Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture tsunami cleanup

As our departure date has been put back to 2nd of June some of the expedition team decided to head north towards Fukushima and give some time volunteering at tsunami cleanup.

Furnished with a handy volunteer guide in Japanese, Marcus our expedition leader from 5 Gyres, secured our insurance cards, some safety gear and booked our bus tickets.

Akira from the Japanese broadcaster NHK was invaluable with information and advice, he even came to the rescue when yours truly left his audio recorder on a railway platform and managed to return it before our bus left Yokohoma!

The area most needing assistance is near Minamisoma, Fukushima prefecture, which until April has been part of the exclusion zone around the failed nuclear reactor.

This area is surreal, like a post-apocalyptic wasteland, devoid of people. Smashed infrastructure, houses and vehicles mark the landscape, reminders of the power of the sea. Mr Suzuki, who helped look after us during the cleanup said the cars with number plates still attached indicated their owners were still unaccounted for.

It is a snapshot of what the Japanese coastline looked like shortly after the tsunami hit, with nature slowly taking over.  Now this area has been opened again the survivors who chose to return  are now slowly rebuilding their homes and cleaning up their properties.

Our arrival at the volunteer center initially caused some confusion amongst the administration who were not set up to cater for international volunteers. Fortunately they were impressed to see we already had our insurance cards and were able to find some English speakers among the Japanese volunteers to help out.We were assigned to clear a drainage ditch around Kazuko Sakaida’s house which just escaped being destroyed by the Tsunami. Kazuko saw the wave approaching, flooding her fields and almost reaching her door.  She has been unable to return here until recently, being kept away due to high radiation levels.
Kazuko bought us snacks and drinks in appreciation of our efforts.

Marcus from 5 Gyres is also an accomplished sculptor, with work in the National Veterans Art Museum in Chicago. Kazuko agreed to let him cast her hand as part of an ongoing project on plastic pollution. With bemusement she knelt on her hardwood floor waiting for the cast to set. Kazuko was fascinated with the detail in the resulting positive of her hand.

The Japanese people possess an incredible resilience, this is apparent in the survivors and volunteers still working on rebuilding after the tsunami and nuclear disaster. It was an honour for us to be accepted by these people and to feel their warmth and appreciation . Working side by side with Mr Suzuki and the other Japanese volunteers was a great experience, one I will carry for a long time to come.

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