Oct 24 2012

Tsunami disaster area, Ishinomaki – Minamisanriku – Kesennuma

telefrogEven though a typhoon is approaching I reach my next host Henry nearby Ishinomaki, mainly dry. When trying to call him from a phone booth I almost splat a small frog sitting on the dial pad. I can’t believe my eyes. He was lucky. I almost dialed M for murder. But I have to admit this color scheme fits quite well to the green corporate design of Japanese’s national phone network NTT. What a slick marketing trick.


The next day Henry and his friend Mike guide me through the area hit by the tsunami.

The tough time lies ahead of me. I reached the strip of coast hit worse by the 3/11 tsunami and will cycle all the way through it until I reach Aomori prefecture in the very north of Japan’s main island, Honshu. I do this knowing that I did not find a single host there, and will have a hard time finding accommodation.


Tsunami warning sign

Tsunami warning sign

However in my first town Minamisanriku I am lucky, as there is a little elevated peninsula which was mainly spared by the tsunami. Luckily there is also a little ryokan (cheap Japanese style hostel). So for today finding accommodation was just a minor matter, especially against the problem I am facing now: when asking for the way I am being told that it’s still about one hour to the hostel. Also the man is nice enough to let me know that the typhoon heading towards the coast has accelerated. Just now I’m realizing that it was a really silly/stupid decision to cross this area during typhoon season. Especially now it would not make a lot of sense to have a tent with me, as it would get blown away. So I better hurry because it’s also about to get dark. Of course there are three mountains ahead of me.

I’ve been cycling for 30 minutes now, and a pick-up slows down next to my right. It’s the man I asked for directions. While driving, he points with his thumb to the truck bed and looking at me through his window, waiting for my reaction. Since I don’t want to take the risk of getting blown away by the typhoon, I nod my head. He overtakes me and pulls off into the next bay. It’s already the third time here in Japan that I’ve been offered help from a complete stranger.

Stranger in the night

Stranger in the night


The typhoon passes at night and astonishingly, the next day is completely clear. Perfect conditions for cycling. As the impact of the tsunami is more than a year back, the streets are of course cleared. Sometimes there are detours because the original road was flooded by the sea as the country sank in some parts during the earthquake.


Rubble mountain

Rubble mountain

When cycling through this area I witness uncountable numbers of big rubble and garbage/rubbish mountains. Hundreds of excavators separate the bulky garbage/rubbish. They pile up mountains of rusty and completely deformed cars, or half-rotten wood-like broken bars and splintered furniture. Smaller other deformed metal pipes, filthy plastic parts or musty blankets are being separated manually. The extent of those hills is often as wide as a football field, or even bigger; sometimes they are as tall as a four storey/story building. These hills are ubiquitous!

My next destination Kesennuma resembles an expanse of ruins. For the first time in my life I am in a disaster zone. I only now realize how big the difference is between imagining and experiencing a disaster area. We all saw the terrible pictures on TV, on the internet, news papers and magazines. Probably over a thousand times. Still, nothing of that shows anywhere near the full scale of devastation here. I have to experience this especially when searching for accommodation, but I’m lucky, and find a hostel some distance from the sea.

Leftover in Minamisanriku

Leftover in Minamisanriku

Special thanks to: Mattew Hahn, Travis Haby (text revision), Henry Ngai, Tori & Kyle Sharpe (all U.S.A.) Mike Onotera, (Canada), Hubertus Neidhart from Webspace Provider Network for excellent web page hosting services; Lilith Pendzich

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