IDRO Japan's third relief trip to the Oshika Peninsula

IDRO Japan’s third relief trip to the Oshika Peninsula


To move in force to the Oshika peninsula for a joint effort with the Nippon Foundation, Human Shield and the Oshika Fishing Cooperative to gather scattered fishing equipment and clean the shorelines and ports of debris.

The effort:
We departed Kyoto roughly 11 pm in a group of five vehicles, moving north with Team Sake to the outskirts of Sendai City. I doubt if anyone really got any sleep that night, certainly not the drivers. Two persons who had ridden in the vehicle with Team Sake joined us and we said goodbye to two of their vehicles going north, and took the road through Ishinomaki to the Oshika Peninsula, where we went directly to the Town of Kobuchi Hama -originally a town of 180 homes; 30 remain. We arrived in the early afternoon and before setting up camp we immediately unloaded tools and began cleaning an oyster processing facility heavily damaged along the port. We managed most of the two back rooms, digging out the equipment and carting out the mud and debris entirely by hand. At the same time a carpenter friend who had been working in Ishinomaki came out and agreed to complete a bathroom for Mr. S who had been working on expanding his garage with tools and nails we had left him on the last trip. That night we set up our little compound, boys on the edge of the parking lot and women just inside the very creepy forest bordering.

On Monday morning we once again attacked the facility half finished the day before. The tenacity with which people worked surprised me. We were joined later in the day by four members of
Team Sake who were in the area, and later yet by a group of college students from Chiba. We finished the factory completely, including most of the second floor by mid afternoon. Then we moved to where a crane truck was pulling a car from a drainage culvert, and cleared that culvert which had been filled with debris, and cleaned the garden of one of the houses bordering the culvert, separating wood, metal and debris. Return to the base camp found that one of the tents had been blown completely out of its position, and we were forced by the gale force winds that had been blowing since the night before to move all the tents into the shelter of the Blaire Witch Project forest of gnarled strangled trees. We befriended a man from Yokohama named Keisuke who was a volunteer truck driver living in his car in the same parking lot as the camp.

That night I think everyone slept early and soundly!
On Tuesday morning we were joined by the Morgan Stanley 4 with whom we had worked in Ishinomaki before and began the main task of gathering buoys and other fishing equipment scattered or buried during the catastrophe, and collecting oyster cultivation strands. By noon we had cleared most of the wharf on the North Bay so that others with equipment could begin removing heavy debris accumulated along the wharf and in the water. In the afternoon we divided into two teams, one working the wharf, the second demolishing and clearing damaged block walls in several of the surviving homes. Late afternoon the wharf crew had been pushed back by the tide, and we joined forces again to clear around one more house and gather a week or two worth of firewood for one family living in the ruins.

That night we all shared a meal of macaroni, tuna and potato stew with Keisuke, who contributed a six pack which put everyone in the perfect mood to sleep well.

Wednesday after a bit of morning confusion as to where to be assigned, we moved to the south bay, which was completely destroyed, and began clearing debris from the wharf, separating usable equipment, wood, metal, concrete, pavement nets/ropes and debris into various piles for recycling and or burning. One team was tasked with the job of digging out by hand the deep culverts and drainage system which ran pell-mell through the area. We were joined by a large number of people including a bus-load of high school students from Kobe and a gardening crew from Saitama as well as a lone crusader with his backhoe from Nara. It was hot and we went through a lot of water. We did manage to accomplish quite a lot that day. Tsuyoshi and his team, which had been north, joined us with the other four members of Team Sake.

That night four members who had work on Friday returned on the bus with the people from Kobe (Thank you Uji Sensei!) This allowed us one more full day in the area before returning. The following day we continued digging out the drainage system and filling sunken parts of the land with the gravel and mud debris, and sent out a team to search throughout the area for the concrete lids of the drain system so that people would not get hurt falling into them,. Later in the afternoon we worked on clearing out the debris and trees which were floating in the bay, with some members of the local community, a backhoe driver from the Saitama crew and our Nara driver. And last, at the request of one local, not expecting to be able to finish, attacked another drainage system on the far end of the bay, everyone digging like mad, our six,
Team Yoshimura and our backhoe driver from Nara. Together with much effort and a big Ki-Ai we got all 30 meters cleared before dark. Then we said a tearful goodbye to the peoples we had met there, and went back to break down camp in the dark.

We drove mostly through the night, arriving in Kyoto the following morning, and had the cars cleaned out and gear re-distributed and people back home a bit after noon on Friday.

On this trip we gave away 8 cases of water, a dozen deck brushes, hammers, tape measures, handsaws, knives and blades and of course a few bottles of choice Kyoto Sake to the people of Kobuchihama. And a special thanks from one six month old baby who showed up bright and early the next morning wearing some of the baby clothes donated quietly by one of our members.


It is becoming clear to me a policy or philosophy somehow inherent in my personal attempts that it is important we do not create reliance upon outsiders, but assist the local people in their own rebuilding efforts. The last time we brought tools to the area for distribution, so that they might begin rebuilding while we were not there, and returned to find one man who had built a whole house out of the wreckage with the tools we had provided. Another man had added a kitchen and the beginnings of a bath house onto his garage, which had become his house, and we were fortunate that Kokuryu san from Kameoka was there to help fit out the bathhouse with a wood fired tub system made from scratch. And of course, this is only in one town of many we had visited on the last trip distributing tools and the site of these things being used was welcome.

Every day, no matter where we worked, we were working with members of the fishing cooperative or members of the local community. Still there were times when there were only perhaps a dozen or so of us spread out over the acres of rubble. Certainly there were not many volunteers out on the peninsula.

On this trip we were never more than a 20 minute walk from our camp, and never had to move, getting the last supplies as we passed through Ishinomaki on the way in to town. That is largely thanks to the groundwork laid on the last trip, and the fact we were working on a specific task, which is the ideal way to work in this area.

I hope to maintain contact with the people in the area, both local and those heading up relief operations so that we can remain as effective in coming trips as well as helping place people who are going North in places they will be useful.
One story told us this time was by an old man, as we were standing next to some ruins in the South Bay. He said: That ruin there used to be my house, and I was a child when it was heavily damaged by the Chilean Tsunami years ago. Never again said I, and sold the house when I was able to buy a house further up the hill you see (and he gestured to a place much higher up on the hill in the distance). It did no good, as is apparent; I never thought it would go up that high…. And looking up the hill, you were struck by the thought of how high the water went. In fact, the 15 minute walk inland up that same hill from the bay to our camp is a true shocker, as we were parked far above the bay near a convenience store, which was wiped out by the wave, perhaps 20 to 30 meters above sea level and a kilometer inland! That is taller than a ten story building!

We are looking forward to getting started on the Washing Machine and Microwave project!

Thanks go to:

Mr. Tanaka of Kankaku-Do and Chris Rowthorne (travel writer) and Veljko Dujin of the Morikami Museum for their generous assistance with which we again bought tools for distribution and helped defray the cost of transporting 11 people to the area. Members of the team also pitched in with some support for fuel and tolls.
Kyoto University for their generous donation of 10 cases of water, of which we kept two for the volunteers, the rest were distributed.
Mike Barr of the Sakara Ryokan loaned us sleeping mats and a chainsaw with fuel which came in very handy when pulling in trees out of the bay.
Of course Angus has once again been working overtime on the website, and provided us with one of the tents, and Robert Seltman loaned us a half dozen sleeping bags.
A third anonymous donator gave us a tent, chairs and table which were all very much appreciated. Brett Peary has been creating a spider web of Networking tools for the group, and a new member, Hiroko Kawano is working on translating these long reports into Japanese for the website.

And as I type this, my long suffering wife is preparing another round of coffee for the meeting tonight.