Volunteer interview – Bandai Yoshinobu (Part 1)
Peace Boat’s activities in Ishinomaki are being supported by many volunteers, including those who travel from throughout Japan and overseas to support the relief efforts. However, many members of the local community – themselves deeply affected by the earthquake and tsunami – are also joining Peace Boat’s activities.
One such person is Bandai Yoshinobu, pictured above. Mr Bandai, known fondly as “Ban-chan,” is a driver who has been contributing immensely to recovery efforts in Ishinomaki by transporting many volunteers by bus to their mud-clearing work sites, or transporting mud and debris by truck. Particularly in April and May Mr Bandai was responsible for driving Peace Boat’s volunteer buses, and became a character beloved by all for his bright, friendly personality.
Mr Bandai and his family live in an apartment in the Yoshino district of Ishinomaki City. The first floor of the building was totally flooded, however their apartment on the second floor was not destroyed. However, as the life lines have not yet returned they are not able to live in the apartment, and are now staying at Mr Bandai’s wife’s parents’ home, in an area which received less damage. Mr Bandai’s parents lived in Minato district which was severely affected by the tsunami, and their house was totally destroyed. His parents still today are staying in the gymnasium of the local junior high school where they first found refuge.
On March 11, Mr Bandai experienced the earthquake while working with a a shovel car in Ishinomaki’s Niidate district. The workers were all dismissed immediately, and Mr Bandai travelled by car to his home – listening to the radio warning that the tsunami had reached neighbouring Onagawa.
“At 3:04, they said that the first wave of 50cm had hit Onagawa. And, they were predicting that it would reach a height of 6m. Hearing that, I somehow thought that it would be a maximum of about 2m here in Ishinomaki.”
Mr Bandai was driving over Mt Hiyori, just about to head downhill towards his home. However at that time, just as he was about to reach the foot of the hill, the tsunami reached the area. The driver of the car just in front of Mr Bandai left his car and ran by foot as he saw the tsunami coming. Mr Bandai put his car into reverse and tried to run away by vehicle. Remembering the scene, Mr Bandai says it was like a race, with people leaving their cars and running up the hill, cars such as Mr Bandai reversing up, and the waves coming higher and higher.
As he reached the top of the mountain, Mr Bandai saw many cars being washed away by the tsunami, including many with people still inside. He drove closer to the area, and managed to open a car window and save two people. However, it was not possible to reach people further away. The sound of the horns of cars being washed away has still not yet left Mr Bandai’s ears. “They were just going on and on, beep beep beep, like cries for help.”
In the Tohoku (northeast) region, there had been a large earthquake just two days before March 11. At that time there had also been a tsunami warning, however no large waves came.
“Since two days before the tsunami hadn’t come, I thought that we would be alright that day also. I think everyone was thinking that in some way to themselves…”
Mr Bandai asked, “Do you know a saying called ‘Inochi Tendenko'”?
“Inochi” means life, while “Tendenko” means something like each one, or each individual. This is a saying of the coastal area of Tohoku, meaning that when an earthquake or tsunami comes, each person should protect their own life individually. Mr Bandai’s wife’s family is originally from Tarou town in Iwate Prefecture. This is a town which has experienced the Meiji Sanriku Tsunami, the Showa Sanriku Tsunami, and the Chile Earthquake Tsunami – all of which brought devastating damage to the area. Mrs Bandai’s grandmother is a survivor of each of these disasters.
When Mr Bandai went to greet his wife’s family before marriage, the grandmother asked of him: “If a tsunami came, would you be able to leave your wife and children and run?” Mr Bandai was not sure how to answer this question, when the grandmother said “if you are not able to escape on your own, I won’t allow you to marry my granddaughter.”
Usually, most grandparents would not allow someone who would run away on their own to marry their grandchildren. However, this perspective is different for someone who has experienced three disastrous tsunamis.
Her grandmother went on to say, “if someone goes back to try and save another, then they will just be both killed by the tsunami. That is how everyone dies, and the city then disappears. Who will be around to create the future? Each person must run and survive on their own, without going back for children or relatives.”
That is the meaning of the saying “Inochi tendenko.” This is a saying which shows the true horror of the tsunami, as expressed by people who know just how terrible it can be. However, in the recent disaster this saying was not able to be followed, and many lives were lost. Mr Bandai says that he himself really experienced the full meaning of this expression.
“There will definitely be more earthquakes. There will also be more tsunami. So, I will continue to share this saying. Don’t just think that another huge tsunami won’t come again, don’t make any judgements by yourself, just run to a high place as fast as you can! Run even one minute, one second faster, and climb one millimetre, one centimetre higher!”
Mr Bandai visited Onagawa, which was totally devastated by the tsunami, immediately after the disaster. He will never forget the scenes there.
“There were parents going through the rubble of where their homes had been, calling out their children’s names. The parents had glass or nails stuck in them, but kept searching. I never want to see anything like that again. If a tsunami ever comes again, everyone must run as fast as they can to a safe, high place, and just watch the tsunami from there. Cars and homes will be washed away. But, all the people must be on the top of the mountains, watching the tsunami come through the town, but able to think that even though all their belongings are being washed away, every single life is safe. That is what I want to say. To make sure that happens, I feel I must keep talking to people about the real horror of the tsunami.”
While talking, Mr Bandai’s eyes welled with tears. He continues to share his experience of the tragic tsunami with volunteers who come.
(Continued in Part 2)