Places Matter

Today I finally got ahold of our friends the Watanabes, who own a lovely ocean-front Japanese hotel up in Ibaraki-ken,  part of the tsunami zone.  They have been special friends for twenty years, back when I was an advisor for summer workers up in northern Japan.  One of the summer workers, Cindy stayed with them for part of the summer, and when I would make the rounds they would have me stay as well.  This picture is with Mrs. Watanabe and her youngest son in their lovely Japanese garden….

Over the last twenty years they have been special friends to our family.  Every few years we have had a chance to stay with them.  Mrs. Watanabe is a beautiful believer, and she has always welcomed us into their hotel as if we were own family.  We have watched their three children grow up;  their oldest has become a manager for their hotel.  The last time we visited we stayed in their new home.  They had finally moved out of the older home attached to the hotel and built a beautiful home overlooking the ocean.

Today, the Watanabes told me that their hotel and their new home were washed away with the tsunami.  She told me that there was the big earthquake, and right after that tsunami warnings.  They had a hotel full of guests;  they quickly loaded everyone up into cars and went inland.  Thirty minutes after the earthquake, six meter waves (about twenty feet) engulfed the shore, rising as high as the shrine up on a tiny mountain overlooking the hotel that we would often hike to.  Everything was destroyed.  Thankfully, however, everyone from the hotel survived.  She also shared that the members of their small little church all survived.

They are hoping to start rebuilding in August.  Even in the midst of this tragedy, Mrs. Watanabe quickly invited our family to come and visit.  I was trying to find out how we could help;  what we could send them; she is inviting us to visit.  There are so many ways that we can look at life;  her outlook amazes me.

They recently celebrated the one-hundred year anniversary of the hotel’s founding by Mrs. Watanabe’s grandparents.  So much heritage, beauty, memories washed away.

I hope we can still visit; help somehow.  I am so relieved and thankful that the Watanabes are all alright.  But I am so so sad that their home is gone;  that the hotel that has been their family’s life and love for one hundred years was eaten up by a twenty foot monster.

I remembered a quote from my research days by Paul Tournier.  He wrote about the importance of place.  I am feeling the pain of so so so many Japanese who have lost their place in the world.  Today somehow it feels overwhelmingly sad.  “It is readily understandable that to be denied a place is to suffer a serious moral trauma.  It is a sort of denial of one’s humanity…. Uprooting:  the word expresses at the same time both the effect of being torn away from the love of one’s fellows and the loss of one’s place in the world”(1966:27).

I talked today to Reiko’s parents up in Fukushima.  Here is a photo (sorry again that its on its side!) from when her parents visited me once when I was at the Watanabe’s hotel.  Wow- maybe about 18 years ago?

On Sunday they had decided to move, but since the gas came back on they are now planning to stay.  They are within the possible danger zone of nuclear radiation, and most of their neighbors have already left.  The water has still not been turned on, so I tried to convince them to come to Sanda for a week or so.  Mrs. Goto explained that the roof was damaged in the earthquake and while waiting for a repairman (in high demand right now) it is just covered by a tarp.  If a strong wind came while they were gone, it could ruin the house.  And she said, for my husband, home is so important.  He would just rather stay…

I sort of get it.  Their place in the world is just so important. I still hope they will choose to get away for awhile, but their home really matters.  I am just so sad that so many in Japan these past few weeks have lost their place in the world….

One p.s. of hope: Mrs. Goto told me this morning that a church came to the neighborhood bringing lots of fresh food. She didn’t even know what church; they were just coming to take care of people who were left behind. Mrs. Goto said they told the church people about their friend Eric who is up in Sendai helping. I don’t know who this church is – but what a beautiful picture this is of the Body staying behind to care.

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