4 Nov 2011

From seafaring to seaweed in shattered town

How can something be so idyllic and so savagely ironic, all at the same time?

The idyll began for us around 5am and well before first light. OK, I agree, it’s not the likely time of day to search for the idyllic.

But within minutes they’d arrived: the crew. Slipping silently out across the lovely pink-lit beauty of Minamisanriku Bay fringed with forests, their autumn colours heightened by the deepening pink of the rising sun. All this in Japan, where else?

The irony? That in all the natural beauty of this coastline, the town itself from which we had sailed remains a mass of rubble piles and an empty landscape dotted with gutted buildings. Out at sea that irony hangs heavy. The Pacific which took away so much here now gives back to fishermen as she has done down the centuries.

On Monday you will see the extraordinary bounty harvested daily in these astonishingly rich Pacific waters.

Back on land, however, one-time fishermen look on ruefully from the ruined quayside. They know only too well, it is just the lucky few who have managed to repair their boats and work again. We find a group of people patiently chopping seaweed to propagate in these waters.

Channel 4 News Live Blog: The tsunami revisited

Mr Sato says his family has been fishing for generations here. But no longer. His vessel was wrecked and now growing seaweed is the stop-gap. Sure, there are insurance payments and social security. But the latter runs out for this man at the end of the month.

And seaweed is not like daily fishing – there will be no income from their efforts until January. The problem is that so many fishermen need new boats, that there is a waiting list. These are quietly spoken patient people, well used to working to the moods of the sea, where storm and tide intervene against the wallet and bank balance.

But this current waiting, cutting the seaweed and wondering is a gnawing and anxious time, on top of the unimaginable stress of living in a town which, frankly, exists today as a name on a map rather than a living town on the land.

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