Raccoons to Ishinomaki

September 19, 2011. Six months and eight days since the great earthquake.

That morning, I was waiting for the first trip of the Shinkansen Hayate headed for Sendai Station from Tokyo Station.

The plan was to distribute an international emergency rations to the children of Ishimaki and to make an inspection of the disaster area. I always fail in cooking, since my eagerness to cook takes precedent over my ability to cook. So it was with a strange feeling of guilt at my interest to make an inspection of the disaster area, I got on the Shinkansen.

The trip to Sendai took more than two hours, so it was not really that far if you think about it. Tokyo had clear weather but as we went northwards, the weather deteriorated, so that by the time we got to Sendai it was raining. Moreover, it was cold! I became worried about the emergency rations.

From Sendai Station up to Ishimaki, it was another two hours or so. We rode on Imanishi-san’s car, which she drove herself. Filled with appreciation, I was nevertheless embarrassed about not being able to drive. In contrast, I admired the wonderful driving abilities of my contemporary Ngoc-san who gave me a ride on the way back.

We arrived at the Akebono meeting place, regrettably a bit later than others who came from the previous day, and as I started to get to work, as predicted, my inadequate cooking abilities got in the way. Leaving everything to Kim-san and Park-san, I helped out in washing the vegetables and boiling water, but ultimately I was made to walk out (?). (Sorry for not being useful!)

We started giving out the food from 12:30. Among the foreign students from different countries who are excellent cooks, I started making Jeon (chijimi), but the local moms just could not bear our pitiful initiative, so we ended up being helped out. It was very impressive to see the method of mass manufacturing using cooking shovels on a flat iron plate. A frying pan would be good for making a nice circle, but I thought that for making a lot, cooking shovels and flat iron plate would be good. Cooking shovels are so good, I bought one at the one-coin shop before going home to Korea. I guess that this could also be considered as the starting point of cultural exchange. Soon, the Japchae cooked by Kim-san and Park-san was served. It was heart-warming to see the children line up and eat with gusto.

As the emergency rations came to an end, after taking a brief rest, we headed to the disaster area that has been designated as a no-development-allowed area. It was a coastal area about 30 minutes away. After looking down at the disaster area from the top of the hill, everyone agreed to directly walk around the disaster area. Taking a look at the same eyelevel, the disaster became a bit more palpable. A huge mountain of debris, destroyed cars, and foundations where buildings used to stand. The fresh holes on buildings left where the Tsunami hit. The deeply injured coast of Ishinomaki was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop. As I stood there, I acutely felt that there was only a thin line between life and death. This thin line became so visible that I felt afraid and a pain in my chest.

However, life once again started there. The roads, which could be called the blood vessels of the earth, were built. It was impressive to see the people building the roads with a silent determination fixed on their face. I felt hope blossoming again at the cheerful disposition of the people monitoring the sea in preparation for the typhoon forecasted to pass nearby the next day, the people of the wood factory working inside the scarred buildings, and the children who enjoyed the meals with gusto.

Photo of the Ishinomaki project

(by Kim Kyongtae, translated by M. Maquito)