Interview with tsunami survivor, Ms Sakuma Ikuko
We had the opportunity to speak with tsunami survivor, Ms Sakuma Ikuko, 7th generation owner of the ‘Shunchinrou’ restaurant in Ishinomaki. Steeped in history, this restaurant has been a purveyor of fine Japanese cuisine since its establishment in 1855.
Located in the center of Ishinomaki, the first floor of this historic establishment suffered extensive damage from the tsunami. Thankfully, the second floor of the building was left largely intact. The 80 ‘tatami mat’ sized main dining hall was unharmed (‘tatami mat’ is a traditional Japanese unit of measurement – 80 ‘tatami mats’ is roughly 135 square meters).
Ms Sakuma spoke about her fears. She still vividly recalls the tsunami waves crashing in and destroying everything in its path. She was very reticent to return to ‘Shunchinrou’ initially because of this dark memory. However, it was the Peace Boat volunteers who gave her the strength to return to ‘Shunchinrou’ and leave the evacuation center.
“I was one of the lucky ones to have not been killed. I owe a lot, and I cannot ever take my life for granted now,” she says. “I really appreciate the work being carried out by Peace Boat, and I want them to know that. So that’s why we are letting the volunteers stay in our main dining hall!” (42 volunteers from the 6th dispatch team to Ishinomaki used the ‘Shunchinrou’ main dining hall for sleeping.)
When the first tsunami hit, Ms Sakuma evacuated to the third floor roof of the restaurant. She recalls seeing people being carried away by the waves, and screaming for help. Even over the horrific roar of the waves and high winds she could hear the terrifying screams…
One person was miraculously able to climb their way up to the third floor despite the torrents. Ms Sakuma mustered up all her strength to help this person over the threshold. She helped them stay warm by taking down one of the curtains in the restaurant and using it as a blanket.
“I have nightmares about the tsunami every night. I get swallowed up by the waves and the moment that I think I’m going to die, I wake up,” she says. “When I do wake up, all I see out of the window are the endless mountains of debris. A darkness was beginning to consume me and I didn’t think I could make it through… but then, I saw the young Peace Boat volunteers, with their boundless energy, partaking in sludge and debris removal. They gave me courage and the drive not to give up. That is what Peace Boat gave me.”
Thank you so much for the inspiring words Ms Sakuma!