Part 3: The Festival / Part 4: Oyster Farming / Part 5: Camp Life
At first glance, Ishinomaki looks like a run-down tourist town that has seen better days. Strangely though, there’s an abundance of new, cheap buildings, so presumably it’s on the verge of a revival. Even more strangely, a middle-aged woman on a bicycle sees our bus as we approach and bows. Not many people notice as it’s about seven in the morning, and we left Tokyo around 10pm, and we’ve been travelling all night. I wish I’d been awake enough to respond.
That first impression changes as you get closer to the city centre. The ground is a little dustier and there are cracks in the pavement and open gutters. The statues, from Kamen Rider creator Ishinomori Shoutarou, and found around Manga Road, look fairly polished and warn of watching security cameras. Then there are the buildings. Softbank has a shiny new shop near the station and the convenience store inside said station looks no different from the ones in Tokyo. Gutted shops lie sporadically in between and the covering of the shopping arcade is badly damaged. Some areas flood at high tide.
Go further, and you’ll find the start of the section of the city that was completely flattened. Around 40% of Ishinomaki lies in rubble, with just a few houses barely standing. Unlike the UK, Japanese homes usually have the surname of the occupants listed on the outside. Where the walls are still standing, you can easily read the name of the person who used to live there.
I remember one house, the front was torn off and the clock inside had stopped at the time the tsunami hit. Outside, an empty photo album lay open in the mud, the photos scattered across the road. Beautiful handwriting that gave the precise date, occasion and location. One member of our team bent down to retrieve one of them and placed it on a nearby wall, like you would with a glove, so the owner could find it again some day.
Ishinomaki is no longer in the news in most countries outside Japan, but Tohoku clearly still needs our support. Right now, it’s difficult to tell which charities are reputable — there are charity CDs, wristbands and concerts flying all over the place. So right now, I recommend Second Harvest, which is devoting its energies towards getting food and supplies up north. However, choosing the right smaller-but-reputable charity could help even more.