Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Looking for the 'There' There Pt. V

There had been no initial clue as to why the train had been delayed.  After a half-hearted attempt at hitching, I found a taxi driver willing to take me to Morioka.  It was along the way that I learned about the earthquake.  And as my Shinkansen sped its way south, I learned of the tsunami, which at a mere ten centimeters lapped at a pair of harbor towns that had been scoured from existence nearly four years before.

How ironic than that I have chosen this day to continue the walk of the Tohoku coast that I had begun in June.   Due to some incorrect bus information, I wind up in another taxi, headed out to the small village of Onnagawa, nestled between a long low valley and an extremely craggy coast.  Berms are being built up along the former, which I presume had held most of the homes of the inhabitants.  Those who survived are being housed in a long row of shelters that must hold a hundred households, the sounds of which carry out over the rice fields that had for centuries heard little more than the hushed whisper of rice stalks. 

My driver tells me that this cab is one of eight donated to Ishinomaki by Okayama Prefecture.  When I had entered the taxi, he asked why I wished to go out to Onnagawa.  Last summer I had been too sheepish and ashamed to tell people why I was doing this walk, but today I apologetically confess that I am thinking about writing a book about the region's reconstruction.  So he drives slowly and thoughtfully, narrating along the way.  Where all I see is empty expanse stretching toward the east, he sees six decades of memory.   The pair of schools, the shops, the neighborhoods, all peopled by those now gone elsewhere.  I don't have the nerve to ask his story.  I don't dare.    

As we drive, I keep changing my destination. Part of the reason is that it has begun to rain, which had been a constant during those few days I'd spent walking in Iwate.  It seems fitting somehow.   And I'm again beginning to question my motives for coming.  Somewhere between last summer and today, I no longer remember the point.  

So I ride on, both road sides empty and green; the right side all neat rows of stubbled rice paddies, the left a twist of weeds and the odd squared foundation.  Will anyone ever return to claim this land?  

I arrive finally at a train station, serviced only by a few buses daily.  We parallel the rail line, past the air base that is the home to Japan's Blue Impulse air demonstration team, their bright and shiny machines parked atop high berms of their own.  On the outskirts of town, I see a handful of men squatting atop a new bridge, putting the finishing touches on the Senseki Line which is due to reopen this spring.  All the new concrete hints at the ferocity of the water that had moved through here, shifting these enormous heavy slabs.  This long low valley must have served as a funnel, for as at Onnagawa, I saw most of the damage in such a terrain.  And as the introduction of the locomotive helped assert over man the importance of clock time, so do these railway workers endure in their metaphoric turning back of the clock's hands.
I get off the bus in Matsushima.  I've guided here numerous times so give the town a miss, but do want to visit Oshima, whose old bridge had washed away, severing the historic link to the poet Basho and the generations of monks who'd confronted life's mysteries in the caves that pockmark the island.  A newly built bridge leads the way. Below me, tour boats trudge up and back, up and back, sluggishly feigning enthusiasm on such a cold wet day.  

I too drag myself toward Shiogama.  This was a particularly nasty piece of road, devoid of any sidewalk or shoulder to protect me from the barrage of trucks racing past.  I could completely understand why Basho had chosen to skip this stage and instead take the boat.  The hissing wake of passing vehicles sweeps me monotonously to a small train platform, and here I will quit for the day.   I've walked most of this next section between here and Tagajo, and less a reprieve for the feet as for the enthusiasm, which never showed up today. 

In yet another taxi the following morning in Tagajo.  Out amongst the hills to the west lies the ruins of what had once served as a sort of northern capital during the Nara period.  Not far away is another row of shelters.  One spring afternoon last year, the sight of a young girl my daughter's age playing amongst them brought tears, as I thought of the lost promise of what could of been. 

Aside from that I see no apparent damage nor reminder of the tsunami, though I know that this town had a significant loss of life.  And again I ride on, ride on, repeated my mantra of "Further, further," like one of Ken Kesey's somnambulic Pranksters.  The continuously poor weather conspires.  My heart is no longer in this walk.

I get out beside Sendai Airport.  Beside it, they are building a park called a Thousand Years of Hope.  They've actually created two hilly berms that resemble the ancient burial mounds of that aforementioned Nara period, upon which people are encouraged to come and watch the project.  These same mounds also serves as evacuation zones built as they are, ten meters high. 

And here beyond them are the new graves shiny and black, tucked into the corner of a large empty space.  This is the third time in two days that I've encountered this.  On what had once been a tidy suburban community, there was now only similarly aligned black stones.  I normally leave them alone, but today I feel I want to pay my respects. Each stone was not for a single person, but for an entire family, all born over a span of decades. And upon a few, rather than surnames, I find sentiment etched in marble: "Hope,"  or  "Souls united for eternity." Most painful are the graves of the children, so many, so many.  And the tears fall again, washed immediately away by the rain.  

And suddenly I'm angry.  What is being done in the memory of these people?  Each stone has been dedicated by a surviving family member, but what is being done for them?  Where are the rebuilt communities, the promise of a new start?  Where can it be found beneath all the talk of the Olympics, of Abenomics, of taking tougher stances against China,  terrorists, or even against a world demanding accountability for wartime 'improprieties,'  for the erosion of a free press, and for nuclear reactors still out of control.  I usually consider myself somewhat pragmatic on the latter topic, but now all I feel is that any talk of reactor restarts is an insult to the memory to these people lying here, and an even greater insult to those displaced nuclear refugees who face the far bigger challenge of living on.  I want to ask these men in government, "Mr. Abe, I know you've visited these stricken communities as a politician, but have you ever once come as a human being?"

My heart is no longer in this walk because my heart is breaking.

And my anger stays with me, as the diggers continue to scrape away at the land.  The question is "What have they been doing all this time," as even this particular project didn't get started until last September.  I'm sure there must be a good reason for the delay.  I know that it has nothing to do with these workmen who have been suffering the elements of various seasons.  But I want someone to explain to me, why has nothing been done out here for the last four years?

And with that, I'm done.  There are no answers here, nothing left to seek. 

But there is still one place left to see...

(Postscript:  A sort of answer can be found here.)

On the turntable:  "The Complete Stax"
On the nighttable:  Kyūya Fukada, "One Hundred Mountains (Martin Hood, trans.)"

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