Tokyobling's Blog

Inside Kadowaki Elementary School

Posted in Places by tokyobling on April 13, 2011

This is going to be a massive post. It’s just too painful too keep coming back to this place, even if it is only photos. I’m glad I saw what I did, but it will be awhile until I can return to my normal self again. This is the school as I saw it, abandoned and untouched, frozen in time after the last fires were put out and the evacuation completed. I took these on April 2, quite some time after the disaster, but not long after the area was declared safe by the search and rescue teams.

The people who took me there told me that the school will never be used again, even though the building is structurally intact. On April 10th, some teachers organized a return to the school to retrieve personal belongings and to salvage what they could. At least the kids seemed to enjoy that. Worst hit were the ground floor offices and the top floor where the sixth graders had their homerooms. For some reason, the principal had locked all the grades and graduation documents in a safe prior to the disaster and some people told me that it survived the tsunami and the fire.

I made a Picasa gallery of all these photos, and some others. Most of them have GPS information so you can follow the route I took from Tokyo to the school. Of course there were plenty of stops and things I didn’t take photos of. These photo are completely unedited and at full size. If you want to use any of them for publication let me know first thanks.

If you want to see what the area used to look like before the disaster, please have a look using Google Street View, searching for the address 宮城県石巻市門脇町2丁目 and then clicking “maps”, and finally “street view”. I started too but it’s just painful to see the difference between then and now. Here is what the school used to look like, at the main gate.

This is the first of the photos showing the inside of the school, this is the main entrance where students and visitors would remove their outside shoes and change into the indoor shoes or slippers. The mud is mixed with ash from the fire.

First corridor, looking east. You can see the decoration put up by students and teachers to celebrate the graduation.

A blackboard outside the teacher’s office with diplomas and certificates, photos proudly displayed. Some fire damage.

An administrative office, much like thousands of other Japanese elementary schools.

A fire damaged space for washing up in the ground floor corridor.

Outside of the school, just next is the garbled remains of a buddhist cemetary.

The entrance to the school gymnasium. Largely intact but water damaged. Someone has tried to save the big taiko drum from the mud and water.

Inside the gymnasium. Mud everywhere, but building is intact and mostly undamaged. This is because it was situated on higher ground and shielded from the burning cars by the cemetery.

The stage. Classes had just ended and sixth graders together with teachers were just getting ready to prepare the gymnasium for next week’s graduation ceremony.

Time has stopped. The earthquake struck on 14:46, at about 14:49 power supply was interrupted and the clock is not moving any more.

The handwritten sign is by the 5th graders and read “6th graders, thank you for all the memories”.

Back in the main school building. This is the nurses office and the counsellor’s room. First aid kits, physical equipment lays scattered.

A classroom on the ground floor. The tsunami washed away all that was written on the black board.

A writing practice book belonging to little Sakurai. I hope he is ok.

The children had just finished math class and were probably getting ready to leave when the earthquake struck. The teacher had collected a pile homework to check. The text on the blackboard tells us the date, March 11th, and that Hayate and Yuu were on homeroom duty. One boy and one girl to help out with small tasks in the class room, this rotates every week or in some schools every day.

View from third floor, swimming pool and school yard.

Indoor shoe covered in mud and sand.

This student had better hand writing than most English native speakers and better than mine, certainly.

19 Responses

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  1. Åretruntparadiset said, on April 13, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    I’ve read your posts for a while but somehow even your recent posts did not affect me or really reach me, but now… The pictures from the school were like a punch in the stomach and my tears started running and I am still sobbing. Thank you for showing this and by that giving me the possibility to appreciate all the things I have and take for granted. My daughter is preparing for graduation too, but in another part of the world (Montreal, Quebec). Thank you again for sharing.


    • tokyobling said, on April 13, 2011 at 12:39 pm

      Thank you. It was hard to write this blog post but I feel that the world must not forget. And if it helps us not to take things for granted then that’s even better. The things I show in these photos are not that bad, it’s the things you can’t see that is painful. The missing kids and their missing homes, families.


  2. misscappuccino said, on April 13, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    These photos were … very disturbing but necessary.

    Some rooms look intact. I hope most people managed to gather there in time.

    Thank you for sharing, it must be very painful for you…


    • tokyobling said, on April 15, 2011 at 5:55 am

      From what I have heard most students who evacuated the school are safe today. Some students on their way home after school had ended (just minutes before the quake) are still missing.

      Thank you for the kind comment.


  3. Julie (JUURI) said, on April 13, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    O for the firs time I can’t bear to look at your photos. I am so proud of you for going up there and helping out. I so wish I could be there too.


    • tokyobling said, on April 15, 2011 at 5:57 am

      Thank you. I am only doing what I can and only because I could. I am not in the least frightened about the earthquakes or the nuclear power plant, I fear much more for the mental and physical well being of the survivors. The real battle has only just started. A disaster strikes in a couple of moments, but lasts a very long time.


  4. kazuhito said, on April 13, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    This is tough! My thoughts are with Japan at this time and I am very thankful for you for sharing your eyes as you showed us the damages.


    • tokyobling said, on April 15, 2011 at 5:58 am

      Thank you Kazuhito, it’s important that we keep thinking of the survivors, and not get sidetracked by needlessly worrying about minor things like aftershocks and such.


  5. pk1154 said, on April 13, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    I have never been in a Japanese school, but I have spent hours in them, watching anime or playing games. More familiar than my own long-ago elementary school.

    The less-damaged rooms are even more poignant than the areas which were totally destroyed.

    This morning on NHK World, there was a feature article about orphaned school children (because so many were at school, in strong buildings, farther inland while their parents were at work in the port areas). Ah, so sad, so sad…


    • tokyobling said, on April 15, 2011 at 6:00 am

      I have spent quite some time in Japanese schools and the fact that they are all so similar is what makes it so personally difficult to see these photos. It could have been any school, anywhere. I totally agree, the untouched rooms are the worst to see. Even though most students made it out safely.

      I read somewhere that 82 children have lost both parents. I hope they don’t have to go through the stigma of being orphaned. Japan can be rough in those matters.


  6. fritz said, on April 13, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    thank you for reminding us of the real tragic that was the tsunami. it wasn’t just numbers or statistics. it was real and affecting everyone and everything.


    • tokyobling said, on April 15, 2011 at 6:01 am

      Thank you Fritz. And still affecting us all. Some people have close their eyes and hearts to this already, but we mustn’t forget.


  7. Cécy said, on April 15, 2011 at 11:35 am

    I think what’s most shocking is to see the difference between the spare rooms and the completly destoryed ones. I can still imagine children walking in the spare ones, they are bright and joyful, but then there are chard, muddy, destroyed. Seeing those I can understand why they wouldn’t want to go back there. How could you forget such visions?


    • tokyobling said, on April 19, 2011 at 6:40 am

      Thank you for the comment Cecy. I know, I don’t want to go back there and I only went once. I have nightmares about earthquakes these days, and I am an adult who was safe in Tokyo when the earthquake happened. I can only imagine how the kids are feeling inside.

      Most of the refugee shelters have no electricity, and the surrounding area is under a blackout to conserve energy, which means that when night falls, there are no lights and no sounds. It is a terrible feeling to having to spend the night in the middle of ruined city that is so quiet and still. At least I could escape from there but the locals are not so lucky.


  8. lina said, on April 16, 2011 at 1:42 am

    I get chills just by looking at these photos, and tears came out.

    Such devastation.


    • tokyobling said, on April 19, 2011 at 6:44 am

      Thank you Iina, me too. I don’t look at these anymore. Just posted and that’s it. It’s too hard.


  9. Lili said, on April 16, 2011 at 5:11 pm

    Terrible and heartbreaking pics ..
    I’m so sad and speechless
    I wish I was there , beeing able to bring some help!
    I admire your action


    • tokyobling said, on April 19, 2011 at 6:47 am

      Thank you Lili. The only thing you can do from your country is to continue to offer us support! And in the future, when exports from Tohoku begins again, maybe do a little bit of support shopping!


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