Exactly one year ago, the ground underneath my apartment in Abiko began to shake.
I was downstairs in my guest apartment doing some work when the trembling began. I stopped, as I often do when tremors occur, to see if it would get big enough for alarm. Most of the rumbles we get are small enough so that nothing falls over, and in a few seconds it’s back to life as normal. But this one was different. In 15 years of life in Japan at that point, I had experienced only one quake that had made anything fall off shelves. As I sat, paused and alert, in front of my laptop, the quake strengthened – and then, first one, and then one after another, things started to fall off of shelves – and then out of cupboards…
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Last week I heard that my friend Doug Wilson was planning a trip with a friend to the earthquake/disaster zone to deliver relief supplies and volunteer for work in the area. I called him to see if there was anything that I could do, and was invited to go with them. I got on the phone to friends and collected money and supplies from people that I knew. Yesterday (27 April) we rented a van and drove up to one of the worst-affected areas, the city of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture. Along the way we stopped to get more food and supplies that were on a to-buy list that we received from the NGO, Peace Boat.
The drive took about 4 hours, and on the way we had to pass through the 30-kilometer “stay-indoor” zone set up by the Japanese government. At this point noone is allowed entry into the 20-kilometer “no-go” zone around the damaged Fukushima nuclear power station, but between 20-km and 30-km evacuation is still optional, although the government does advise staying indoors. We passed through this zone and headed farther North, to the coast. Along the way we began to see cars and rubble that had been left in rice fields by the tsunami when it retreated. That was nothing to compare to what we saw when we finally got to the coastal area around Ishinomaki.