【April 2018 No.397】My Second Post-disaster Visit to Sendai: A Call to Action

by Shimozono Hitomi, second-year student at Tokyo Metropolitan University,
Member, Tsurukawa Church, Nishi Tokyo District

 In 2017, I participated in the Student Christan Fellowship’s Sendai Camp with 15 fellow SCF members. It was my second visit to Sendai since the disaster. The first time was in May 2013, when I was in ninth grade. Seeking to know how Sendai (a city I had enjoyed visiting while on vacation as a five-year-old) had changed after the 2011 quake, I traveled with my father and visited Sendai and Ishinomaki. Throughout the city the atmosphere was sad and, indeed, very little reconstruction had been completed. A vast area of land, from which everything had been washed away, spread out in one direction, though when I looked in another direction, I saw a mountain of rubble so huge that I had to look up to see the top of it. The feeling of my heart being torn apart, after witnessing the aftermath of the quake with my own eyes, is something I remember vividly to this day.

 When I visited Sendai in March 2017, six years after the disaster, I expected the city still to be overwhelmed with sadness. It was just one day prior to the March 11 anniversary. However, to my surprise, when I arrived at Sendai Station, the bustling atmosphere resembled that of Tokyo. Though, on the one hand, I was relieved that the people of Sendai seemed to be looking ahead, I also felt a bit distressed that the atmosphere now being created in Sendai seemed to convey the impression that “nothing had happened.”

 I met five Sendai Student Youth Center (SSC) members at this year’s camp. I heard that, previously, camp participants numbered in the dozens, but that following the disaster, the number of participants decreased dramatically. Furthermore, those participating this year did not talk much about the earthquake but rather about problems we were experiencing in looking for jobs, going to college— topics similar to those we usually talked about at SCF meetings. On March 11, during our walk from Arai Station to Arahama beach after taking the train from Sendai Station to Arai Station, we stopped to visit both the Sendai March 11 Memorial Community Center, (a place dedicated to educating people about the Great East Japan Disaster) and the Arahama Elementary School (which has been preserved as a historical monument).

 During these visits I realized there is no way that the people here could possibly be living as though nothing had happened. Though the rubble had been removed and the damage was becoming less and less obvious, it was still clearly evident just how high the water level had risen at the elementary school. When I saw the families mourning and staring offshore with their arms around each other, I realized once again that the survivors were indeed doing their best to carry on with their lives each day while, nevertheless at the same time, seeking to fill what must have felt like a large hole in the heart of each one of them. Furthermore, after seeing the way they were living, it became painfully clear to me how extraordinary a day March 11 had been for them. Six years after the earthquake, two things appeared to be especially evident, viz., on the one hand, the persistence of the survivors’ seemingly endless sense of sadness, but on the other, the survivors’ determination to live another year to the fullest.

 As I look back on that Sendai Camp, I came to realize that I had, in my mind, unwittingly been separating the stricken area (Sendai) from Tokyo. In our daily lives, even when we think about how survivors such as these are doing, if we take no action, it is human nature that we will gradually forget what has happened. At Arahama, we all prayed together, silently asking God, “Please give us the strength to work hard in everything we do, starting tomorrow.” Had I not visited Sendai, my prayer may merely have been, “Please heal the souls of the survivors.”

 Although the work of the SSC has been suspended and, for this reason also, the status of the Sendai Camp may also be changed, I hope to continue my visits to Tohoku each year on March 11. (Tr. DM)

—From Shinto no Tomo (Believers’ Friend),
February 2018 issue



下園一海  しもぞのひとみ首都大学東京2年、東京・鶴川教会員