Tokyobling's Blog

Remembering 3.11 – Kesennuma Harbor

Posted in Places by tokyobling on March 11, 2012

So it’s been one full year since the earthquake and still not a day goes by without us thinking about it. Even being safe and sound here in Tokyo during the earthquake and seeing none of the carnage first hand, like most people in the capital I was glued to the news for the first days of the unfolding disaster. I remember walking home from work, helmet in hand in case of after shocks, while watching the news on my cell phone. As darkness fell truly shocking images came in from the port city of Kesennuma on fire from burning ships drifting in over the city drowned in the massive tsunami, and those images were massively more shocking than the earthquake itself for me personally. The days following the earthquake me and many other foreign bloggers fought hard to fight back the ridiculous news coming out of foreign news media. The bank of Japan pumped money into the market to stabilize a completely unrealistic stock market situation, the government of Japan had to route precious resources to calm citizens of Tokyo all the while leaving the people actually stuck in the disaster zone in a worse situation than what would have been necessary if foreign media hadn’t been busy milking the story for every penny it was worth. At the end of March I and a good friend decided enough was enough and we piled as much food and supplies as we could find into a small car and just went up there to see how bad it really was. We did it again in the first days of April, this time with a third friend and a much bigger van, raising a budget of about 8000 USD just by asking friends, friends of friends, and coworkers for donations. A few stores around Tokyo was asked to prepare our orders and we spent a whole evening gathering supplies as not one store had enough of what we needed (at this point there wasn’t any sort of rationing in Tokyo itself, as stores had had plenty of time to restock after the initial buying). From the places we had already visited we knew exactly what supplies they needed. Although we had planned a route of cities to visit we ran out of supplies early on. The farthest north we got on that second trip was to Kesennuma City, the place were those first shocking images were coming from less than three weeks earlier. I took these photos of burnt and damaged ships in the harbor, but up to a certain point the city was in essence destroyed.

Since the day I took these photos I haven’t been able to go back up north and see for myself how much has changed but several of my friends have made it a monthly ritual to spend a weekend work volunteering in the worst hit areas. It is a little surprising to me personally that it felt better to walk in the rubble and see it first hand than to see it on the news or in photos. The scariest part of going there was the journey home and the feeling that you aren’t actually doing enough to help. I still daydream of quitting my job and moving up there permanently, but I doubt that will ever happen. I know things have stabilized a lot in this year, but having seen the area both before and after the earthquake, I still think there are few places in any country as dynamic, as challenging and as interesting as the north of Japan right now. I hope I can visit soon again.

If you want to read my other posts on the earthquake, just go back to March 11, 2011, March 13 2011, and so on, through to April 2011. But much more than the blog posts themselves, the comments are what is interesting as dozens of people wrote words of support, commentary on what was going on, pitching questions, helping out and making sure me and everyone else in what almost felt like a little community (a Tokyobling community?!) for a couple of weeks. Seeing my posts twittered and mentioned on other blogs also really helped lift my spirits. Non mentioned and non forgotten, those comments helped a lot.


22 Responses

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  1. Irina Kolak said, on March 11, 2012 at 3:37 pm

    Huh, it’s been already a year. I saw some reports on some international news channels about how the whole region is recovering. I still remember your posts and photos (some of which I posted on my Facebook page). Thanks for all that, it felt good to have someone like you, with realistic news and quite a different take on everything that happened there.


    • tokyobling said, on March 11, 2012 at 4:39 pm

      It feels like it was yesterday, doesn’t it? Thank you Irina! Having foreign support made it so much easier!


  2. kaori said, on March 11, 2012 at 4:15 pm

    Hi, just wanted to tell you again how much I admire and was grateful for all your efforts post earthquake, especially in trying to fight against the hysterical foreign media and also going out to the devastated areas yourself and taking photos. The photos are so powerful and heartbreaking, more powerful than a lot of the stuff I saw anywhere else. Also I’m sure I’m not the only one whose also grateful because as much as I hold Japan dear to my heart I’m not living there right now, and really appreciated being able to read your updates. Thank you!


    • tokyobling said, on March 11, 2012 at 4:47 pm

      Thank you for the kind words and all your support Kaori! This disaster changed a lot of people here in Japan, me included. Hopefully we all changed for the better. It was hard to look at all the photos I took to find something for this blogpost. I didn’t want to put anything too dramatic, and these were peaceful enough I think.


  3. Marie said, on March 11, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    It’s so strange that it’s already a year ago!


    • tokyobling said, on March 12, 2012 at 2:29 pm

      Isn’t it… it feels like yesterday, still….


  4. Moony said, on March 11, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    It’s incredible, one year passed since then.
    I remember that when everything happened, I was really angered with the international press for trying to spread fear and panic, like if the end of the World was knocking our doors. I thought that the gouvernment was doing right, because to spread panic on your own people, on your own victims isn’t productive nor just at all.
    A year passed and I think that people should now the truth now (specifically speaking about the radiation). People living near the damaged areas, specially.

    My heart goes to all of them. I’ll keep on praying.


    • tokyobling said, on March 12, 2012 at 2:33 pm

      Thank for the kind comment Moony, it warms my heart on a cold winters day!


  5. Emma Reese said, on March 11, 2012 at 10:12 pm

    It was the volunteers in Japan and from overseas who were the first to help the people and are continuing to do so. We got a word this morning from a family in Ishinomaki that my husband got to know last summer. The things are being restored amazingly fast in some parts considering the magnitude of the devastation, but the people are still suffering inside.


    • tokyobling said, on March 12, 2012 at 2:38 pm

      Ishinomaki might not have been the worst hit (I think Onagawa and Rikuzen Takada, Namie, Itatemura, Wakabayashi ward, and some other towns and villages suffered more), but their case was the most depressing for me personally, the state of the city even the two times I visited was just too much to handle for me. That is why I want to do more for them, but I’m stuck here in Tokyo and it is really frustrating to hear from people up there about all the damage still inside people, and the city itself. I hope the people there have the strength and support to do whatever they feel best for their own future.


  6. Coal said, on March 12, 2012 at 1:18 am

    Good to see you were so proactive post quake. Totally agree about all the wasted money that could have been put to good use because of the panic in Tokyo fueled by media hysteria. It was a genuinely frightening time, but doing your best to make calm and reasoned decisions is always the best move.


    • tokyobling said, on March 12, 2012 at 2:40 pm

      Thank you for the kind words Coal. Keep Calm and Carry On, as your government put it 70 years ago! Absolutely, the best thing to do is stay calm, which is what I did as best I could.


  7. dafarmer said, on March 12, 2012 at 6:04 am

    What is up with 11? Sep 11, Mar 11……………..


    • dafarmer said, on March 12, 2012 at 6:07 am

      Doesn’t really compare but I know what you guys went through I went through Hurricane Katrina and picked up other’s pieces. It was an awful event that occurred and I would never wish that on anyone. I do think the people of Japan really found a new light and helped everyone out. I hope the country can heal from this.


      • tokyobling said, on March 12, 2012 at 2:46 pm

        Thank you for your kind words! Did you go there for work? New Orleans looked really sad on TV, but I never trust the media these days, and I never met anyone who was there…


        • dafarmer said, on March 13, 2012 at 1:44 am

          Yes, well for training. I went there right after basic training and the hurricane hit. It was devastating for the community, because one second everything is lights and fun and then next highways are gone and casinos on the bay are almost 3 city blocks in land.


          • tokyobling said, on March 13, 2012 at 1:54 pm

            At least you were able to help, that is really good for you I think…


    • tokyobling said, on March 12, 2012 at 2:44 pm

      Numerologists must be having a blast with that! (^-^;)


  8. pk1154 said, on March 12, 2012 at 12:46 pm

    There ought to be something I could say…but human words are puny things and nature is vast and impersonal.


    • tokyobling said, on March 12, 2012 at 2:47 pm

      I know, I rewrote this post 10 times at least, cutting it in half every time…


  9. Sabine said, on March 14, 2012 at 8:26 pm

    I remember hearing about this news and I was completely heartbroken to hear the devastation from a natural disaster. I wished to have done something but all I could do was make donations to the charity, Japanese Earthquake Appeal.

    Not much is said on the news over here now about what has happened since that time but I always wanted to know of any updates.

    I hope the people who have survived and endured such events will eventually recover, though not fully but as much as they can.


    • tokyobling said, on April 3, 2012 at 8:44 am

      Thank you Sabine, we were all happy for the foreign support. I don’t think these regions will ever go back to the way they were, but hopefully they will become better than before. I think that in all this mess there is a great chance for a more ecological and sustainable community.


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