Japan

Around the World, and I'm Back Again! by airi katsuta

So I'm back to Arizona, my home sweet home, after being away for 5 months on a global voyage with Peace Boat. I was working as a Japanese Web Reporter / Photographer to document the daily events that go on board and special reports for on location, write multiple reports everyday for general audiences who are interested in what life on board is like, for family members who are on land to know where their loved ones are at, and for passengers to reflect back on their voyage after their trip is over. I wrote close to 200 reports, and I cannot begin to tell you how difficult it was! Writing in Japanese was definitely a big challenge for me. I've acted the messenger role with Great East Japan Earthquake & Tsunami project where I wrote the survivor stories of the people in Ishinomaki, but it was always in English. It was my first time being away from home, and working in a Japanese setting, so language and culture was a lot to take in. The electronic dictionary (電子辞書) was my best friend.

I went in with the mindset that "I'm young, it's 0kay to make mistakes, it's a MUST to ask questions because I don't know everything, "  And let me tell ya, I made many mistakes, I asked so many questions, and realized there are kind people that have a lot to share and are willing to lend a hand. With my 105 days on board, I learned to appreciate people on a deeper level because they were there when I was in a time of need. There are more to each country than what tourism has to offer, especially with the cultural exchange tours that Peace Boat provides, it was great to interact with locals in their environment and have that experience. Here are some of the photos of the countries I went to that are on view on my website. See full albums on http://www.airikatsuta.com/global-voyage

Here is a little bit of a preview, but you can go to my website to see more!   And I was blessed with an opportunity to go on another voyage with Peace Boat as a web reporter again. So in November (which is in a couple more months!) I'll be in Japan and then off to explore the world again. In the meantime, I am making art in different mediums (photography, origami, india ink, watercolor, ceramics, and even henna!) I am working at the Phoenix Art Museum being a Gallery Attendant, Control Room Operator, Projectionist, and back at Method Art Gallery being an assistant to Davin Lavikka  and doing multiple duties. Hopefully I'll have an exhibition coming up there so I will keep you guys posted!

Resilience at The Academy Theatre by airi katsuta

Resilience showing at the Academy Theatre I have another showing of Resilience coming up in September 19-22 at The Academy Theatre . You can catch it again for those of you who missed the first showing at Method Art Gallery. This time it is more focused on the stories of the residents, with narratives that go along with the photographs. I will also be giving a talk at the reception on Friday, September 20th, 6-9 pm. The 1000 Cranes for Ishinomaki will also be on display.

As a bonus feature to the show, I will be showcasing the fashion photography I have been doing lately in the lounge area. It will be the first time being shown in a gallery space so I'm very excited.

 

Day 8: Hidemaruya by airi katsuta

After seeing the beautiful display from the artists from Taiwan, I went to a souvenir store right down the street. It was called Hidemaruya, and they had Ishinomaki t-shirts that they sold for around $20. The shirts said things like "Never give up Ishinomaki" or "Ganbappe, Ishinomaki".  I had seen these shirts last year but didn't have money to spend when I was volunteering, so I was happy to purchase them :)

After looking around the store for a while, the owner asked me where I came from. When I said the United States and that I was here last year volunteering, she was surprised and let me sit down and look at her photo album that contained lots of tsunami related pictures/newspaper clippings. She was hesitant at first but she started sharing her stories with me.

"It was like a dream", she said. "It all happened in an instant...just one moment... like what happened?" On 3-11, she was here at the store, and her house is on the second floor. She felt it shook, and ran out side, but she heard her neighbors shouting that the tsunami was coming. She ran up to her home, and ended up staying up there for 2 days. At night it was cold with snow falling down, only a gas stove to keep her and her husband warm, and only one candle for light. Thankfully, she had a fridge full of food so they didn't starve like many of her neighbors.

"There were many people that I knew that lost their lives looking for their family members. They went out when the tsunami came," she said almost in a whisper. "You have to take care of your own life first. Because what do you have when you lose yourself? Just make a place to meet up when things like this happen."

Unlike all the people that I met, she didn't aestheticize the recovery effort. She wasn't negative about it, but rather realistic. "The recovery/reconstruction isn't in the near future." She said with lines between her eyebrows, "We've become so dependent on other people, especially volunteers. We can't be like this forever." She said she felt like she was going crazy after losing her store. Her store sold yarn and knitting products. "I can't just not do anything. I told myself I must become independent." And that's why she started a whole new venue making souvenir t-shirts. She felt that with volunteers and tourists coming into Ishinomaki, she could let them take a memory of Ishinomaki with them by selling these shirts.

After learning her love for knitting/crocheting, I gave her one of the crochet cats. She loved it! "Thank you so much. I want to start my yarn store again, but it's so hard when there's hardly any customers anymore. I hope Ishinomaki will become a better place than before. I know it's going to take a while, but my wish is that Ishinomaki will be more independent."

Almost home by airi katsuta

Hi everybody.Sorry I haven't been posting for a while. I was running around all over Japan, literally. After leaving Ishinomaki on the 20th, i got back to Kanagawa, my sister left on a 89 day cruise, I rode the bullet train (Shinkansen) because I missed my overnight bus, I visited my grandparents and cousins in Nara, and met up with my friends and family. It's been a hectic trip. I am currently trying to stuff everything in my suitcase, and it's been about 6 hours since I started. This is never fun. Haha It has been an amazing month full of discoveries and surprises. But I think I'm ready to go home and sleep in my own bed. Seems like all the pillows I sleep on here is like a bean bag and it's making my neck hurt!

I will be posting all the pictures along with the stories when I get back to Arizona. Don't think I forgot!

Day 8: Taiwan Friends by airi katsuta

As I was riding my bike along the Manga Road, I saw pretty colors peeking from the corner of the street. I stopped to see what was going on, and saw adorable chalk drawings on the pavement. I've never seen chalk drawing so beautiful in my life. Seeing this brought a smile to my face as well as the locals. This brightened up the street!

After staring and lurking and taking a bunch of pictures, these nice people explained to me that they're a group of artists from Taiwan supporting Ishinomaki. Different styles of artists were here and they told me they painted murals on houses and made public art to bring joy into the town.  They also gave me a good luck charm :)

They told me I can contribute to the drawings so I put my drawing skills to the test....

And I drew a cat. But someone said it looks like Pink Panther. I guess they're kinda right lol

My cat looks like it was done by a 4 year old compared to this great looking mountain next to it! Mad props!

Lots of locals told me they are really thankful for the organization from Taiwan. Some elderly people kept their cash at home so they lost most of their savings in the tsunami. The locals said the people from Taiwan handed out money to anyone who got in line. These people were painting a very large mural on the side of the building. They each had their own distinctive style. I didn't stay long enough to see it completed, so I can't wait to go back and check it out :)

 Since they were so nice to me, and anyone who helps Ishinomaki is automatically my friend, I gave them one of the crochet cats! I hope they liked it :)

Its crazy how you meet so many different kinds of people through the same cause. I wish them the best of luck :)

Day 7: part 3, Kawamura Magobe gravesite, oceanside, fish market by airi katsuta

After visiting Tsuda-san, Ted and I visited Kawamura Magobe gravesite. Kawamura Magobe is an important person in Ishinomaki history. He was a technical expert in Omi Province, and he constructed the Port of Ishinomaki at the mouth of Kitakami-gawa River. Peace boat volunteers worked hard to clean up this gravesite, but the clean up isn't complete yet.

Mabo Tofu.

Then we went to the Chinese restaurant near Kaska. It was so cheap! And lots of food! I was stuffed.

Ooper Looper

I found a funy looking fish/lizard? It's called a Ooper Looper. I've never seen anything like this, it looked like a Pokemon.

We drove around town again. And we drove by the mountains of trash piled up everywhere.

Japan Paper Company.

This is a paper company located right by the coast. Paper and water doesn't go well together, so after the tsunami most of their materials were ruined. The huge rolls of paper was very heavy when it soaked up all the water.

San Juan Bautista.

This is a museum that displays the San Juan Bautista, a Spanish style galleon built in the 17th century. Though this is a replica, the actual ship was built in 1613 by Date Masamune, the lord of the Sendai Clan. The ship transported an envoy to the Pope in Rome, stopping at Acapulco, Mexico on the way. The boat had very minimal damage from the tsunami but the museum was closed.

Beach.

Most of the beaches are closed for swimming since not everything is cleaned up from all the scraps. This beach is mostly for fishing tho.

"The bottom of the sea is all messed up because of the tsunami. I can't catch any fish!"

I asked this fisherman how it's like fishing here. He said he could catch all different kinds of fish before but he said "the bottom of the sea is all messed up because of the tsunami. I can't catch any fish!" Even if he can't catch anything, he still comes here to fish. I'm guessing he comes here to relax.

Buoys.
Sea Bugs?
Shells used to raise oysters.

Oyster harvesting is very big in Ishinomaki, and it's considered the main area that imports oyster seeds to all over the world. I LOVE OYSTERS, and it was cool to see how they raise baby oysters. This made me salivate a little bit.

Fiiiiish market.

We then went to the fish market. Originally, this market was placed right near the coast, but they relocated for now. This fish was huge! I wear a size 6 shoe so like 3 of my shoes was the size of this fish!

Sea Urchin!

I've never seen a sea urchin with the spikes on. All I could think was sushi. I bet the fresh ones tastes really good :)

Cleaning the sea urchin.

She was cleaning the insides out to get the meat out of it. She was using a tweezer very carefully to get the black parts out and leaving the orangey/yellowish insides.

FINALLY! OYSTER!
YUMMAH!

I finally got to eat some oysters! This particular one wasn't grown in Ishinomaki, but it was fresh nonetheless. Oyster season is around November, and they even have a festival dedicated to them! Hopefully next year, I can go to one of them and eat lots and lots of oysters! :)

Day 7: Tsuda Family by airi katsuta

After riding around my bike around the coastline, and getting lost and going in circles for a while, I finally got back to my hotel. Ted was already waiting for me at the lobby to take me to see Tsuda-san and her daughters.

Ted was very fond of them while he was with Peace boat. They worked on Tsuda-san's house for 3 months from May to August, and a little bit of September. They told me they had at least 100 volunteers come by to help with the clean up.

As you can see from the picture above, Tsuda-san's house was severely damaged. Though her husband is a construction worker for temporary homes, he was very busy working in Sendai. Peace boat came around May, but her husband and her husband's father dug out most of the trash from their house.

Ted and Tsuda-san was reminiscing the cleaning days.

The odd yoga ball was there for some reason. Tsuda-san started sharing what happened on 3-11. "The earthquake was very scary. Anna, my youngest daughter hid under the table. I was watching TV at the time, and when everything started shaking I was trying to hold up the TV! It was expensive so I didn't want it to fall and break!", she joked around. "Too bad I had to throw it away since it got wet. It was a nice TV. Haha."

"After hearing the tsunami warning, my daughter and I left the house in my car. We weren't sure where we were going, but headed to the evacuation center. But on the way, we realized we didn't grab anything. So we drove back to the house using the small streets, and Anna saw the water slowly spreading from the ocean. It was eerie how slow it spread, but cars and houses were moving too." "If we took the main street where it was crowded, we could've been caught in the tsunami." They safely got to the evacuation center on time.

Tsuda-san's eldest daughter, didn't say too much at first. She was looking in to her house in a bittersweet way.  It's so clean compared to before, they kept saying. She also helped out the cleaning alongside the volunteers shoveling mud/sludge. When I asked her where she was on 3-11, she said she was at school. "After the earthquake, everyone evacuated outside. But when we heard the tsunami warning, we went back inside. And then everyone from around town came to our school to evacuate. We were all on the third floor, but the students had to be on the 2nd floor. Like my mother said, the water came in slow. And all the cars were slowly sinking." "We didn't have anything to eat, so our teachers brought candy from the teacher's lounge. We got one piece of candy each. My father came and picked me up after the water had gone down, so I didn't have to stay at school for too long."

The water rose up to where her hand is. The first floor of their house was completely submerged. The glass doors broke so they had so much sludge and trash come into the house. When I asked if they plan on living in this house again, and they said they weren't sure. "We started living in my husband's father's house who lives 5 minutes away. He's happy that we live with him now, but my kid's and my husband goes to Sendai everyday for work and school. We still haven't paid off the house yet, so I don't know if we should move or not." Her kids takes an hour to go to school everyday.

"We started cleaning the house and we found a body in this room. I don't know who it was or how it got in here, but we say a prayer whenever we come here now." A lot of bodies that were found all over town were unclaimed or unidentifiable.

The sisters were very kind and very smart! The older one is going to school to become a nurse or a government health inspector. They both like sports and the younger one is going to a prefecture-wide conference. They also gave me a lot of pictures they took after the tsunami so I plan on scanning them and sharing that when I get back to the states.

Thank you, Tsuda Family!

Day 7: Boats & Docks by airi katsuta

Day 7 started off on a good note. I got up bright and early! I always rent a bicycle to get around town and when I asked for the key at the front desk, I saw the frog that Riho and I gave them a couple days ago. This made me smile :) I went for a bike ride by the Kyu-Kita-Kami river towards the ocean.

 

There was lots of fishing boats, ferry boats, and transport boats on dock of the day of the tsunami. Some boats are still on land since that day. Large boats are extremely heavy. So I have no idea how they're going to move it when it's that heavy PLUS holding up that building that collapsed on it.

Fishing companies lost/ruined most of their tools. These nets are used to catch lots and lots of fish and they cost tens of thousands of dollars. Though their docks and boats were ruined, some fishermen relocated and repaired their boats and started back again.

All over town, especially by the coastline, there are areas like this with trash piled up 2,3 stories high. Probably like 15, 20 football fields piled with trash.

Trucks carrying scraps to dump to the piles were driving around very busily. I felt bad riding around being in their way when they were working hard.

 

 

Day 6: Strolling around Kaska, Ishinomaki Pet Center by airi katsuta

Riho went back to Tokyo after giving the knitted clothing to Kasumi-So, so Day 6 begins my lone trip. I've always had my family around me whenever I traveled and depended on them so much, so I was kind of scared. Would I be able to connect with the locals? Would I be able to speak Japanese? Would I get lost? All these questions kept worrying me, but I tried to be brave, and started riding my bicycle to familiar places I visited last year. It was only a 20-30 minute bike ride from the hotel.

Last year, this karaoke place was the only bar that was open in this area. It was very old fashioned, 100 yen per song, and it was like being in someone's living room. They didn't think I was Japanese so they told me to sing something, and I sang a Christina Aguilera song... Though I think I'm a diva when I'm singing in my car, no one should be forced to hear me sing. haha. But they were kind and clapped for me. Teehee. It was nice to see them still in business.

Last year, the roads were still rough and covered in dirt, and hardly any stores were open on this street. Now it's all repaired and clean! Clean-ups around areas that are being used were very fast. It's crazy to see the gap between this and homes around the water. But all that matters is that it's being done.

Last year, this area was pretty rough. There were piles of trash being gathered everywhere you looked. Sludge still covered the ground as it gave off a foul smell. The building with the colorful sign was a camera store.

This year this place was all cleaned up. The camera store relocated to another area.

This was my favorite place. It's a greenbelt around the river, and the trees are big enough to make shade in the hot sun. At night time, I remember hearing crickets chirp. This was the place to be to unwind from a long, hardworking day. This man was taking a nap on my favorite bench.

Last year, this buddha lost his arm and it was being held up by ropes. The garden itself was done very beautifully and I'm glad the Buddha was fixed.

 

 

I saw this pet center everyday last year while staying at Kaska. I was curious what the inside looked but it wasn't open when I went. So I decided to pay a visit.

I was greeted by these very energetic geese as I walked up to the store. They wouldn't stop quacking!! I wasn't sure if it was a farm animal store or a pet store. I saw turkeys, chickens, baby chicks, rabbits, guinea pigs, goldfish, cats, and dogs.

I LOVE CATS. These adorable kitties made me miss my own, Whiskers and Bailey. I wanted to play with them more but the chihuahuas behind me wouldn't stop barking so I had to leave the room. Chihuahuas are so loud! They just kept growling at me!

After being in the store for 15 minutes, the owner came out and I got to ask her how its been since 3-11. She said "On 3-11, I didn't think a tsunami was going to come. We live upstairs of the store so me and my family rushed up. Unfortunately we didn't have time to save the animals." Since this area is very close to the coastline, the water level was very high and the animals in their cages drowned. "We had to start all over. It was sad, and I feel very sorry for the animals."

They did all the cleaning by themselves. "I saw the volunteers walking around a lot last year. But we did all the cleaning by ourselves, just me and my father. We had a lot of free time, so it wasn't a problem." There weren't enough volunteers to go around to every place in town.

"We used to have a lot more animals. Parrots, large aquarium fish, different breeds of cats and dogs, ferrets, etc. We had to start from scratch. We used to have lots of customers who owned large aquariums so they came to the store a lot. But now, even if they still have their tanks, they live in temporary homes so they don't have the space. Or they don't want to own any pets because they're scared that the tsunami might come again. They come visit me from time to time. They don't buy anything but they just come to see the animals. If you love animals, you never stop loving them no matter what."

"Having pets is a luxury. It's not a need for survival so we don't have customers anymore. Businesses like insurance, construction, cars, homes, and grocery stores are doing just fine. But stores like us, pet stores or fishing supplies, they're hobbies. So to get by, we started a traveling zoo. A lot of events and schools have us come and bring our animals. They want the children to smile and be happy, and animals have the power to do that."

"I hope things will be back to where it was again, but I know it will take a long time. But I hope people will start having pets again, because I know how much joy they bring to our lives."

I gave her one of the crochet cats and she really liked it. "I have a daughter and she loves stuffed animals. She's going to love this. We'll treasure it."

Day 5: Kasumi-So Senior Home by airi katsuta

We headed to Kasumi-So senior home later that day. We took a train and since we didn't have breakfast or lunch, we ate the Taiyaki that we got earlier.

We arrived to Watanoha Station 10 minutes later. The palm trees reminded me of Arizona. Though Ishinomaki city is the 2nd most populated areas in Miyagi prefecture, the train only comes by every 2 hours. This is unbelievable compared to Tokyo where the train comes every 5 minutes. The train only has 2 cars since the tsunami disaster, but they plan on adding more next year.

We finally arrived to Kasumi-So Senior Home. We brought the handmade knitted scarves and clothing made by the wonderful folks of Japanese American Citizens League. I hope they like it!

Manjome-San is the head manager of this senior home. When asked about what happened on 3-11 she said, "Right after the earthquake, one of the seniors said the tsunami will follow soon. So all of us evacuated to the mountains before the tsunami warning even went off. So thankful for the wise knowledge of the elderly, they were all safe."

"After we evacuated, I realized I forgot to grab the medicine for my patients. We were in such a rush, I knew I shouldn't go back but I went anyways. When I was driving back, I saw a little girl crying on the side of the street. I picked her up and while I was driving, the tsunami came. I didn't know what was happening, but thankfully someone reached a hand from the 2nd floor of a building and saved us." Though she was talking very calmly, what was coming out of her mouth was unimaginably horrifying.

"There were many people at the temple. Since the damage of this area was unbelievable, the bridge was gone so the military couldn't even come to this side of the town for 2 days. I was very worried. Some elderly people didn't have their medicine so they were turning blue, or going crazy."

"People started to find out that I work at the senior home. They thought we would have medicine to share, but we didn't have any either. It pained me to turn them away."

With tears forming in her eyes, she spoke softly, "We went down the mountain when the water level decreased... And I stepped into hell."

"The people who evacuated to the mountains didn't directly see the tsunami, so it was shocking to see the aftermath. There were dead bodies everywhere, a lot of them in their cars. It felt like a war zone. I was actually seeing hell."

"We had our one year anniversary of this institution the day after the tsunami. We were saying how it's been a year and then it happened." The seniors were transferred to a hospital out of prefecture, so they were safe and taken care of. They were more worried about us (the caretakers) if we had enough food."

After a year and a half, she said there are times where she feels depressed. "Year and a half flew by so fast. The reconstruction takes a long time, I know that. I get depressed quite often, and put a stop to myself. Most of us suppressed our emotions. My tears dried up after a while, I was tired of crying. Thankfully, all of my family members survived, but many of the workers' didn't. My daughter's friend's body was found 3 months later. And all that was said was "They found another one." It was hard to feel anymore. It was all too much."

We gave them the letter, pictures, and the handmade items from Japanese American Citizens League. They were very ecstatic to receive them since they lost most of their winter clothes in the tsunami. "Thank you so much. The winters are so cold here! It gets cold by September. Now to think of it, it was snowing the day after the tsunami. "

Everyone's faces were covered in smiles. We dispersed the clothing to everyone and they loved it. This lady wore hers already even though it was hot!

We also gave them the crochet animals too. They were saying how cute it was. She was a funny one, "I'm a kangaroo."

She's 95 years old and loved the shawl. "Give them a peace sign", the manager said.

We woke him up from his nap, but this 99 year old man picked the white vest. He can't hear very much so they had to shout in his left ear. When they told him that we brought them clothes, he smiled and said "Thank you."

She liked this blue shawl very much. "I like it, it's fancy!" Such complicated and beautiful design, all handmade by JACL.

"Blue is a man's color." "Looking good!" the women shouted. He blushed a little bit as I took his picture.

Everyone got several items to keep. Rather than taking it to a large senior home and not have enough, we picked the one with 6 people. They shared their stories with us and welcome us into their home. Thank you to Kasumi-So senior home and JACL for providing the clothing!

Day 5: part 2 by airi katsuta

This is Ishinomori Mangattan Museum dedicated to the most famous Manga artist in Ishinomaki. It's being repaired right now but will be open to the public in October.

Lots of cars cross this bridge to get to the other side of the river. Can you believe the tsunami covered this whole area underwater? Crazy.

Past the bridge, there was  a sign of where the waterline was.

Being near the river, some houses around here are too far gone to be repaired. The town is focusing on houses that are still repairable, and leaving the destroyed ones for later. It seemed like at any moment, this house could collapse.

Cleaning takes a long time and a lot of strength. Though it still seems dirty, I bet that this place took a lot of people to get it this far to remove large scraps and shoveling sludge.

Riho wanted to visit the house where she found a friendly cat last year. We asked this nice gentleman where it was. He pointed in a direction and lead us there. But he told us that they demolished the house.

The tsunami ripped open this whole wall of this house. A lot of houses in this area looked similar.

I found a chair of what seems like came from a hair salon. I didn't see any buildings that looked like one so I think the water traveled this chair here.

Day 5: Around the Kyu-Kita-Kami River by airi katsuta

Before I start this post, I wanted to thank all of you that have been taking a look at this blog. I've been getting views from all over the world, in 25 countries including Japan, USA, Argentina, Ireland, France, Australia, etc. My purpose is to share the stories of Ishinomaki to as many people as I can. Everyone has a different story which wasn't on mainstream news, of how the ground shook so much that they couldn't stay standing up, how they couldn't reach their family members for days so they walked in the water waist deep to search for them, how they spent days without food or water on top of a roof, how they got caught in the water and climbed on to a floating car. We live in a world where internet makes everything accessible, so I am trying to share the stories that I heard face to face from the survivors of the 3-11 earthquake/tsunami. They are so brave and positive, such beautiful souls. I'm just a messenger.

We visited the Taiyaki (Japanese dessert) shop that Riho went to last year. I guess this store was the only thing opened in this area so Riho was happy to see that it's still in business. And it was the best Taiyaki I've ever had!

There's a lot of areas along the river that hasn't been repaired yet.

This bridge is called Nishi-Naikai Bashi. This bridge is used by many people so it is in the middle of reconstruction. One side of the sidewalk is completely closed so it was kind of scary riding our bikes alongside cars on such a narrow bridge.

I think I have a cat radar. Last year, I didn't see any stray cats. But now they're starting to appear again. This made me happy.

There was a little market place down the street where all the shops that were ruined by the tsunami got together. They're in trailers so this is temporary, but it's nice to see that they're open for business already.

Inside their cafeteria, they had pictures of before/after pictures of the town. In attendance were many tourists from all over Japan.

This is a drawing of Anpanman, a very popular kids anime. The theme song translates to "Do not fear, for everyone. Love and courage is your only friend." Even though it is a kids song, it was played a lot last year while volunteering. It sent out a positive message to everyone.

All over town, there are signs or ads of words of encouragement. "We are cheering for your energy/spirits!"

Next to this play set was a Japanese flag waving in the wind. Though it was ripped, it was still standing strong.

Day 4: Watanabe-san by airi katsuta

One of our missions for this trip was to give out the hand knitted clothing that the wonderful people of Japanese American Citizens League had made to the senior homes in Ishinomaki. So we contacted the nearby senior home to schedule an appointment for an interview. But when Riho talked to them over the phone, they said that they were not affected by the tsunami at all, so they would rather have us give the knitted clothing to a senior home that is more deserving. We wanted to hear their story, tsunami-damaged or not, because everyone was affected by this tragic event, one way or another.

This senior home is called Wakou-en. And this is the head manager, Watanabe-san. He said that on 3-11, he wasn't at the senior home or even in Ishinomaki. He couldn't get back until 5 days later, but the tsunami didn't reach the building because it was on a hill, but the earthquake had caused damage to the water pipes beneath the structure.

He showed us a book with aerial photographs of Ishinomaki, before and after. Since we are not familiar with the area, he showed us where everything is in detail and even gave us the book.

"Even if it's in the same city of Ishinomaki, the amount of damage is different in every area. Ishinomaki combined 5 towns, so it's pretty broad," Watanabe-san said. When we asked how this senior home have changed after the tsunami, he said "a lot of our patients have dementia, so most of them don't even know what happened. They didn't actually see the water. It shook a lot from the earthquake, so some walls have cracks but it's not very obvious from what people can see." He said very apologetically.

He showed us several other senior homes that had a lot of damage on the map.

"It hasn't changed so much for us. Sorry about that. But I'll introduce you to other senior homes that I know that suffered a lot. Let me give them a call."

We've been blessed to meet people like him all over the city of Ishinomaki. Everyday, someone lends a hand to us. We're very thankful.

Day 3: Middle of the day. by airi katsuta

This is actually the middle of the day of Day 3. I'm not used to blogging so I made a mistake and forgot to put this into the last post!

While working on my blog and editing pictures, my sister and I received some refreshments from the management of the hotel :) Yaaaay, drinks and snacks! You can tell on my face that I'm super stoked.

We went on a bike ride around town in the afternoon. And we were waiting at the crossroad? cross rails? idk. My sister told me that cars get stuck in the middle of the rails a lot. Impatient drivers… sigh.

We rode by the river that leads to the ocean and enjoyed the view. It was such a serene view. It's crazy how a beautiful and peaceful river like this overflowed and destroyed so many people's lives last March. Just unbelievable.

Our bike ride was pretty awesome. It wasn't too hot, wasn't too humid. I don't ride bikes that often so this made me want to take on biking when I get back to Arizona. Just saying. But then again, as my friend Daniel Kim always said, I just look fit. I'm usually panting by the time I walk upstairs but maybe going on bike rides might be good exercise!

My grandpa once told me that seeing green makes your eyesight better. So I stared at this landscape for a while. This is a tanbo, a rice field! My last name, Katsuta, means Victory and Rice field. Victory in the rice field!!

This is a car repair shop. There were many cars being repaired, because of the tsunami. This side of the building interested me more than people repairing cars. Vines! I love it when plants take over man made stuff.

So after getting back to the hotel and resting for a bit, I saw the golden light coming from the window so I forcefully made Riho stand by it to take a picture of her. I love you Riho.

Day 3: Endo-san of Casa de Costa & Dai-chan by airi katsuta

Endo-san:

This is Endo-san, the manager of Casa de Costa (the hotel we are staying at) and he's usually at the front desk. He's very kind to us and let's us know when the cleaning lady comes, or to drink lots of water because it's hot outside. We decided to interview him and ask him how it has changed since the tsunami.

He said the tsunami didn't reach the hotel since the ground level was a little bit higher, but they didn't have power for a couple of days. Since they got their shipment of food and water earlier that week, they had enough to share to their guests. They had propane gas so they cooked rice and some stir fry to last a few days.

Since the tsunami, their business have been great. Their rooms are always booked by volunteers and big companies. They lowered the room price to around $35 a night hoping that it will benefit the volunteers, he said "By making the room affordable for the volunteers, I hope that I can help the recovery process in this town go quickly. "

We decided to give him one of the crochet animals that we brought, this one is made by Ayumi, as a way of saying thank you. We heard one of the female staff saying "Oh my gosh, it's so cute!" so that made us smile.

We decided to give him one of the crochet animals that we brought, this one is made by Ayumi, as a way of saying thank you. We heard one of the female staff saying "Oh my gosh, it's so cute!" so that made us smile.

He is now chilling in the front desk. I hope he'll become some sort of a mascot for this hotel.

Grocery Store: 

 

We went to the grocery store later that day, and I was having fun looking at all the different things they had in there. I worked at a pizza restaurant for 4 years and I've never seen a pizza like this. Corn, bacon, broccoli, with mayonnaise sauce…. I guess I can't knock it 'til I try it!

 

Since Miyagi prefecture is right on the coast, they are known for their fresh seafood. The port of Ishinomaki is closed due to the tsunami, but some places a little far away have started fishing, and also started raising oysters. Seeing fish made me miss my dear pet fish, Patrick.

Riho found a coconut. They also had VitaCoco here! I love coconut water so we bought 4 of em. It's great for hydration.

The roads are very narrow in Ishinomaki. Can you believe 2 cars can drive by in this street? I would probably have a car accident here everyday.

 

In front of the hotel, there's a electric sign that flashes the phrases, "Thank you to everyone who has helped with the recovery. We will give our best. "

End of the day. We bought a lot of food, which we ate real fast, but it was surely heavy to carry. We even filled up our backpacks with food.

Dai-chan:

This is Dai-chan. He used to live in Arizona and went to ASU about 9 years ago. He was always like a big brother to me and he'd come over to my house all the time to eat dinner. He was the manager for the Sundevils and now he is the head coach for the Iwate Big Bulls. I knew him when he was around 23 being a college student, and now he matured so much with a beautiful wife and 2 adorable kids. We're so proud of Dai-chan :) Since this was our first reunion in 9 years, he took us to dinner and we got to eat good. We've been living off of ramen noodles and food from 7-eleven so we were very full and happy.

On our way home, Riho and I walked by this statue, Kamen Rider. He's kind of like a mascot for Ishinomaki.

At the stand of the statue, I just realized that there is a sign that says "Video Surveillance." Oops.

Day 2: part 4. by airi katsuta

Day 2 was a very long day with so much to see, but this one is the final post of Day 2.

Kadonowaki-cho is very close to the coastline, and there is a river that flows near by. So when the tsunami came, this area was affected before any of the damage in the inland occured. As a memorial, people still bring flowers as offering to the deceased.

"Ganbarou" is a phrase that is used frequently here. It's hard to do a direct translation because I don't think it even exists in English. It kind of means, "hang in there", "we can do this", "let's stick it out", "don't give up" all mixed together. A man who owned a building around here put this sign up a few months after the tsunami, as words of encouragement. When people saw this sign, it gave them hope to get back on their feet.

The bar sticking out in the middle from this pole marks how high the water line ended up to be in this area. Houses and cars were easily lifted up with this much water and severely damaged.

People used schools as a emergency evacuation area. This school was no exception and many people came here to get away from the water. But when the tsunami came, as it pushed all the houses and factory with it, the building caught on fire and collided into this school. The school started burning but thankfully, everyone worked together and somehow connected chairs and desks on the roof to escape to the hill in the back. That's teamwork right there. No lives were taken from this school, but a school only a few miles away took away many children's lives.

This is a park that is located on the hill right behind the school. Since this hill was tall enough, the tsunami did not reach them. This park gives the whole view of the coastline, so on 3-11, they could see the black waves rushing inland.

From Hiyoriyama park, you can see the Ishinomori Manga-kan, a museum dedicated to Ishinomaki's most famous Manga artist. There was also a church in the same area, but I am guessing thats where the Statue of Liberty is standing.

We did a lot of walking so a we took a little break on this bench. Ted is a little camera shy so I had to force him to sit there. haha.

This temple is right on the top of Hiyoriyama hill. I felt a rush of culture through me as I embraced my Japanese heritage.

At the entrance of the temple, there was a display of many strands of 1000 cranes. In a Japanese folklore, if you make a thousand cranes, your wish will come true. Not a wish for materialistic things, but for health and recovery. Making a thousand cranes isn't easy, speaking from experience. It took me around 2 minutes per crane so 33 hours of crane origami folding… that's dedication.

This child put a message with the cranes saying "I send you strength and hope." This one was sent from Tokyo.

After making a monetary offering at the temple, we received a fortune. Mine told me, "Have a peaceful heart, be kind to my parents and your household will be fine. Even if there is trouble outside, your family will be filled with happiness. Give it your all to help others. "

After going back to the hotel, I saw a sign on a garage door saying "Thank you to everyone all around the world. People of Ishinomaki will persevere." With positive words on every wall and doors and pillars, it made me feel good, and all the volunteering worth it.

Day 2: part 3. by airi katsuta

Nakazato-san:

This is also a house that Ted and Peaceboat helped clean.

This is Nakazato-san. He's a really petite grandpa with a heavy Tohoku accent so it was really hard to understand him at times, but he was very kind and repeated it for me many times.

He pointed and said, "The water came from over there, and all of a sudden it was everywhere "

He warned his neighbors that the tsunami was coming, but by the time he tried to escape it, he was already in the water. Since the water level was around 6 to 7 feet, he got on the roof of the house next door. And then jumped on a car which floated by his storage(the one with the brown roof and blue covers), and then jumped to his house (the one next to the pink house, being repaired). His story was famous when I was volunteering, and I couldn't believe that a little 80 year old man jumped roof to roof.

He was my height, so around 5 feet. He was really nice and showed us his garden with cucumbers, chives, pumpkins, and tomatoes. People around here seem to grow their own vegetables. He got a little camera shy but he agreed to take a picture with us.

Nanakita-san:

We arrived at another house the Peaceboat volunteers cleaned, but the house was still in its reconstructive stage and no one lived there. And then this man came up to us asking what we were doing. His name is Nanakita-san, and he is the head of the community council in this area. The previous owner decided to move, so Nanakita-san decided to buy it from them.

His house is only 4 houses away, but due to the Article 39 and 84 of the Building Standard Law, it prohibits housing and reconstruction in certain areas that dealt with great damage. Nanakita-san's house was completely flooded, large tree logs from the nearby factory tore his house, and even a car was smashed in it. Though his house was unrepairable, since he wanted to stay in this area, he decided to buy this house.

Though we came looking for another person, Nanakita-san welcomed us to his community and informed us on what the reconstruction laws were. He was very nice. When I asked to take a picture with him, he said "Ummm. Let's do a thumbs up!"

Shokodo:

This was a publishing company's warehouse that took 30 peace boat volunteers to clean. It took about 2 days to clean, but still had more work left to do. It was raining that day, and usually volunteers aren't allowed to work in conditions like this due to accident prevention but we decided to do it anyways because we didn't want to spend the whole day not doing anything. The outside of this building looks fairly fine, but the inside was a disaster. Since this warehouse contained mainly paper, it was everywhere mixed with sludge. All their materials were damaged so for them it was heartbreaking to throw away so many books, pamphlets, magazines, and posters. There was a van flipped on the side inside as well. But since we got most of it out, we were satisfied.

When our work day was done, the owner said he couldn't believe that people had so much strength and power to do all this work. He was feeling hopeless but seeing all this happen in 2 days made him believe that anything is possible. It gave him the hope that he can rebuild this business again. So when I came back this year, I was expecting to see them continuing their business. But when we got there, there was no sign of the building. They had torn it down, and we still don't know if they ever started business again or shut it down.

Last year, this area was completely wiped out. The ground was covered in sludge and trash, houses destroyed. As you can see in the picture, the ocean is right there so this area was hit horribly. The grave site was on slope, so it wasn't affected that bad compared to the rest.

Last year, this area was completely wiped out. The ground was covered in sludge and trash, houses destroyed. As you can see in the picture, the ocean is right there so this area was hit horribly. The grave site was on slope, so it wasn't affected that bad compared to the rest.

Day 2: part 1. by airi katsuta

For Day 2, Ted, Riho, and I went to the places we helped out at and said hello and listened to their stories of the tsunami, and how it affected them. We also passed out the crochet cats and the eco bags that people of Japanese American Citizens League gave us to take back.

Kobayashi-San:

She lives right near where Kaska (the building that I slept in while I volunteered) is, and even though I didn't help out her place, the other volunteers went multiple times to clear the sludge out of her front yard and plant flowers in her garden.

Her husband was hospitalized after the tsunami, and unfortunately he passed away 2 months ago. With the support of her friends and neighbors, she seems to be doing okay.

Ozashi-san:

She didn't think she could live in her own house again, after the damage, there was a car stuck in her front yard, sludge and water everywhere, everything destroyed. She was planning to tear it down, but with the help of the volunteers, she was able to have her home all repaired. She was saying how happy she was to be able to live in her house again. She lost her brother in the tsunami, who lived right next door. And she said "It would be a lie if I said I wasn't lonely, but I am so happy that I am back home."

She lost her brother in the tsunami, who lived right next door to her. At the time, her dog ran out, so she followed her dog, but her brother decided to stay in his house. And later on, she realized that he was taken by the water.

Ozashi-san and her dog, Muk.

When we tried to get a group picture, her dog started humping me. We had a good laugh.

Arakawa-san:

Last year, me and 14 other volunteers cleaned Arakawa-san's house, storage, and yard. This house was very big, especially in Japan. I was helping out in the yard and oh lord, his yard was huge. I think we took the whole day to clean his place.

Last year:

I was looking forward to seeing this place because this was the one that taught me teamwork.

Arakawa-san was so thankful for all the volunteer help that he gave a key of his apartment to Ted when he heard he hasn't showered in 5 weeks since he was so busy.

This year:

Day 1: Arrived in Ishinomaki by airi katsuta

After a 2 hour flight to San Francisco, and then a 10 hour flight to Narita Airport in Japan, and then a 7.5 hour bus ride... I have arrived to Ishinomaki! To show you where exactly it is, it is in Miyagi prefecture and right next to Sendai. Here's a map.

My sister, Riho, is with me and she is taking pictures of me while I photograph the city :)

 

And then we got to our hotel, called Casa de Costa. They used to be housings for students before the tsunami, but they converted it into a business hotel. Everyone has been very kind, and its very clean in here. And free wifi! Yay!

After a little bit of rest, we decided to meet up with Ted, who I know from volunteering last year. He was the leader in the branch that I was in, and he's from Florida but he's been in Ishinomaki since April with the recovery relief.

He's very wise and kind, and he was like a father figure to me last year. So in the afternoon, he showed us around town and visited the places I helped out at.

Last year, I dug sludge out of the drain gutters for Saito-san's neighbors.

So today, the first place we went was Saito-san's residence. She likes to garden a lot so she showed us her beautiful flowers.

She gave us lots of cucumbers that she grew in this garden to take home. She was such a nice lady.

And afterwards, we went to the town homes that we cleaned.

And after a year later,

The big house right behind it was left untouched. Sometimes the house isn't salvageable so they have to tear it down.

 

There were many houses that we, Peaceboat volunteers cleaned, but sometimes they end up tearing it down, or left alone where the owners move. Everyone has their reasons, whether if its the money, family, or work, or they're scared.

 

After taking in the first day, I was reminiscing the memories from last year. Some things seemed like they were frozen in time, where nothing has been touched, but then I saw more and more people moving back into their homes.

Getting Ready for Japan! by airi katsuta

It's been a long time since I uploaded on here, but I'm glad to say that almost everything is good to go for me to go back to Japan. Only 12 more days until I depart for Japan!My WONDERFUL sister, Riho, booked the hotel and the bus in Ishinomaki for a very reasonable price in Ishinomaki. They have internet connection so I will be able to update all of you during my stay there.

I received my film in the mail, which are Kodak Ektar 100, Kodak Portra 160 and 400, Fuji Astia 100 and Fuji Pro 160s. I got the Ektar and Fujis in 120, and Portra in 220. There's so many!! And being a photo nerd, I am soooo excited to use it all :)

My mom has been working on these crochet cats for a while now, and I plan to bring them back to Ishinomaki for the kids I meet. They're cute and snuggly. She plans to make more of them and put eyes on it so they're not faceless.

I also received handmade scarves and clothes as a donation from the Japanese American Citizens League. They've been wanting to send them to the Tsunami affected areas but got denied because of shipping. So I volunteered to bring them to Japan and hand it out to senior communities. For the cold winters in Ishinomaki, I think this gift would be perfect.

I'm working on the last bit of the cranes for the $30 and under backers, and then I'm off to Japan! Thanks for your support and your patience. I promise I'll bring back a bunch of pictures! :)