The last day of my time in Tohoku with the Hawaii counseling team, Dr. Sharon and I spent the day visiting church and neighbor friends from the two years that Eric and I spent there. It was such a special opportunity – I had prayed over the last months for a chance to visit and was so very thankful for the chance.
Our friend Kazue picked us up at a Sendai train station and from there the rest of the team went on to another appointment. Before that, however, Dr. George presented Kazue with a money gift from a church in Pennsylvania that asked the donation to be given to tsunami victims in Sendai. Everyone felt good about the gift going to Kazue. About ten different families/friends of ours had previously given her a generous gift – she used it to buy necessary household supplies and purchases for her grandson, now about six months old. But she hadn’t bought any clothes for herself! The team told her they wanted her to buy some clothes. It was really fun during a break in our afternoon schedule to run into Uniqlo, a reasonable Japanese clothes store, and help Kazue find some new clothes! The pink shirt below is one of her purchases – she called it an “Image Change” as she has previously been wearing only grays and blacks. She looked great!
Kazue drove us down along the coast, and we followed the devastation of the tsunami. We drove over a railroad crossing in which the heavy ties of the railway were completely washed away…
We passed the Kirin beer factory- and were told it used to be the highest producer of beer in the country. The tsunami split open the tanks, and she said there were people filling bags with beer all around in the streets….
The day after we returned to Sanda, I saw a car parked in a field and I thought, “Oh, they haven’t towed that yet.” I was so used to seeing smashed cars, trucks, and vans everywhere up in Tohoku.
And then we got to Kazue’s neighborhood. It was a relatively new complex, with nice homes relatively close together. There was a landmark gas station and convenience store on the two corners of the complex. The gas station is quite smashed up; the convenience store is no longer to be found anywhere.
When we approached the neighborhood of her house, I was stunned. I think to date it is the most shocking scene from the tsunami that I have seen. The whole neighborhood was cleared out. Perhaps one house in a hundred was left standing.
We drove up and parked in front of Kazue’s home (above). There was no home – just the bottom shell that showed the outline of the house. As Sharon and I got out of the car, Kazue went ahead of us and stood in the place where her front door had been. Gesturing towards the previous inside of the house, she said in typical Japanese hostess-like fashion, with a serious face, “Please come in. There isn’t much, and it’s not so clean, but welcome to my home!” We all cracked up. This is one of the reasons we love Kazue – despite a lot of loss the past few months, she has rolled with the punches and has not held on too tightly to any of the “things” in her life. Instead, she commented several times how thankful she is to know Jesus and the comfort and love that He brings to her.
Across the street from Kazue’s home, was this mangled car.
Near Kazue’s neighborhood was this elementary school. All the children who were attending school at the time of the tsunami survived; the children who were sick or absent that day all died. But those who were in the school were taken up to the roof, where they watched the fury unfold.
We drove to the nearby sea, and over the course of a few minutes saw numerous individuals and families also come to remember, to grieve, to leave memorials for the loved ones who were washed away. It was quite heart-breaking.
Kazue’s daughter and grandson are staying in one of the temporary shelters the government has built in various places across the prefecture. They look like tiny little doll houses almost, but I’m sure they are much better than staying with several hundred in a school gym.
It was so good to be with dear friends who have gone through so much! They each went around the table and shared with Sharon and I where they were when the earthquake hit. They each, and all, confirmed that it was an earthquake like nothing they have ever experienced before.
For dinner Kazue had organized a wonderful event at a Japanese restaurant with some of the women from our neighborhood who we had loved dearly. It touched me so deeply to be with these friends! We laughed, and cried, and shared struggles and joys. They, too, each shared some of their recent experiences. This area of Sendai where we had lived missed being hit by the tsunami by just one kilometer, but the earthquake had left significant damage to all of their homes. Unfortunately, if the homes are not declared unlivable by the government, they do not receive much financial help and several of them are not sure how they will make ends meet to be able to fix up their homes.
My dear friend Kyoko drove us to the Sendai station where we had to say goodbye at the end of the evening to her and Kazue. It was a bittersweet ending. Kyoko hugged me, and then suddenly her whole body went limp as she just held onto me for dear life. Her sobs were quiet but real. She kept apologizing through her tears, saying that her losses could not compare to that of Kazue’s, so she didn’t have any right to cry so. I just held on until the sobs stopped. Her losses have been different, but nonetheless great. Her husband had left her several years ago; her children have grown and moved out of the home, she has been living with her mother who has dimensia, she needs to handle the repairs on their damaged home. I am so thankful that she shared her burdens with me, that our friendship is sustained across the miles and disasters.
As we laughed through our tears, she told me that for several days after the tsunami she thought Kazue was dead. Most could not get cell reception (nor recharge their cell phones if they could); she knew that Kazue’s area of Arahama was washed away. Two days later, she heard a knock on her door – it was Kazue. She said she nearly fainted. Kazue then interrupted and said, “I had to come over! I had no clean underwear and you were the only one I could ask to borrow some of your used ones!” Cheers to good friends.