First Times in Rikuzentakata – 1

 

Iwate Prefecture, Rikuzentakata-City. June 12, 2012

“It’s our first time.” That’s what people in Rikuzentakata say now about many aspects of their lives, 16 months after the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake changed everything.  The magnitude 9.0 earthquake and 15-meter-high tsunami hit this northern town of 23,000 people hard, as roughly 10 percent of the population lost their lives or went missing. Rikuzentakata’s central commercial and government district, along with many houses, sat on a wide plain between the bay and the horseshoe-shaped hills that surround it. The entire area was wiped out when the tsunami swept over the expanse of land that separates the sea from the town’s hills.

The Kannos must let the dirt in well water settle before they can use it in their garden

The Kannos must let the dirt in well water settle before they can use it in their garden

“It’s our first time to grow vegetables and flowers,” says Etsuo Kanno, a retired government employee, as he works with his wife, Fumiko, on the land near where their family’s yard used to be. The Kannos now have two fields, one for a variety of flowers, one for vegetables such as potato and onions. 60 volunteers came in April to help the Kannos remove debris from their fields and till the land so crops can be cultivated.

 

“We didn’t try to do this last year,” says Mrs. Kanno. “We just weren’t in the mood then.”
Kanno Etsuo Fumiko-small

 

Their biggest challenge is irrigation. There’s a well but it wasn’t used prior to the earthquake and dirt now contaminates the well water. The Kannos use the well water in their garden after putting it in containers so the dirt can settle from the water. Still, it’s not enough for both their fields so they truck some of the water in. But they’re excited to produce something while they live in a nearby temporary housing community for tsunami victims.

 

In another area of the plain where the town used to be, Mr. Ito, a wiry man in his 60s, is attempting to grow watermelon on the property where his home stood before the tsunami struck. “I don’t know if watermelon will grow here or not but I’m going to try,” he says of his gardening. Both his house and that of his nephew were on the plain where the tidal wave hit. Mr. Ito fled to the city hall and survived. His nephew went to the fire station, a designated safety evacuation building, but the three-story fire station was engulfed by the tsunami.

Mr. Ito’s Patch Where He’s Attempting to Grow Watermelon

Mr. Ito’s Patch Where He’s Attempting to Grow Watermelon

One local TV news report said that of Rikuzentakata’s 78 designated tsunami safety evacuation zones, 35 were overcome by the 15-meter tidal wave. The evacuation zones, three- to four-story public buildings, were planned anticipating tsunamis no higher than five meters. Just three days before the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, there was a tsunami warning but the wave that came was less than 50 cm. and was easily blocked by the levees that surround the port. So some townspeople were not concerned when they heard the tsunami warning a few days later on March 11, 2011.

 

Mr. Kanno of Kesen-cho

Mr. Kanno of Kesen-cho

On the other side of the Kesen River, another farmer named Kanno, a lean man in his 70s, is tilling his vegetable field. He says he’s received help from the city and the government clearing the soil of debris, but now he’s working alone and there’s only so much he can do. Potatoes, onions, carrots, and a variety of vegetables poke from the ground. His biggest challenge, he says, is the debris still embedded in the dirt. He points at a small pile of garbage, junk that he still finds in his soil.

 

Ito and the Kannos all live in temporary housing units set up last year for those who lost their homes. The facilities are not plush but none of the residents we spoke with voiced any complaints. “If I can live and eat, that’s enough,” says Ito of his accommodations. The number of people living in Rikuzentakata’s temporary housing units has declined since the facilities opened a year ago. Some of the residents moved to other areas, some found alternative local housing. But all the temporary residents we spoke with in the last week, all over 50 and most over 60, expressed no plans to leave anytime soon. Even if one has the money to rebuild, there’s a shortage of local residential land so the residents have no place to go.

Part 2

Published at http://rikutaka.ti-da.net/c184408.html but site is not always accessible outside Japan.