Three Years On: An English-language Guided Tour of Ishinomaki City
Three years after the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, PBV organized a walking tour of Ishinomaki as an opportunity for volunteers to return to the seaside fishing town and re-visit the areas where they volunteered and observe the progress made as well as learn about the challenges that remain.
The tour began in the Minami-Hama area, one of the places worst hit by the tsunami. Participants heard about how the huge wave, over 7~8 metres high, swept through this area bringing with it a sea of fire as car petrol and other flammable liquids in the debris caught fire. This sign was erected by Mr Kurosawa after the disaster to encourage his neighbors to “keep looking up”. Ganbaro literally means, “let’s keep trying” and it is said that he spontaneously decided to put up this big sign after seeing so many people walking around the town after the devastation with their heads down.
As the group walks on they come across vivid reminders of the devastation; this photo shows the damage caused by the fire. In the background you can see the Kadonowaki Elementary school which served as an evacuation site during the disaster.
Further along the main road the group comes to a graveyard. The guide uses photographs of the area to illustrate the work that was undertaken by PBV volunteers to clean the restore the graves in the sweltering summer sun, just months after March 11th.
A flight of stairs behind the graveyard leads up Hiyori hill. This hill separates the Minami-Hama area and the inland area of Ishinomaki, and when the tsunami hit local residents climbed these stairs to escape. As the tour participants climbed the same steps and looked back at the shore line and stopped to catch their breath, they could only start to imagine the fear people must have felt as they watched the water and fire come rushing in behind them as they climbed, and how hard it must have been for the young and elderly to climb to safety.
At the top of the hill, the young guide again takes out her photo album and points to the site where a hospital had once stood. When the tsunami swept in the hospital became surrounded by water and the stranded patients and medical staff were only airlifted to safety days later. Sadly a number of patients passed away before help could get to them.
After visiting the Minami-Hama area the group then moved on to walk around the town. Here they are standing in front of the Moriya Fruit Store, which was the first store to re-open in Ishinomaki after the disaster (please see this past blog post about Moriya Fruit Store and PBV’s work there for further details).
As they walked around the town participants observed many old shops that have reopened and also many new fashionable and arty shops that have newly opened. At the same time they also walked past many empty plots of land or derelict buildings that hint at the many challenges that remain in this town, which used to be home to the third biggest fishery processing plant in Japan.