Part 2 of the One Year Anniversary observation of the East Japan Earthquake / Tsunami in the Tohoku region (Article by Lilian Chua)
It was a very chilly morning in Ichinoseki as we head out to one of World Vision Japan’s livelihood project in Minamisanriku in Miyagi prefecture. This coastal town was one of the hardest hit by the magnitude 9 earthquake on March 11, 2011.
Once home to about 17,000 people, this town has been almost entirely washed away by the tsunami.
The earthquake triggered a tsunami that traveled as far as 10 km inland reduced the town to splinters and debris
This coastal town, previously known for its stunning beaches, also used to thrive on its fishing industry and marine cultivation, more specifically seaweed or wakame cultivation.
The seaweed cultivation can be harvested within 12 months so as part of the livelihood project, World Vision Japan (WVJ) decided to come up with all the necessary support to help restore the trade. Essentially, WVJ believe this project will improve the well being of many children, whose parents are seaweed fishermen.
It is estimated that 95% of the approximate 100 boats used for seaweed cultivation were destroyed by the tsunami. Last October, WVJ has provided twelve boats for twelve different local ports in Shizugawa and Togura districts in Minamisanriku.
The ‘wakame’ fishermen processing the seaweed which was planted in time, thanks to the support from WVJ.
About 80% of fishermen interviewed by WVJ have lost their homes and their equipment that can cost from USD$20,000 to USD$30,000 a set. Therefore, in addition to the boats, WVJ has also provided boiling machines and compressors to process the seaweed. Besides providing many women with work opportunities, processed seaweed can sell for a much higher price, up to 10 times more!
Wakame processing equipment by WVJ
Whilst part of the group went to see the harvesting of the seaweed, some of us had the chance to chat with a local fisherman who escaped the tsunami. Whilst feeding the salmons at sea, Mr Takao Sasaki saw the sinking of anchored fishing facilities. Later he witnessed a whirlpool and saw oyster-cultivation facilities drifting out to sea. Immediately he veered his ship further out to sea to avoid the brewing tsunami.
It was when Mr Takao saw Japanese houses floating out to sea; he knew he was very lucky to have escaped a very destructive tsunami. However, upon docking his ship he was still shocked to see that almost everything has been washed away, even the port lights.
Mr Takao Sasaki, a tsunami survivor, recounts his experience of the destructive disaster.
When the boat came back with the wakame harvest, the fishermen’s wives prepared some very tasty and warm seaweed soup and salad, perfect for the biting cold weather!
Fresh seaweed salad ready to be eaten..yumm!
Seaweed soup is very nutritious!
There is still much to be done for the wakame industry at Minamisanriku and WVJ has some future plans in store:
1) To provide different equipment and facilities to process seaweed after cultivation
2) Install twelve tents where wakame cultivators can share the equipment and work together, including women.
With our stomach full of wakame, we headed to Shizugawa hill. We passed long stretches of flattened grounds and there were much silence inside the bus (perhaps many were still feeling full from much wakame) almost echoing the sentiments of zero activity of the area.
View from Shizugawa hill – these barren lands used to be a flourishing, beautiful town bustling with activities
Some have compared the aftereffect of the tsunami to Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Along the way, we passed more flattened grounds where the WVJ building once stood
Coming up is Part 3, focusing on the tsunami-affected children, how they are coping and the support from WVJ. If you want to know more please visit the World Vision website.
Or you can also read Part One of the One Year Anniversary observation of the East Japan Earthquake/Tsunami and also about the diaries of volunteers and aid workers, of their experiences during the early days of the tsunami:
Writer Lilian Chua was sent to the Miyagi prefecture by World Vision Malaysia to follow up on the One Year Anniversary observation of the East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in the Tohoku region of Japan.