Today I woke up around 8:45 and after getting dressed, the lady in charge of our group asked if anyone would like to drive with her through the disaster area to an evacuation center for a meeting she had with a school administrator at an elementary school in Minamisanriku. Matthias was still asleep so I volunteered to go with her. The area was much worse than yesterday in Kesennuma, and the buildings were utterly leveled with a merely a few tattered buildings left standing. In Kesennuma I could at least recognize that this was a house, this might have been a hotel, apartment complex, etc. Not so in Kesennuma – everything was leveled and flat and just complete devastation. One again I could do nothing but sit in stunned silence near tears.
We pulled up to the school, which is being used as an evacuation center, and met with an older woman. I was fascinated by the interactions between Japanese people that I saw today. First of all, this was a meeting with someone our leader had not met before and very, very formal. I had to bow about a dozen times, and when someone came to answer a question for the lady we met with, we had to stand up and bow a few times, say thank you, and sit down again. We also met the principal of the school who was very friendly and cheerful.
In Japanese, there is an ultra-polite level of speaking called “keigo” that is utterly amazes me whenever I hear it. It’s used when you meet someone for the first time and especially with someone in authority over you or who you are trying to impress, especially in business transactions. It’s truly like another language to me – I understand it, but I cannot use keigo and I doubt I ever will be able for many years. Anyway, I listened to it for about 40 minutes and I was amazed to think there is such a high, lofty, special language in Japanese to show honor and deference to another person. The closest thing I can think of in English is calling someone “Thou, ” “Your Majesty” or “Your Honor” but that’s all I can come up with right now.
We came back to the ryokan (inn) where we are staying, had a delicious lunch, and then walked to the evacuation center 5 minutes away from us. They had a festival with lots of food, music, and distribution of clothes. We stood off in the distance, and I marveled that some of the most affected, hurting people in the entire nation of Japan were right before my eyes. We talked for a bit with a sweet, funny older man who was working as a volunteer as well. We were supposed to do something with the kids, but that was postponed until tomorrow. It started to rain as we left so it wouldn’t have worked out anyway. As we left, we heard the beautiful sound of the shakuhachi, a haunting flute-like Japanese instrument made from bamboo. Tomorrow will be a long day – we’ll start at 8am and go until 4pm with lots of fun events for the kids. May 5th is Children’s Day here in Japan and we’ll do badminton, arts and crafts, eat ice cream, and do lots of things. I’m looking forward to it. I’d better get to bed!