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A story of sledgehammers and putrid seafood...




1:00 a.m. Sunday morning find me packing. My friends have started a volunteer group, which we are hoping to turn into a proper NPO. They make weekend trips up to Ishinomaki, a town 6 hours from us, which was hit by the March 11th tsunami. This is my second trip. Hardhat, rubber work boots, and food are packed and ready to go.

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I take a shower. I waited as late as possible, because it will be a long, sweaty, dirty while until my next one.

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Adjust my hardhat, which I HAD to make cute with stickers. (I actually haven't had to use it yet, but maybe next time...)

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The owner of a local English school has offered to drive us there in his school bus. We head out at 2 a.m. A few hours into the trip, the roads get VERY bumpy. The big quake has left them damaged. Despite bumps which make us rise 6 inches off our seats, this guy sleeps through the entire ride, on the floor no less. Ha ha.

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We drive north, through Fukushima prefecture. (We don't enter the "danger zone," but I still wouldn't exactly get out if it were raining there.) The sun rises as we get closer to Ishinomaki. We see some really lovely views of coastal Japan.


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We finally make it to our destination. Believe it or not, things look a lot better than they did when I was here three weeks ago. The massive piles of debris are still here, but most of the randomly-placed, busted up cars which were EVERYWHERE last time have been taken away, and the streets and sidewalks are clearer. Electricity was restored last week. Things are slowly getting better. This makes me happy.


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The roads still need repairing. This is where the ground shifted in the quake. It is deeper than it looks in this pic.

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I take a look around the neighborhood. It really does look a bit better than last time.

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This house amazes me each time I see it... how is it still standing??? Incredible.

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Still lots of work to do, though.

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We meet up with Kosuke, my friend who started the group, and some others. They came yesterday, and camped out in Mr. Abe's house overnight. Mr. Abe is one of the first people the group helped. He survived the tsunami, but watched from the second floor of his home as it happened. Afterwards, he felt totally hopeless. He wanted to demolish his house and move somewhere else. After the group helped him clear out his house and yard, he changed his mind. Now he wants to keep his home, and says he doesn't feel so hopeless any more. We use his place as headquarters every time we come now. He's quite an amazing guy, and always welcomes us. We chill in his driveway before starting work.

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This is a safe Abe-san found in the wreckage, now being used as his firepit. We're heating water for coffee. Even though electricity was restored last week, his kitchen was washed away, so this is how he boils water and cooks.

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By Abe-san's house; there used to be a truck wedged in here. I wish I could have seen how they removed it... must have been a hell of a job.

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This is Abe-san's neighbors' house. The group cleared it out last week. The difference is unreal. Nice work, guys!

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The group gives Kevin a gag gift: a way-too-small tank top with the group logo on it. Kevin being Kevin, he wears it all day, lol. Watch out, ladies! *smirk*

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After coffee and breakfast, we split into two groups and head out to today's jobs. My group's task: clear out this creek, so the water can flow freely again.

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A hell of a lot of work awaits us.

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Nothing to do but get started. We first haul out all the junk, and pile it up so trucks can later take it away.

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There is tons of random stuff, washed in from who knows where. This is a trash can from a convenience store.

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Finding personal belongings is the hardest part.

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One guy found a wedding ring. I found this stack of pictures, still in good shape. No way to know who they belong to, though.

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The lady who owns this land brings us ice coffee, and tells us that the girls are welcome to use her bathroom. "But you men, well... you can go anywhere!" she says. ;) We take a quick break and get back to work.

This bag is full of putrified nastiness. There was a seafood factory in town, so we find all these bags full of squid, octopus, and fish which have been sitting in this creek, rotting in the water and sun, for two months... you can imagine the stench. We all gag, and I have to move away...

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Underneath all that junk was a concrete wall which had falled in. That means lots of fun with sledgehammers.

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Awwww yeahhh... (Ha ha... we always kid around with Lyndon about being a ladies man, on account of his silky smooth Barry White baritone.)

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Lots of mud to shovel out as well. My arms feel like absolute jelly today. Then we all worked together to move this SUPER HEAVY gas tank. (We are faking it in this pic, though, ha ha.) We pushed and the guys pulled. It was HEAVY, yo.

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We pulled a bunch of wet tatami mats out of the creek. Waterlogged tatami are OMFG SO HEAVY. Imagine 3 king sized mattresses stacked up... yeah. Even trickier when pulling them out of a nasty creek with steep banks.

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At last, lunchtime. Lyndon gives out foot massages. For ladies only, of course. ;)

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And my bf looks super cute hiding from the sun.

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Back to put the finishing touches on the creek. We were going to start clearing out this field as well, but it isn't safe to do so yet. Last time we were here, it was covered with water. It has begun to dry out, but the ground is still so wet that you sink up to your calves, so we can't really walk through it yet. Another job for another day.

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We head out around 5, as it's a long drive home, and most of us have work on Monday. I see lots of heavy equipment, which is good. It's nice to see that serious cleanup has begun.

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There is still so much to be done, though.

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Heading out. It used to be such a beautiful place to live. I hope that it will be again, someday.

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A six-hour drive brings us home. I go home, drop my stuff, take the best shower of my life, and PASS OUT. All in all, it was a pretty awesome day in the life. I'll be back soon, Ishinomaki. :)

Date: 2011-05-16 06:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lanitha.livejournal.com
I applaud you for your work! It must be helpful to at least see some progress...
Are you going to post the pictures on Facebook? I heard (perhaps it was you that mentioned it) there's a special page for getting things like photographs and other personal belongings back to their owners.

Date: 2011-05-17 05:52 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] snapes-mistress.livejournal.com
I'll look into that, thanks!
(deleted comment)

Date: 2011-05-17 05:45 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] snapes-mistress.livejournal.com
It really is amazing how much progress is made each time I go. Some people even have their gardens replanted.

Date: 2011-05-16 09:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] akemi-rei.livejournal.com
That's pretty awesome, what you guys are doing there. Disasters suck, but when you have a ton of people doing clean up like you guys are, getting back to normal must be a lot easier for the people you're helping

Date: 2011-05-17 05:49 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] snapes-mistress.livejournal.com
I'm lucky to know the people who organized it. My friend Kosuke got tired of sitting around, wondering how he could help, so he just drove there on a whim, and walked around talking to the locals, til he figured out where to go and what to do. Since we've been coming, a lot of the locals tell us they have changed their minds about foreigners... most of our group are not Japanese. Any preconceptions they may have had, they've let go of. That makes me feel pretty nice. :D

Date: 2011-05-16 09:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] robio.livejournal.com
Thanks for posting this (and doing the work too). The news isn't interested in reporting it much anymore so it's nice to see exactly what's going on in the disaster area.

Date: 2011-05-17 05:51 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] snapes-mistress.livejournal.com
No problem, I'm sure I'll be posting more later. :D

Date: 2011-05-17 08:22 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] http://users.livejournal.com/_kataomoi_/
YOUR BOYFRIEND IS SUPER CUTE WITH THE TOWEL ON HIS HEAD. :D

Date: 2011-05-19 04:32 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] snapes-mistress.livejournal.com
Hee hee, yeah, I thought so, too, but I'm a bit biased... ;)

Date: 2011-05-21 07:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] heartshurt.livejournal.com
I think it's amazing you guys are doing all this work. You watch things on the news, but you don't really get how much impact it had on people's lives. Those pictures of Stitch and the stack of photos made me so sad :(

Date: 2011-05-24 04:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] snapes-mistress.livejournal.com
Totally. My first trip up was pretty overwhelming. I found so many personal things, inlcuding a baby's chair. That was the one that made me tear up a bit. Finding photos is always hard, because I always wonder, did the people in the pictures survive?

I'm often thankful for the language barrier. I've heard stories from survivors secondhand, translated by my friends. That's bad enough. I'm almost glad I can't communicate on a high enough level to talk to people about what it was like.

Date: 2012-01-07 01:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] goffburd.livejournal.com
That is amazing - you're doing such good work - that's all I can say really - I'm slightly overwhelmed!

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