I took many pictures and left a friendship bracelet at Milky’s house and Su-san’s house. The Jazz bar is a pile of rubble now. So is the Cat’s Eye and Su-san and Milky’s house.

Sachiko was singing and humming as we walked through town, almost absentmindedly..like a defense mechanism. At one point she just broke down. I see that they try very hard to hold in their emotions and put on a brave face but at times what is just under the surface breaks through. It is very sad.

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Kotobuki Hotel

Kotobuki Hotel

Jun's Coffee Shop from the Kotobuki

Jun's Coffee Shop from the Kotobuki

Inside the Kotobuki Hotel

Inside the Kotobuki Hotel

Kotobuki Hotel
Kotobuki Hotel

Kotobuki Hotel

Cat's Eye

Cat's Eye

Cat's Eye

Cat's Eye

Fureai Center

Fureai Center

Fureai Center

Fureai Center

Otsuchi

Milky's house

Milky's house

Satoshi's Grandpa's shop

Satoshi's Grandpa's shop

The Qin Jazz Bar

The Qin Jazz Bar

Su-san's house

Su-san's house

Fumitaka's house

Fumitaka's house

Otsuchi

Otsuchi

Otsuchi gas station

This is how they get gas.

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Trip to Otsuchi: Day 2

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Otsuchi Town Hall

Otsuchi Town Hall on the Elementary School grounds. Vice-Mayor Tobai-san's office is on the top floor of the white portable in the foreground.

I’m sitting in the parking lot of the Elementary School, which is the site of the new Town Hall (portable buildings). I’ve been left to my own devices since 9:30 this morning, which I appreciated. I planned to walk through the town and take some pictures, quiet time to take it all in.

Otsuchi

I started up on the hill below the castle ruins. I met a man there, Sadaaki Hirano. He was a city worker repairing a pathway. He told me all about the quake, tsunami and fires. He described how more than 100 cars came through the temple below us and then the temple burned. I gave him my card and he rummaged through his backpack and gave me two gifts, a package of tissues and a hair tie.

Sadaaki Hirano

Hirano-san showing me the time of the quake and teaching me how to write Otsuchi Town in Kanji.

We walked down through the graveyard. There was a burned out car inside the temple. I asked him if it would be ok to take a picture of it and he said, “wait.” He then started cleaning all of the debris off of the temple steps.

People had brought flowers and offerings and he set them aside. There were photos and Otsuchi Templepersonal belongings that people had evidently brought to the temple, kind of a lost and found. There was a burned carcass of a dog that someone had laid on the steps. We found plastic bags and used them to clean the dirt and ashes from the steps. Hirano-san found some vases and cleaned them the best he could using water from a nearby gutter. He went to one of the military trucks that was parked nearby and got a broom. Once this was done, he put the flowers in the vases and replaced the offerings. Now, I could take pictures.

We found that we both had September birthdays. I’ll never forget this man, who dropped his work to tell me his story and who gave me gifts from his backpack.

Otsuchi TempleOtsuchi TempleSadaaki HiranoOtsuchi TempleOstuchi TempleOtsuchi TempleOtsuchi TempleOtsuchi Temple

Otsuchi Temple

Burned car inside the temple.

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Trip to Otsuchi: Day 1 in Otsuchi

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OtsuchiI cannot describe today easily. We drove into Otsuchi and I had a camera in my face the whole way through town. It was incredibly difficult. It’s one thing to see the pictures, another to really understand the scope of the loss by being there. Otsuchi looks like a giant landfill. There is no better way to describe it.

I saw Ken-san at the Elementary School. I gave him a pair of jeans, a Red Seal Ale cap and my 12-string guitar. He lost his guitar collection in the tsunami. We then met with Vice Mayor Tobai-san and I gave my speech. I was afraid that I’d forget it when the time came, but I didn’t. I gave him the photo of Mayor Kato and he was moved. He said that he would keep it in his office for a couple of weeks but that he wanted to give it to the Mayor’s wife, that it would mean a lot to her. I also saw Lucky Boy and Mitsuko there.

After that I saw Ito-san, the school superintendent. He hugged me and became emotional. I will give the letters to the kids and give the speech to him tomorrow.

Kinuko and Sachiko met us there. We all (Ken-san, Mitsuko, Kinuko, Sachiko and the CBS crew) went to Kiri-Kiri to have lunch. Akiko came later. When I gave her the photos of Chiaki, she was overwhelmed with emotion. She was so touched by the album of Yamazaki-san. It meant so much to her. She said they were her treasures.

Otsuchi Fort BraggAfter lunch, Mitsuko kidnapped me and we (very briefly) visited Obarra-san, Hujii-san and Kiri-san. Kiri and her husband now have a pharmacy in a doctor’s office. While we were there we happened to run into Machiko Kariya. It was the best surprise.

Mitsuko took me to a shelter where they go to take baths 2-3 times a week. Lucky Boy was there and I met Dr. Ueta. I gave some candy to the children there. Dr. Ueta described how he had been rescued by helicopter from the roof of his building.

Otsuchi Town HallAfter that, it was time to meet the news crew. We met at City Hall and I had an interview with Bob Simon. We talked about what happened that day, how the Mayor sent his staff to the roof and gave his life to secure their safety.

We then went down near where the rail station was and did another interview with Bob. Although there has been a lot of clean up done, there is still a lot of debris here. They had us walk along a gravel path with the tsunami gate behind us.Otsuchi Rail StationOtsuchi Tsunami Gate

Last, we drove back through town with the camera man filming us from the back of the van in front of us.

This has been the longest day of my life.

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Trip to Otsuchi

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On May 28th, I had the honor of going to Otsuchi. A big thank you to CBS and 60 Minutes for making this possible.

It was a truly incredible experience: Exciting, difficult, wonderful, emotional and heart-wrenching. I will post the information from my journal from each day of the trip, along with photos.

Day 1, May 28th:
Traveled to Tokyo. Left home at 6am to get to the airport by 10am. Flight was about 10 1/12 hours. I was very excited about seeing my exchange daughters Nana and Satoko and all of our Otsuchi friends. I’m especially honored to be bringing the letters that Fort Bragg students wrote to Otsuchi students. I know it will be hard.

May 29th:
Arrived in Tokyo. There is a typhoon expected tomorrow. Spoke with Draggan and he said that the weather was interfering with their filming.

May 30th: Met Kikumi in the lobby. She is the wife of the translator that is working with the CBS crew. She was very nice but speaks about as much English as I speak Japanese. We made it work though. We took a taxi to Tokyo Station and she helped me get on the Shinkansen. It was difficult with the guitar and the monstrously heavy suitcase. Kikumi carried my guitar for me and subsequently didn’t get off the train in time. She had to get off in Ueno and take the next one back to Tokyo. I felt really bad, but she thought it was funny. It’s a 3 1/2 hour ride and I want to nap, but I’m afraid I’ll miss my stop in Morioka.

There was a taxi waiting for me to take me the 2 1/12 hours to Miyako. What a beautiful drive. I met the CBS crew at the hotel and we had dinner. Tomorrow, I’ll ride with the camera crew so they can get my reaction as we drive into Otsuchi. Not looking forward to that. I’ll see Ken-san though and that will be good.

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My BFF’s in Otsuchi

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Mitsuko sent this today :)
Otsuchi BFFs
Otsuchi BFFs

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Thousand origami cranes in Otsuchi

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Senbazuru:  Thousand CranesFort Bragg students made Senbazuru to send to Otsuchi. Senbazuru (千羽鶴) is a group of one thousand origami paper cranes held together by strings.

An ancient Japanese legend promises that anyone who folds a thousand origami cranes will be granted a wish by a crane. The crane in Japan is one of the mystical or holy creatures, and is said to live for a thousand years. In Japan, it is commonly said that folding 1000 paper origami cranes makes a person’s wish come true.

On a recent visit to Otsuchi, exchange student Sera Sasaki presented the Senbazuru to Otsuchi.

Here is a message from Sera:

1,000 paper crane from you arrived at a facility which Otsuchi elementary students go to insetad of their school.

Now, there is a plan to all of elementary school students go to same one school. So, it will be displayed in order to be seen by all of them if the new school is set.

Please tell students and people who folded the paper cranes thank you from Otsuchi students.
Thousand Cranes
Thousand Cranes

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