Peace boat

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!

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."

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 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: 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 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 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:

Ishinomaki part 1. by airi katsuta

The last two weeks left in Japan, I finally had the will to go volunteer for Peace Boat. To tell you the truth, I was kinda scared about going and almost got cold feet. But I was only planning on going for 2 days so I was just gonna get it over with. I was unsure about the group I was in, a 60 year old leader, a skinny middle aged sub leader, a mom, and 2 girls my age that were already friends. I didn't know I was gonna fit in so I felt like the loner at school eating lunch all by myself. But on the bus ride to the location, I started talking to the mommy type, Kuga-San, and we found the common ground of our love for cats. We talked for hours and I finally made my first friend. We finally get to Ishinomaki, I'm so tired because I couldn't sleep on the bus. We stayed at this building called Kasuka Fashion. The room was separated in two with a blue plastic sheet between the males and females. I head to the smoking area and smokers know what I'm talking about, it's just easy to get to know each other with smoke breaks lol. So I started talking to this guy that just looked wise. I guess he's been here three times and keeps coming back on the weekends. The first half of the day, we couldn't do anything because of the rain. It was too risky to work in the rain because people can slip and get hurt. So everyone was just anxious to do something, I was just puffing away, listening to people's stories.

Finally, the rain stopped. I get ready in my suit, ready to scoop up some mud. But instead, our group head over to this house where the wall fell down because of the earthquake. We bagged all the bricks. And it took about two days to finish this task. It took a lot of team work and the bricks were so heavy. My back and shoulders started to hurt but no one was complaining so I just shut my mouth. The sky started to clear up and the sun came up, and my sweat started dripping down. My suit felt like a sauna. I never work out or do any kind of sports so this was the first time I actually broke a sweat in over 7 years. But I felt accomplished moving all the bricks and cleaning up around the house. The owner of the house was a 60 year old lady, oh such a sweet lady. She gave us coffee and snacks and shared her stories. She just wanted someone to talk to and someone who will listen to her. And that's a part of volunteering too, being there for the people. At the end, she was in tears thanking us. I've never done something to a complete stranger and felt so appreciated for something. I felt so good helping her and I wanted to do more.

The local people are so nice there. Always saying "Hello. Thank you for all your help" and it made me feel good. Everyone is smiling there even though 3 months ago, everything they had washed away in the tsunami. They're so brave and kindhearted.

Our group leader, Don-san, he's been volunteering there for about 2 months now. He took me to the place where they dump all the trash and it was a size of about 4 or 5 football fields, all covered in hills of trash. There's a hill of just mud, or trees, bricks, cars, washing machines and refrigerators. It smelled horrible and the flies were taking over the place. He said that it's Ishinomaki's 30 years worth of trash. It was unbelievable.

But he said that even though the place is still covered in trash, it's slowly cleaning up and people are starting to move back into their place. The roads were destroyed completely but now after 3 months, people are driving. He told me, "Nothing is impossible, humans have the ability to do anything." Even if its just moving bricks, we have to do it step by step, day by day. All the cleaning, even if its just one house, it means something. We have to start somewhere and keep going.

I was supposed to go home after that day, but I wanted to stay longer. I couldn't just go home and be okay with it. I knew I was gonna regret it so I asked Don-san if I could stay for another day or two and he said yes.

Dinner time was always fun. We all shared everything, shared stories, our 60 year old member started doing yoga and was doing a headstand. So random and sooo funny. I was becoming friends with these people that I would never have any relations with. Total opposites just bonding together. It was the best experience of my life.

On the third day, my group was leaving. I decided to stay but it was sad seeing people leave. But I got ready for another day of cleaning the streets of Ishinomaki.

 

to be continued.