In my last entry, I complained about my struggles with the formality of the Japanese language. However, as I write this, the Japanese around me are screaming with laughter, giving each other massages, and getting along quite well.  I am learning that it takes time for Japanese to move from formal Japanese to casual Japanese as they get to know each other step by step. I am too quick to want to move past the formalities which seem like a waste of time but are very crucial. I also took a long walk by the river close to this inn and was greatly refreshed as I had time to reflect and think about my attitude. Things have been much easier since then and I am far less irritable about hearing and using formal Japanese. I know there is a beauty to this form of Japanese, but it will take time for me to appreciate it and understand why it must be used.

We are still working as volunteers by playing with small kids who survived the tsunami. I really love getting to know the other volunteers who are working with the kids. The job is not just about playing with kids, but working well alongside Japanese people. We are the only foreigners here and we are learning a lot of Japanese and tons about the culture. Each volunteer has been awesome, each bringing wonderful skills to put to use in order to serve the kids.

Matthias playing with one of the smallest kids

Playing with kids at the newest Child Friendly Space (we helped set it up!)

This is the view of Utatsu Jr. High school (doubling as an evacuation center) when we pull up to the parking lot – the child friendly space is on the second floor

As we looked out the window from the child friendly space in Utatsu, we saw the girls in their cute uniforms during gym class. I noted that the boys and girls were separated.

In case you were wondering, here is where we are:

(The marked area is Miyagi prefecture)

This is a tourist map of the region where we are staying right now in Miyagi prefecture. We are staying in Tome, and the 3 child-friendly spaces are located in Tome and Utatsu.

The red sign shows a hotel in Minami-sanrikucho. Minami-sanrikucho is one of the worst-hit areas in all of Japan. 9,500 people lost their lives, about half the population. It was described as “a charming resort town on a coastline of wooded islands and mountainous inlets” on Wilkipedia. Truly, as we drove through the wreckage, the view from the road was just gorgeous. The bright blue sea glitters like diamonds and you can faintly imagine what the town might have looked like before. That same glittering sea rose up to 52 feet and swept away 95% of the town. When the tsunami hit, people ran to the designated evacuation sites, but at least 31 of the town’s 80 evacuation sites were inundated by the tsunami.

Of all the videos I have seen about Minami-sanrikucho, this one was the saddest and made me cry. 25-year old Miki Endo died serving her townspeople by warning them of the coming tsunami and saved many lives.

Here are a few photos of what remains of Minami-sanrikucho. Of course, the disaster area spans across the entire coast, and thus far we have only seen Kesennuma, Ishinomaki, and Minami-sanrikucho (where the kids we are playing with come from).

Do you see the car on top of the building?

Here are some photos of Ishinomaki, about an hour in the direction of Sendai.

This thing was enormous!!

standing near the port

See the boat behind M? The tsunami carried tons of boats miles from the coast.

Here is a boat between two houses

The amount of trash is breathtaking

Posters like this one are placed on the doors of homes and businesses that are “unsafe.” Our friends’ home in Kuromatsu, Sendai was deemed unsafe, but they are still able to live in their house unlike their neighbors.

Tomorrow I’ll try to post one or two videos of the disaster area. I think that video is much more powerful than photos. That’s all for today!