[REPORT] Sanriku Fieldwork 2014

Sanriku filedwork

On August 6th 2014, 9 students from EBA partner universities, including the University of the Philippines, Bandung Institute of Technology, University Sains Malaysia and Chulalongkorn University, arrived in Japan, joining the 5 students from Keio to begin the 10 day-EBA fieldwork course.

 For the first three days, the students participated in the post-workshop session which includes the training of Japanese language, media related skills and an introduction lecture about  Sanriku area.

On the 10th, EBA group joined Professor Oki and her Lab (27 students) at Tokyo Station. Getting on Shinkansen (bullet train), we headed to Hachinohe- the farthest point of the 3 day journey along the Coastal area in Sanriku. 15 minutes before Hachinohe, the train was stopped. We were all puzzled. Then came an announcement saying that there was a quake of about 6.0 magnitude in the Pacific Ocean off Japan’s northern Aomori prefecture but no warning of tsunami was issued. A feeling of something “real” started overwhelming all of us. The train resumed after 5 minutes later. It was cloudy and rainy in Hachinohe. A charter bus was already waiting for us to deliver us to Kuji station for a disaster- learning ride. One hour on the bus, we got to see the scenery of the area. So green- the color that always helps ease our eyes. Small houses scattered around. We didn’t see any sign of what happened four years ago… just yet.

Kuji is a small local station. The train was only one car and all reserved for us. The one-hour ride was a special opportunity for us to hear stories on the day of March 11 while touring the affected areas. Again, no sign of damages was spotted. But construction sites were everywhere. It was hard to imagine for all of us that many of these vacant areas were once densely populated.

We got off at Tanohata. Our bus already caught up and was waiting for us. We toured around the city in the rain. What struck us the most was the scene of a big rock of about 20 tons placed behind a couple of abandoned houses on a hill. It was said that the rock was pushed by the tsunami hundreds of meters away from the shore to the spot where it was located then. The reality went far beyond our ability to imagine.

We checked in at Raggasho hotel at 6:30 pm. The hotel is located just right next to the shore, facing beautiful ocean and magnificent rock cliffs. The tsunami went as high as the 3rd floor of the hotel where we had breakfast the next day. Fortunately, no one in the hotel was killed. We got to hear more near-death experience on that day from the hotel staff during the dinner. Pieces of storied we had heard during the day started sinking in as the dark enveloped the whole ocean out there and the sound of waves seemed clearer and cleared.

 On the second day, reminders of the Kanto earthquake became more and more vivid as we arrived in Taro, Miyako, Otsuchi and Kamaishi. Wrecked buildings and broken layers of seawalls were still spotted. Again, construction sites were everywhere. Efforts of resuming life have been going on but there is not assurance whether people will be willing to come back. In the evening, we checked in at a Youth Hostel. Memories of childhood all of a sudden came back when we saw rooms with bunk beds. Besides, we had to make the bed for ourselves and were asked to clean up the room and even the hallway before leaving. We spent the rest of the night working in groups discussing about what we had witnessed and recording our feelings accordingly.

On the third day, we participated in a small workshop with local teachers and residents, chaired by Professor Oki. We heard more heart wrenching stories from personal encounters of local residents and saw videos of what happened on the day. The highlight of the day was the performance Pill Bug Dance- Jishin Dangomushi taisou  (地震ダンゴムシ体操) as a self protection practice for children in case of earthquake, performed by Professor Oki’s students. The rhythm was catchy and the steps were simple.  Any kid would easily fall in love with the dance and memorize it. That is the best way of learning, isn’t it?

 

We left Sanriku soon after the workshop. Heading back to Tokyo from Shin-Hanamaki Station, we all had mixed feelings from the 3 eventful days. What we had seen went beyond what our hearts can carry. Followed the trip was a very special session. Professor Oki requested us to let our feelings fill white boards in the classroom. Each student picked one corner and poured down freely all what we thought and how we felt.  Being able to express feelings is the preparing exercise to turn thoughts into action, we were told. In fact, the students did produce good presentations with initiatives of how to promote disaster management based on what they learned from the fieldwork. The presentations can be accessed by visiting the following the link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2fcPruLLaU&list=PLFSMwQU96YM7w97bvy7P6ft9ZTBQhRux4

 

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