Friday 24th June
This, our final day was perhaps the most memorable of the week. Our team and one other was sent to the house of Mr Nakazato (Nakazato-san), an elderly farmer who had survived the tsunami along with his family.
We were driven through a severely affected area of Ishinomaki. Many of us covered our mouths and noses as the stench of waste and other unidentifiable matters hit us. On either side of the road we saw many houses in states of disrepair.
At the house we spent the morning laying old tatami mats across a greenish pool of liquid, which acted as a ‘bridge’ to cross the water and carry mud and rubble. Our teams worked hard to clear knee-high mounds of mud, sludge and debris, some of which was caught in trees and bushes around the property.
During the morning, both Mr Nakazato and his wife arrived and watched our progress. The indomitable Ted-san was also present. Ted-san is an extraordinary man who ran the operation and oversaw the work by each team in Ishinomaki. He had been working virtually non-stop for several months when we arrived. I was extremely grateful that he told us Mr Nakazato’s full story, which was remarkable. The octogenarian farmer had managed to get his family to safety but then returned to his neighbourhood to warn and help others. He was almost caught up in the approaching tsunami but then climbed a ladder to the roof of a nearby house. When the tidal wave swept in it came up to the eaves of the roof, and also carried a car which became wedged in the alley between that house and the next. Mr Nakazato climbed from the roof, across the car and onto the next house. He reached the roof of his own house by using a trapped building which had been moved by the tsunami as a bridge to clamber across. Incredibly, he survived a freezing cold night on the roof of his own house, unable to descend until the next day when the waters subsided.
Being shown the actual buildings and told the story by Ted-san really affected us. Having worked steadily before, we redoubled our efforts now. It was a great privilege to meet Mr Nakazato, who is a hero and who graciously gave his time and agreed to be in a photograph with us all.
Memories of the afternoon will remain with me for a long time to come. All groups completed work and were taken to Ishinomaki centre. We visited a shop set up by locals which sold ceramics and other products. Many of us bought T-shirts which showed the collective strength of spirit of the Japanese people (see below).
Later we all ascended to one of the highest points in the town, to where many had retreated during the tsunami of March 11th. I find it hard to describe the feelings stirred up by the sights up there. There were bouquets of flowers laid at the very top of the hill in memorial for all those who had died. From above we could start to comprehend the scale of the damage and destruction, as we had a clear view of where the town met the sea. I sat on a bench, dazed as I looked at the rubble-strewn ground below.
As we descended and moved back through the town centre, we left witnessing signs of hope: industrious diggers at work and visiting the first shop to be opened in Ishinomaki. It was a brightly-lit grocery store that had been cleared by Peaceboat. I also saw a flower shop that was open, wafting a sweeter scent on the air and displaying rainbow arrangements.