Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Looking for the 'There' There Pt. VI

I quit my walk at the perfect time.  The rain grows heavier and heavier and it is with great relief that I find a bus stop.  An hour later I drive past this same spot, in a rented car I picked up back in Sendai.  As I pull onto the highway on the edge of the city, a sign tells me that I can expect to get 1.2 microsieverts of radiation if I were to race through the exclusion zone at 80 kph.

But for now, that is far away, yet growing closer as the car points south.

And to the east, the sea walls stretches on and on and on.  Although it is being built at a more human scale than up in Iwate, I have yet to see the water, despite being only 100 meters from the sea.  There doesn't appear anything for miles around to protect.  This shoreline is a series of lakes and canals, most of the land beneath being swamp land.  It didn't look farmable, not a place of habitation.  But anytime I wonder if there had ever been anyone living out here, I'll come across a gutted house, an abandoned school. Beside one of the latter is a 'thousand year' memorial stone.  I'm 350 kilometers south of where I started this walk.  The scale of the waves, of the destruction, is enormous.  

I keep driving south on Route 6, into areas whose names I recognize from the news.  I'm not sure how far I'll drive.  I'll turn around the moment I begin to see people in masks, or god forbid, a Hazmat suit.  And while the number of obviously abandoned homes and businesses was increasing, a good number still had lights on, beneath which people went about their day.  

Not much later, I'm getting into areas that I know are within the exclusion zone,  open to residents to spend the day, but not the night.  Workmen wave their traffic wands, without masks.   Few drivers coming from the other direction are wearing masks either. The smiles of a trio of policemen are visible as they investigate a minor accident.  A handful of people eat their lunch in a small restaurant. Yet amidst this is the view of tsunami damaged businesses, including one with a sign saying 'open year-round.'  A Family Mart has been abandoned, its fully stocked shelves visible through the windows.  At a Lawson's a block away, it is business as usual.  

One entire shopping plaza has been barricaded, and policemen stand at the turn-offs to residential areas, both to deter looters I suppose.  Police cars slowly cruise other roads off in the distance.  Here and there are signs warning us of cows or other livestock suddenly entering the road.  The town hall has a large sign offering free radiation screenings.

I plan to turn around well before this.  I will drive right up to the barricade, manned or unmanned, telling me that all beyond was unsafe and off-limits.   That is how I have already scripted the true end to this journey. 

And I'm wondering just where this checkpoint is going to pop up, when I notice the name Fukushima Daiichi Reactor slide into the corner of the car's GPS.   Then the towers themselves well up out of the grey mist.  My heart, already wary and nervous, nearly stops.  I calm myself somewhat in remembering the article about the bus services that recommenced just three weeks before. (What I hadn't known was that this Route 6 had reopened to all thru-traffic last September.)  Riders were expected to receive 1.2 microsieverts per trip, which is what I assumed I now got.  To put it into perspective, I received a hundred times that dose when I flew from Tokyo to New York last autumn.  At any rate, a quick check of the Geiger counter back at my hotel later proved to read far less. 

But I didn't know that at the time.  I wheel the car around as quickly as possible, using the main driveway that leads down to the stricken plant.  The snow begins to fall thickly and softly upon my windshield, blurring somewhat the view of the guardman waving his baton, the diners happily munching away in the restaurant, and other scenes in what is now the new normal.  

On the turntable:   "Martin Scorsese Presents Jazz"

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