Thursday, April 14, 2011

Memories of a summer outing in today's evacuated zone

Summer 2010. Our very first experience of the hot and humid Japanese summer. Having felt the heat just a few days into summer we did not plan any long distance outings or trips, preferring to stay indoors at our Iwaki home. In Japan it is common for companies to give weeklong summer vacations usually in August, the hottest month. Most people travel to their hometown and meet up with their relatives. My closest friend in Japan who happens to be my husband's colleague lives in Iwaki while her hometown Naraha is about 40 kms north of Iwaki city. Her parents live in Naraha town and she usually visits her parents home during holidays. She told us one day that her parents had asked her to invite us to their home for lunch during the summer vacation. It was a surprise for us to be invited to her parents home because we had never met them before. She insisted saying that they would be very happy if we visited them. We were excited about visiting them because it would be a good chance for us to meet a wonderful family as her's and also give us a chance to experience Japanese hospitality and cuisine. Finally the day was decided as August 11th,2010.

On that day, we picked up our friend near her apartment in Iwaki and then drove down to Naraha. The road to Naraha was a picturesque drive on Highway 6 along the Pacific Coast. As we drove by, our friend spoke about her school days and how she longed to grow up and live in a big city. Her will power is amazing . She was born in an agricultural family, her grandfather was a farmer who had mentored her till his death a few years ago. Her parents had jobs but also worked in the fields in the harvest and planting season and helping during their holidays. As school kids, my friend and her siblings would be asked to help out in the fields, something they despised then. Determined to change her lifestyle, she studied hard and gave special stress on English. An achievement considering that no one in her family speaks English even today. Also in their small town, it is rare to find an English speaker. She studied in Futaba, a town to the north of Naraha and she took special assignments from her English teacher. She finished her education by graduating from college in Sendai.  She moved to Iwaki about 6 years back when she took up a job here. She is my husband's colleague and she was initially helping us settle down in Iwaki when we moved there in May 2010. But now she is a close friend and like a sister to me.

On the way to Naraha, she took us to J Village, a sports training complex especially for Football. During the 2002 Soccer World Cup, The Argentinian team stayed here and the place has a souvenir shop and photo gallery and other exhibits commemorating the same.

After taking a few pics and seeing around, we proceeded to her home. We were welcomed with juice and O-Cha the Japanese tea. We were introduced to her parents, grandmother, brother, sister and sister's family who had come down from Kanagawa prefecture to spend their holidays. We were served a lovely Japanese meal with barbecue and home grown vegetables. Afterwards we had some homegrown fruits and saw old family pictures. We chatted with her family members for a long time, with our friend acting as a translator. Late in the afternoon, after having enjoyed time with our hosts, taking some pictures with them we bid goodbye. The hospitality did not end at that..we were given a box full homegrown vegetables, fruits, meat and other stuff to take home with us. The lovely time we spent with our Japanese host family will always remain a cherished memory.

On our way back to Iwaki, our friend suggested a stop by at the nearby Tenjinmisaki Park and camping area. She said it had a nice view of the Pacific Ocean and had a nice playground where our kid could play for some time while we chatted. Like what our friend had said, the view from the park was lovely. We could see the blue waves, the small towns and houses in the distance and also the Fukushima Nuclear Plants.

The closest of the two Nuclear Plants was the Fukushima II Nuclear Plant, known as the Fukushima Dai-Ni Nuclear Plant. This plant is one of the two Nuclear Plants which suffered considerable damage in the March 11th earthquake and Tsunami. The Fukushima I Nuclear Plant also known as Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Plant suffered the greatest damage and continues to be a major crisis even a month after the big quake. At the time of our visit, we had not known that this place would be unsafe for living a few months later. Today the entire Naraha-Futaba area comes under the evacuation zone due to the nuclear crisis. When the evacuation orders were issued, we were worried about the safety of this family which had played hosts to us just few months ago. It is hard for us to believe that the same people who had hosted us are now living as evacuees with their relatives in another Prefecture. For people who had never known dependency on others, this is life's greatest test. The day the tsunami struck, our friend's brother went missing till he was found a few days later. Even as their son went missing, my friend's parents had to evacuate from their hometown , first to Iwaki and then to another Prefecture. Even as her brother was missing, our friend had come to our home in Iwaki to check about our safety and wellbeing after the earthquake, because the phone lines and all other communication modes were down. Today, she is back in Iwaki but her family is still with their relatives and they are not sure when they can return home. They are hoping that the Government will allow people to enter their home town in the evacuated zone for a few hours to collect their essential belongings. Our prayers are with our friends and all those families in Japan who are going through what they had never even imagined in their worst dreams.

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