Six Months Later – Part Two

Posted by on Sep 29, 2011 in Miyagi, Travel Volunteer Journey | 5 Comments
Six Months Later – Part Two

At 2.46pm on 11th March, about half a minute into the earthquake, Yoko Matsumoto was evacuated from the third floor of her office block and into a public park with hundreds of other people in central Sendai. The world shook for another 90 seconds, glass cracking, pavements rupturing. Soon a tsunami warning would ring out.

People looked to the sky, the only stable thing around them, and it began to snow.

Yoko, now our guide, told us all this as we looked out across the city from the old castle site, trying to guess where the damage might have occurred. Half a year is a long time in Tohoku’s biggest city and only a few traces of the event remain. From this vantage point, the only tell-tale sign is a fallen golden kite from the top of a nearby war memorial.

Following the earthquake and tsunami, the power stayed off in Sendai for a few days, and the gas was out for nearly a month. Train lines were buckled, roads ruined, and most things close to the shore flooded. A handful of ancient buildings were damaged. Innumerable inconveniences and delays were caused, but, overall, it wasn’t a catastrophe.

As we drove around Ishinomaki six months later, it was quickly clear that not everywhere got off so lightly. Only an hour’s drive away, to new-comers the scene near the Minamihama and Kadonowaki neighbourhoods looks like a ramshackle construction site. For people who’ve been here from the start, though, that is amazing progress.

As he showed us around the neighbourhood, Tetsuya apologised for being a little tired, blaming our “late night business meeting.” I too apologised for being more subdued: sleeping on the floor of a tent had been uncomfortable and cold, never mind the fire-side drinking. Regardless, the man from Kyoto was proud to show us around the first house he helped to clear months earlier. The place was bare, but clean and structurally sound. The owner had survived and was considering whether or not to move back.

From there, Tetsuya drove us to a little shrine to the dead in the middle of a great flat expanse. The concrete foundation was adorned with the belongings, every day knicknacks from lost lives. 

The initial waves tore through Minamihama picking up houses whole, their walls stronger than their connection to the ground itself. The tsunami then threw everything into the side a hill half a mile or so back from the shore, and rebounded back out to sea where it was met by other incoming waves. The collisions had a devastating affect on the sunken neighbourhood below; virtually everything was destroyed or damaged, the ground excoriated. It was as though a Titan had taken a steel brush to the flesh of the earth.

“What did you feel when you first got here?” Asked Katy with tears in her eyes as we approached the memorial. “Well how do you feel?” said Tetsuya, initially laughing, then bursting into sudden tears: “It was hell… I thought it would take 100 years to clear it, but here we are after just six months.”

In order for the On The Road team to be efficient, their tasks are divided according to their expertise. For the menial jobs, they work in rotas and shifts. Regardless of their task, they do it with politeness and without complaint.

Being able to meet them was a humbling, almost awkward experience for us. We are travelling around the country, staying in comfortable, even luxurious accommodation; these guys sleep in tents and leave camp at 7am every day. Soon winter will hit this area hard, and the likes of my friend Tetsuya have spent their whole lives in the comparatively warm south.

If our efforts count for anything at all, they will surely be to help the final part of Japan’s recovery, the one in which tourists come back to the country. But these people, the altruistic thousands of volunteers from around the world, were – and continue to be – the first part, the most important.


Our time in Miyagi was made possible by:

The dedication and continued heroism of the On The Road team.  They took time out of their busy lives to show us around and make us feel genuinely welcome in their humble camp. We’d also like to give a special mention to our friend Tetsuya whose mighty company we will never forget.

And the Westin hotel in Sendai. We’ve been fortunate that our jobs have taken us to several of the world’s leading hotel chains over the last few years, but we say without exaggeration that this was one of the very best. Sleek, clean, neat and yet somehow unfussy it was a real pleasure to spend some time there.

Also Ms Yoko Matsumoto who convinced us that grilled beef tongue is actually delicious, and who, in spite of her years, is one of the most hyperactive people we’ve  met. She has a totally understandable fear of belt buckles too – but you’ll need to ask her to tell you the very funny story.









On the Roadでは、効率的にボランティア活動を行うため、それぞれのチームに分かれて任務を行っている。そしてどんな任務にも真摯な態度で臨み、そして誰ひとり文句を言う人はいない。



On the Roadのみなさんの活動に心から敬意を表します。




  1. Si Wei
    October 1, 2011

    This post was so beautifully written, I was so touched and cried when I read it and saw those pictures. It really struck me on how we complained on how not-good-enough our lives are, whilst people in Tohoku are still struggling to get their lives back. I really hope everything goes well with Japan. May God bless all of them.

  2. Michelle
    October 1, 2011

    Well written! Brought tears to my eyes. I wish the people in Tohoku the very best of luck!

  3. Kavey
    October 9, 2011

    Lovely post. x

  4. Free Volunteering
    November 6, 2011

    I think it is great that you have written about such a touching subject; the tragic tsunami has taken many lives and caused immeasurable damage to the lives and psyche of the Japanese people. I am glad you could help to restore their hope for the future – it would have been very easy for them to give up. Well done.

  5. miki
    December 12, 2011

    hi, i just found this blog on the internet.
    i am living in tokyo now but i was born in city is shiogama,near matsusima.most of my family had so difficult time by the earthquake.i can’t describe my feeling when we had it. my sister and i couldn’t catch my family for 3 days because calling didn’t brother just told us to go to ishinomaki for job on that day and couldn’t connect him for a week. it was killing us.
    the most hardest thing was we lost our cousin,he was found out on the rice field one week later from tsunami.
    as you already know we still have to solve many things but i’m really happy about you visited to miyagi.
    your every story is so beautiful.please enjoy your visiting in japan and show us the real view.thank you katy and jamie.
    big smile and happiness,