Aug 2011


Ishinomaki Kawabiraki Festival Report Vol. 1

The Ishinomaki Kawabiraki (“River Opening”) Festival held on July 31 and August 1. Alongside the people of Ishinomaki, many volunteers including people who came from afar and many who have been helping with the relief operations in Ishinomaki together participated in a variety of events and activities that were held during the 2-day festival. It was very much a home-made festival, with each part carefully and lovingly prepared in the short preparation period.

Ishinomaki City developed because of its abundant surrounding nature and water supply provided by the old Kitakami River and the port of Ishinomaki. The Kawabiraki Festival is held in honor and memory of Magobe Kawamura, whose efforts led to the successful achievement of numerous river improvement projects. As already reported, Peace Boat assisted in the cleaning of Magobe’s grave by the time of the Kawabiraki Festival upon receiving a request for help from one of his descendants. (See the report in Japanese here)

This area, which is close to one of the Peace Boat volunteer accommodation facilities “Kaska Fashion,” was greatly damaged by the tsunami, more than 10 meters in height. There was a limit to how much could be done to clean up the grave, however, by the time of the festival Peace Boat volunteers were able to collect some of the stones that had been washed away from the grave, and clear away mud and rubble that had been covering it.

Descendants of  Magobe Kawamura spoke at a ceremony held at the grave site in his honor him. They said, “We are very happy to be able to honor our ancestor here in front of his grave on the occasion of the Kawabiraki Festival. The grave was completely covered in mud and we couldn’t have cleaned it up on our own. We are very grateful to the many volunteers who helped us.”

The volunteer team was so far only able to help with part of the clean-up job. There is still a lot to be done to restore the grave to its original state and it will take time to reach this stage. Even so, to hear warm words of appreciation like these made us realize that our hard work on that hot day was worth it.

Whilst the grave clean-up was going on, the preparation of paper lanterns to be floated down the river also steadily progressed. In order to make sure the lanterns didn’t sink, waterproofing spray was applied to the bottom of each lantern. The international volunteers joined in to help the preparations that were being done by hand to move along faster.

10,000 paper lanterns were prepared in this way. Each lantern was decorated with a hand-written message, then loaded from a purpose-built jetty on the old Kitakami River on to the canoes by volunteeres who had been practising just for this special day.

Many people gathered downriver to watch the lanterns.

The floating of the lanterns began at 6.30pm.

The lanterns floated slowly down the river. Many people cried tears that had been building up since the disaster occurred. As the sun set, everyone watched the lanterns float downstream, as they quietly reflected over their thoughts.

(This report is continued in Ishinomaki Kawabiraki Festival Reports Vol. 2 and Vol. 3)