after an overnight bus from kyoto to sendai, in the morning i went to finally visit the sendai mediateque (designed by toyo ito, who was part of my undergrad thesis and the path that lead me to japan). then i took a 4 hour bus ride to ofunato to join up with all hands, a u.s. based volunteer organization who has been there for several months. it was my first time to volunteer with all hands, and after 3 trips with gakuvo/international students it felt a little strange to be going to tohoku to work with another group. actually, i had almost gone to join all hands at the beginning of may, in the week of consecutive holidays known as golden week in japan. but at that time, when i was pretty sure that all volunteer organizations would be swamped, nikkei youth network (with gakuvo, the japanese student volunteer program) had confirmed my place in their international student group immediately, and as an international student in japan, i was very excited to join them. i love going to tohoku as part of a student group, and i have meet some wonderful people on these trips. but i was also interested in staying a little longer, and experiencing other volunteer organizations and systems, especially those who have a longer established local presence. also, ever since my experience volunteering in new orleans after hurricane katrina, i’m pretty sensitive to issues related to situations when outside volunteer groups are coming in to local communities, and i was both concerned and curious about how this relationship was playing out in ofunato. i had been trying to follow the activities of all hands online (along with other organizations–to include on this website), and i had seen a presentation by ryo, a former volunteer who gave a talk at google (it’s a great video, and describes the experience of the first few months very well: http://youtu.be/AwU–meig7k), which gave me the impression that there was definitely a need for more japanese speakers with all hands. basically, i was just hoping that as a japanese speaker, i would be able to be useful.
the bus to ofunato passed near rikuzentaka, from the mountain side, and i recognized a view i had seen in early april-looking down from a road to the complete devastation of the city below. as we passed by temporary housing and views of destruction, i wanted to take a few photographs, but it didn’t feel right on this bus, full of local people for whom this area is their home. in april i had also passed through ofunato, whose narrow and deep port area had been completely destroyed. coming into the city on july 24th, i saw areas where the clean up process was evident, but then followed by areas that seemed untouched, with huge areas with piles of debris.