7 Nov 2011

When you lose everything, ordinary life is very important

Last time I stood outside Shizugawa High School Chinook helicopters were airlifting injured people; emergency rescue teams charging about with stretchers; the school gym was a mortuary where the dead were carefully wrapped in blue tarpaulins for their final journey.

This morning, that hot March afternoon – 48 hours after the tsunami – seems longer distant than eight months. The mist and drizzle of autumn are here now but – mercifully – the school is a school again.

True, half the football pitch is taken up by emergency housing, but the electronic clock chimes out the timing of lessons and the business of education has been underway here since July.
On the windows of the school a banner reads in Japanese and English:


There is a sense here of bizarre optimism from the school’s vice-principal. He says students are adjusting to the fact that their hometown has been obliterated by the triple-whammy of earthquake, 60 foot tsunami and then the entire coast sinking by 70 cms into the Pacific ocean. And why? Because, says Vice-Principal Takaki Sato: “When they lost everything, they found that normal life was very important. So they will start again.”

He pauses to consider for a moment before continuing in English: “Yes. They will begin again.”

Is he trying to convince himself? Is he suddenly surprised at finding this to be so, speaking to a non-Japanese film-crew outside the school?

I don’t know. But I do know that the town mayor and some fishermen have told us they are anxious that people in their late teens and their twenties are leaving Minamisanriku for good because there are no jobs.

So how to sustain hope for the teenagers still at school – potentially the future of any town?  For that the fish-processing factories must be established soon for jobs. But that’s impossible anywhere near to the current sunken and flooded harbour…

The dilemmas are profound for this town’s future – if it has one. All of this a long way from the last time we stood outside the whitewashed modern buildings of this school in the midst of an emergency which would capture global attention.

Follow Alex’s journey around the area devastated by Spring’s tsunami in Japan: @AlexTomo

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