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Yesterday Matthias and I visited friends living in temporary housing in Minamisanriku, one of the worst-hit towns in all of northeast Japan. On the way to their home, we drove around some of the severely damaged parts of the Minamisanriku to see how the clean-up progress has been going since we were there last spring.

We could imagine how lovely this place must have been before the tsunami when we saw views like this one.

A YouTube video showing the devastation that we saw last May:

Unlike Ishinomaki, which has been cleaned up quite well in many parts of the city, Minamisanriku still looks devastated, like a ghost town. They have cleaned up a great deal of the rubble but there is no question that a tsunami obliterated this town. We walked across the foundations of many homes and businesses, and I saw a few recognizable items buried in the dirt such as a remote control, fragments of a ceramic bowl, and a piece of a toy.

We were very moved to see the remains of this building where 25-year old Miki Endo perished. As you can see, people left flowers and other items in memorial of the deceased. From Wikipedia: “An employee of the town’s Crisis Management Department, [Miki]  was hailed in the Japanese news media as a heroine for continuing to broadcast warnings and alerts over a community loudspeaker system as the tsunami came in. She was credited with saving many lives. The three-story headquarters of the department remained standing but was completely gutted, with only a red-colored steel skeleton remaining; in the aftermath of the disaster, Endo was missing and was later confirmed to have died. Photos show the roof of the building completely submerged at the height of the inundation, with some persons clinging to the rooftop antenna.”

As I stared upwards into the skeletal remains of the building and saw the mangled stairways, I tried to imagine the horror of seeing the waters rise to such a height (over 52 feet) and the people who clung to the antenna to survive. I gave up trying to imagine such a thing and simply bowed my head with sadness.

After our drive through the town, we had no problem finding our friend’s temporary housing unit thanks to our GPS. We felt really honored to be able to visit since we imagine that it is quite rare for a foreigner to actually set foot inside of a temporary home.

We were greeted by kids playing in a makeshift tent – there are only eight elementary school-aged children in this temporary housing unit.

The rows of temporary housing units

Our friend apologized over and over about her “small/ cramped” (semai) place, but we were pleasantly surprised to see how neat and pretty the inside of the unit was decorated. We enjoyed chatting for a few hours about all sorts of things, and while she seemed rather reluctant to talk about what happened to her and her family on 3/11, she openly answered many of our general questions. She told us which things in the house the government provided and which things they purchased on their own, which expenses are covered and not covered, how people can get food without a car, and how long the government told them they can live there (one more year but it’ll probably be longer).

Saying goodbye

We were happy that when it was time to leave, her son asked us, “So, when will we see you again?” It was so good to be able to say, “This summer!” I can’t wait to see them again and my hope is to bring along a portable keyboard next time to play some music for our new friends. I got an email (in English) from my friend saying, “Thank you for coming all the way to Minamisanriku. See you again!”