Christian Surfers' Tohoku Tsunami Relief Trip
In June, I visited Japan to assist Christian Surfers Japan with their ongoing involvement with the relief operations after the 11th March earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters. [My friend] Hayden and I joined 5 other guys in Chiba for our trip to the Tohoku region and our first stop was Fukushima city (approximately 60km from the Dai-ichi power plant).
David Levey, nephew of Rotary eClub One member John Cutler, is the director of Christian Surfers Japan. Below is a report that one of the members of his group, Ben, wrote about his experiences during a visit to Japan.
In June, I visited Japan to assist Christian Surfers Japan with their ongoing involvement with the relief operations after the 11th March earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters. [My friend] Hayden and I joined 5 other guys in Chiba for our trip to the Tohoku region and our first stop was Fukushima city (approximately 60km from the Dai-ichi power plant). Here we delivered a stack of fresh vegetables to a bunch of surfers that had been evacuated from their homes due to the radiation levels.
We then spent the evening sharing a meal with the CSJ Tohoku members and used this time to let each one share about how this event has affected them, their family and their community. Many of these members live some distance from the ocean and so their troubles lie in the non-apparent, i.e. the ongoing radiation problems.
To many of us back home we have seen come and go from the TV and newspapers the images of devastation from the tsunami and earthquake, but we seldom hear of the daily struggle those in Fukushima are experiencing because of the leaking radiation. In most of Fukushima prefecture they are advised to only spend 1hr outside, keep all windows closed, not use air-conditioners etc.
Many families have moved away to safer locations as the husband/father stays and works for his family. The government has not evacuated the city, despite it clearly being unsafe to continue living in, due to the financial and logistical burden of having to relocate close to 1 million people.
It became apparent as we talked, that the stress level in each person's heart is maxing out, and there is little opportunity to release this stress. When I personally get stressed I like to run/surf/skate anything that gets me outside and gets some fresh air into my lungs and brain. For these people this could be detrimental to their long term health, and they are physically becoming unwell because of the stress.
The radiation levels in the ocean, atmosphere and soil are so high that no one is really sure when people will be able to safely surf, exercise or eat local fresh food again. To me, this was heart breaking, and this side of the already shocking situation just made my gut ache.
Along the whole eastern coast of Tohoku region no surfers have gone back into the water out of respect for those that were carried away by the massive waves. That's about a 400km stretch that would usually have millions of surfers every day. Just an example of how life has done a complete U-turn for so many.
Our next task was to deliver a bunch of supplies to Mrs Suzuki who had lost her home and her surf shop in the tsunami. She is now leasing a small block of land to set up a brand new surf shop. It has a small demountable shed, a portaloo and she has a spirit of determination to try and get back on with life. As I spoke with her she explained that most people, including her, do not take out insurance as the premium costs are so high and the payouts are so little. So, when they lost everything, they literally have to start from scratch.
We spent a few days in the Suzuki's hometown (Motoyoshi) assisting in any way we could. We cleaned up the beach by sorting rubble into recyclable piles, cut up logs that had been washed back down the valleys and helped setup the surf shop.
The scenes driving through the water-swept towns were both breathtaking and sobering. It was hard to believe there were once bustling sea side Japanese townships in these locations. Now lie building materials, cars, boats and personal belongings in tangled up messes scattered over the land like a messy kid's room on a Saturday morning. In towns like Motoyoshi, where there is probably less than half the town left, there are well established clean up operations by council workers, military and volunteers. In other towns like Minamisanriku, where pretty much all of the town lies in piles of rubble, roads are cleared and temporary bridges are being installed, but the cleanup operation is too big to even think about. Power is starting to be restored to some locations; yet running water is likely to be over a year away. From the stressed, confused and un-informed folk of Fukushima, to the battling locals of Motoyoshi town, this trip opened up our eyes to the real pain behind the media images.