Return to Matsuyama
I went back to Japan for the New Year celebrations at the end of 2011. It was my first visit to my hometown since the awful natural disaster of last March. I had been getting occasional updates from my people, but I needed to feel my land with my feet and my eyes. So here are a couple of stories to share with Vancouverites who have been working so hard to support Japan for the past year.
I arrived at my house. Yes, thankfully, my house is still there. I opened the sliding door of the genkan and went inside. I didn’t feel warm, literally. Yes, this is a Japanese house with no central heating system. I brought a sekiyu stobu (paraffin heater) to my room, hoping it would heat up the room. I waited for a while, but it didn’t. I ended up wearing my coat all the time when I was in my room. I sat just 50cm away from the heater, but I could still see my breath, and my hands were paralyzed with cold and couldn’t keep typing on the keyboard for more than a couple of minutes. The reason was not simply that my house is an old traditional Japanese-style house and that the winter in Tohoku is severe, but that the doors of the house can’t close tightly as the house is warped from the earthquake. The freezing wind was blowing in the house, and just a paraffin heater was not enough to heat even a 50cm range of space.
I went for a drive around the coast line with my sister. All the rubble has been taken away, but there are no new buildings yet. What I saw was a open flat land with a couple of heavily damaged buildings that survived the tsunami. I also saw mountains of rubble here and there, like the elementary school ground, even 50km away from the coast line, close to my house. My friend told me the amount of the rubble was too much to handle. Indeed, she continued, some other prefectures have offered to take care of some, but transporting the rubble costs a lot, and therefore the rubble is still here and there in this area like small mountains.
A couple of local train stations have not been reconstructed yet. Since I knew there was a station, I could find a sign of the station. However, if you were new to the area, you may not realize that there was one. There is a lot of discussion, not of when the stations are reconstructed, but whether they should be reconstructed at all. This is a depopulated area, so building tracks again means building an unprofitable railway line. Though there are people for whom the railway is their lifeline, with the limited amount of resources, the construction hasn’t started yet.
Friend’s story 1
Knowing I was coming back, a friend of mine had offered to show me around the tsunami-affected area around the coastline. Meeting up, getting in her car, we started driving, but she kept saying let’s drop by at another friend’s place, let’s visit the koto teacher’s place, and so on, and didn’t seem to want to take me there. She confessed that she was reluctant to go to the area. She is one of those who witnessed the area soon after March 11. At that time, she emailed me saying it was just like a bomb dropped in this area. She was fine when she was talking about her own situation at March 11: she couldn’t go back home for a week as all the transportation was stopped and had to stay in her office and its neighbourhood with little more than the clothes on her back. Nevertheless, she still couldn’t head to the tsunami affected area yet. She is not ready to see the area again. So we didn’t go, but dropped by one of our junior high school friends who we hadn’t met since our graduation and surprised her mom.
Friend’s Story 2
I met another friend of mine. She is a daughter of a fisherman and from a town next to Kesennuma, where a huge fire occurred right after the earthquake. She got married a bit before the earthquake, and it was when she was about to send invitations to her wedding reception that the earthquake happened. She first thought to postpone the reception; however, soon after she realized that many people who she was going to invite lost someone close to them as she did. Thinking about what they were going through, she gave up her wedding reception.
I met her at Ginza as she now lives in near Tokyo. She also shared her story about when she was back to hometown for the New Year. She and her husband were walking around town and ran into an old friend of her mom. He was telling her that he hates those “tourists” who come to town and take a lot of photos of this “extraordinary scenery” after the tsunami and just go. He continued, it might be “extraordinary” to them, but for us, it is everyday ordinary scene in which we have life, and we are not having this tough life here to entertain them.
Listening to her story, I questioned myself. What does it mean to take photos and share them? Photos are great media to tell people stories, but at the same time, I wondered what it is like to be an object of strangers’ cameras. Probably, even though I understand the importance of the media, I wouldn’t be happy to be objectified if I, or my loved place and people, was having a hard time. I didn’t bring any photos about the affected area but a photo of a normal scene of my hometown to share with you. Just to introduce you another face of my homeland, Tohoku.
Having said that, I must say that people there are great and working so hard to reconnect to their land and rebuild their town with limited resources. After seeing them, I am positive about the future of Tohoku with their spirit and efforts. They have the strength to face their reality and stand up and keep working for a better life. When I talked about BC Japan Earthquake Relief Fund activities they were so thankful for and moved by how people here were considerate and what was done from here, such a great distance from Tohoku. Now we know that the distance doesn’t matter. There are a lot of things that we can do from here. Hopefully Vancouver can help some portion this year as well.
Kozue Matsumoto is from Matsuyama, Miyagi-ken, Japan, and has been living in Vancouver since 2004. She is a koto/shamisen/shinobue player and a member of BC-JERF.